Saturday, June 23, 2007

Welcome to the Club

You see the women banded together, arm in arm, with their pink t-shirts, bald heads, and baseball caps with ribbons on them and think, "wow, now that's a group of courageous women". You kind of envy those women and their camaraderie. I know I did.

I've always felt like I needed to be a member of some kind of group and had trouble finding it. I'm so embarrassed to say this, but I almost wished something big would happen to me so I could have something to be motivated by; something to identify myself with. Do you ever hear about those people who get in horrific car accidents and then they all of a sudden have a greater respect for life, or some purpose they may not have had before? I think I was looking for that purpose.

After my surgery, I went into the Cancer Institute where my oncologist's office is and we talked about what was going to happen next. She told me I was in Stage IC Clear Cell Ovarian Cancer which is an epithelial cancer. Stage I is when only one ovary has cancer, II is when both ovaries have cancer, III is when it has spread to other areas of the abdomen (uterus, fallopian tubes, etc.), and IV is when it has metastasized to other areas of the body like the lungs. The C part is the grade of cancer. "A" is a very slow-growing, non-aggressive cancer, and "C" is the most aggressive and easily metastatic. My tumor had grown very large in such a short period of time and was so close to rupturing but was only on one ovary.

During my office visit, I was taken on a trip around the chemo ward for introductions. It is a very quiet place, with people sleeping in large La-Z-Boy chairs while hooked up to bags and bottles of meds. I walked in, fully aware of my long, hair-sprayed hair, and gazed upon all the women and men receiving chemo. Most had some kind of headwrap or hat on. One lady had a turban, one a scarf. There was a man with a full, bushy head of hair. The nurse brought me over to meet a woman in her mid-50's who was also bald with a baseball cap on. She looked rather sporty and energetic. She was connected to her meds through her chest using a port which is a catheter inserted under the skin above the collar bone to administer chemo. The nurse wanted me to see her port because she wanted me to have one as well. I asked all sorts of questions about it; one of which was "does your bra-strap get in the way?". As soon as the words left my mouth, this confident woman looked slightly embarrassed and I realized she had no breasts and was probably not wearing a bra. She sheepishly said, "No."

After leaving the chemo ward I felt almost evil. I was secretly excited to be a member of this group, even after meeting the woman with no breasts. I guess I felt like I could some how feed off these people's confidence and motivation, something I was lacking, and that was more important than worrying about my body parts. I would use this energy to my advantage and make it through this with a new outlook on life, a new purpose, and be just like all those women who do that Susan G. Komen race with linked arms. I almost couldn't wait to lose my hair even. I wasn't really looking forward to it, but I wanted people to know what I was going through and I felt like a faker with just a t-shirt or a ribbon citing my impending fight. Losing your hair is a visible mark that you have cancer.

What I didn't know is that later in the process I would feel much, much different about it. I would feel more alone at times than I did before the cancer diagnosis. I would need much more help. I wouldn't even be able to trudge through a cancer walk on my own. Luckily, I wouldn't have to.

The Last Lecture