thoughts on living with cancer


Midwest, USA
May 20
At the midpoint of the journey's life I found myself lost in a dark forest with no straight path I could see anywhere. M.L. Rosenthal's translation of Dante's La Commedia Divina Diagnosed with ovarian and bladder cancers, I received an entirely new subject for writing and a challenge to intensify the second half of my life.


NOVEMBER 8, 2012 12:24PM

The Week Before Surgery

Rate: 1 Flag


“It’s best if you can just be still after the surgery,” an acquaintance counseled, when I asked for advice about how to deal with the impending removal of my left kidney.

This woman donated a kidney several years ago. To call us friends would be stretching it, but we are always glad to see one another, so I stopped at her workplace to talk with her.

She had stayed with a family member who had a mattress that didn’t suit her, and so she did a lot of adjusting positions, which hurt. Thus her counsel. This is not my first time to have my abdomen slit open, and I do recall the pain as muscles reconnected. All right. That’s what the drugs are for, and I have a high tolerance for pain.

I can tell her my fears, because she is young and sensible, and responds with comments such as, “Shut the door!” which I gather is the new “Shut up!” always said sweetly, not as a command to cease conversation. She reminds me that this is noninvasive Stage I cancer, and the likelihood that it has spread and my whole abdomen is filled with cancer is unlikely. She agrees that I don’t want to need dialysis down the road, but, again, there is no reason to suppose my right kidney is going to malfunction. All my cancer-related troubles have always come from the left side.

Externally, I am fine; last week at church, someone even commented on how happy my eyes looked. I worry on a subterranean level, though, and sometimes when I wake during the night. I do my best to soothe myself with psalms or Julian of Norwich, “I may make all things well, and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well; and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well.” (T. S. Eliot took the line from her to use in Four Quartets.) I focus my breathing. When I’m awake, I stay busy or I drown myself in a book. But I quit a freelance job before I could get started on it, seeing how complex it was, how stress-inducing it became just trying to understand my task and gather all the pieces I would need. Freelancers don’t quit jobs, and I had jumped a number of hoops just to be considered for this one. I let it go, a sure sign that I’m not myself.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to get up and go through my days, keeping the worry and fear locked away so that I don’t spend the next week keening and rocking. The truth is, I hate all of this: drinking magnesium citrate before surgery, wearing those clunky, hissing leg wraps to prevent blood clots, dealing with the IVs, battling the fuzzy-headedness that results from painkillers, having a catheter, shuffling down the hall post-op to regain strength, wearing those awful hospital gowns, eating hospital food (or not being allowed to eat), having lights on all the time (plus the television if I share a room), being awakened from sleep for a check of my vitals, adjusting to more scars on my body. I hate every bit of it. My body doesn’t deal well with morphine (last time, I begged the nurses to take it out so I could stop throwing up); so I can’t even play Coleridge and write great poetry while under its influence.

I hate it all, and I hate feeling that I need to handle it all well—nobody’s taking care of the details except me. I am making lists of things to do, what to pack for a minimum of three days in the hospital and a few days at a friend’s house. I don’t mean to make this a bigger deal than it is; this isn’t planning the D-Day invasion. But I do need to plan, organize, and delegate, so that all my helpful friends know what they can do. I am exhausted all the time. I know the weariness is emotional, because I do get plenty of sleep, and I am a champion napper.

“The woman I gave my kidney to felt better as soon as they took her bad kidney out,” my info source tells me. But I feel fine, physically; I am lucky that this is Stage I, caught early and regularly monitored. I have never had symptoms. My brother has suggested maybe I feel worse than I know and have simply adjusted to it, an idea that I myself considered. Maybe it’s just gradually taken a toll, and I’ll soon feel terrific, instead of just fine.

My gynecologic oncologist wants to be present during surgery, although my urologist says he won’t be able to see into the peritoneal region, which is what he assumes is desired. But my gyn onc is a careful man, a worrier; he’s also an oncologist. There will be slides of malignant cells for him to look at. I’m guessing that if something goes really wrong—say the tumors have pushed out from the ureter and invaded the colon—he wants to be there. I am trying to let him do the worrying for me. He knows what the medical risks might be; I just imagine horrors.


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Wishing all the best for you despite the trials and tribulations of surgery and being in a hospital... I've had my share of that over the past few years and I never ever want to see another hospital food menu ever again. Whatever it claims to be if it isn't fresh fruit or yogurt, it's inedible!!
I have a friend with polycystic kidney disease. It's genetic. Her father died of it in his 80's. Her brother is awaiting a kidney. She will need dialysis eventually. Good luck!! I'm grateful for medical advancements. May your life be great after your surgery.