CoffeeBeer >> Warts & All >> Moon In Cancer

July-November 1992
Page 4

The Weeks Between

Thursday Week 6

Yesterday I went in for my post-op checkup. I was still bleeding from my cervix, so I had curtailed my activities for a couple of days. Doctor H looked inside me and applied some medicine which felt horrible. She told me she'd schedule my next surgery for the last week in September and that I would stop bleeding now and then she sent me home.

All afternoon my cervix was stinging from the medicine. This part of my anatomy, of which I had never been aware before, was burning so much I finally lay down on the bed and curled up in the fetal position and spent some time moaning. This morning my abdomen is really hurting, and the pressure on my bladder feels as if I'm getting a urinary tract infection. Oh great, I figure. I've got a little over five weeks before I have to be incapacitated for six weeks, and I'm wasting it being incapacitated! I've got big plans for the rest of this month and next month: to do necessary errands and stock up on things I might need in two months, to buy a couple more books for my nonsleeping recovery period, to clean house before my operation, to get our home business catalogue finished and to the printer and mailed out, to go to a couple of plays and to Bumbershoot with M, and to have a lot of sex! I sure don't want to waste this time curled up in a moaning ball.

I seem to be over my first period of depression about this. I guess I've accepted what has happened and what is going to happen to me. It's really strange, though. I tend to forget that I have cancer, and then when I remember that I do, it still seems like news. I still feel very weird talking to friends or relatives who don't know what's happened. I find myself saying things like, "How are you? Oh, we're doing fine! Yeah! I'm fine! Except for a little cancer, that is..." I guess it's hard to comprehend what it is that's happened to me. It takes quite awhile to fully grasp the fact that I've had another brush with death. I still feel like myself, but my friends and relatives are feeling sorry for me and everybody wants to come up and see me. It's this strange abstract thing again that has come along and changed my life for me. It has nothing to do with anything I've done or said or caused to happen. It's like something else beyond my control came along and determined what M and I would be doing this autumn. It's like a freak tornado. And yet I feel inclined to own it, to call it my tornado. But I can't really own it because I can't control it. It's as if hostile extraterrestrials who want to devour the earth are living in my cervix. It's a big responsibility.

Saturday Week 6

(It's funny how I can't even remember what month it is, much less what part of the month it is.) My surgery is scheduled for Wednesday of Week 12. At 7:40am. Yikes.

Yesterday I still hadn't stopped bleeding and I was feeling intense abdominal pressure, so I went to see Doctor H again. She made a few jokes about naming the examining room after me and giving me my own parking place. And then she proceeded to "cauterise" me once again, which involved doing something awful-feeling to my insides. She was quite surprised that I could feel my cervix that much. Yes, I could feel the intense sting of the medicine with which she coated the wound. I could feel it all day, and I can still feel it. She gave me some Naproxin for the pain and a prescription for Septra to get rid of my urinary tract infection. She suspected that the catheter they used on me after my surgery (of which I was completely unaware until this moment) probably caused the infection.

M dropped me off at home. Uncomfortable and in burning pain, I quickly downed the first Septra tablet and one of the golfball-sized anti-inflammatory tablets. Then I curled up on the couch with a book and no big plans for the rest of the day. I felt much better until we had dinner and my intestines started swelling and hurting.

This morning I had a quick breakfast and downed another pain pill, hoping it would start to work very quickly. Then I walked down to my hairdresser's salon and had him colour my hair. The day has been a perfect summer day: sunny with billowy white clouds, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and breezy and fresh. My guts are once again bloated and in pain, my bladder infection doesn't seem much better, but my hair looks great.

Tuesday Week 8

I'm recovered from my surgery except for my physical stamina. I'm eating just about normal amounts of food now, and I'm having two beers or glasses of wine at night. I haven't had enough nerve to go out and have a second espresso in the afternoons, but I'm still quite sleepy and not falling asleep too well, so I don't think I'll start up the 2-espressos-a-day habit this month.

I was expecting to call my temping agency by now and tell them I was ready for work. Yesterday I walked to the post office and then took the Monorail downtown and went to the bank and then took the bus tunnel to Ruby Montana's to buy some cards. By that time I was completely exhausted and wishing I were at home lying down. For the past two days I've been feeling very tired and rather weak and my skin is hot like I'm having hot flashes. Some pink stuff is still coming out of me, sort of like I'm spotting. For a few days something really gross was coming out of me. Am I really supposed to have stuff that looks like spinach up in my cervix?

Needless to say, I put off my hoped-for afternoon of intercourse with M. I assume I'm healed enough up there. I just didn't want him to get as grossed out as I was. We've been having sex in any other manner possible, however. Safe sex, I guess it's called. I have been so horny. I'm not looking forward to abstaining completely for at least a month.

Because I'm not feeling quite right yet, I'm depressed again. Or maybe I'm not feeling quite right yet because I am depressed again. I can't really tell. I guess I've reached the point where I'm doing some regular things: walking to the post office, filling orders, cooking dinner, changing Wesley's litter box, browsing through Tower Books—and then I start to feel like everything is normal and okay again. And then I suddenly realise that it isn't normal and okay. Things are not normal. I still have cancer.

I wonder if there is a class one can take to learn how to be when one has cancer: how to talk to one's friends, how to write letters, how to act when one walks down the street, how to not feel like a crippled person who just expects certain things. I'm always touched by the cards we receive or the phone calls I get from good friends and family and people I don't know all that well, all telling me how sorry they are for me and for us and how they hope things will go okay. Just when I get used to feeling normal again, I get one of these cards or calls and the whole surrealism of the situation comes back to slap me in the face. And then I look in the mirror and I still see me, and I wonder who in the hell they're talking about. This isn't denial; I know I have cancer. I just don't quite understand what it all means.

A cousin of mine had a Class V pap smear eight years ago. They took out her uterus and lymph nodes and left her ovaries. And they didn't have to do anything else. Another relative has just had a Class II pap smear. Her GP waited three months, took another pap smear, and now wants to test her to see if she has a sexually transmitted disease. I've decided that this whole pap smear class thing is so arbitrary, so vague. Apparently if you have a Class II to a Class V pap smear it means that all is not normal and you might have cancer and they had better keep investigating until they find out if you do or don't. (If it's Class V it's a little more probable that you do have cancer—although they did a cone biopsy on my cousin first, too.) I guess the field of medicine just isn't that cut and dried. I guess cancer is too weird for anybody to really understand. Even doctors.

I can feel this depression surrounding me and invading my system again. My fingernails are too long. I wonder how many days it will take before I get sick enough of them to cut them. I'm going to attempt to take the trash out. I wonder how many hours it will take me to accomplish that. I'm leaving the finishing of the new tape catalogue to M. He's busier than hell and he's stressed out, but at least he isn't crippled with depression.

My parents left for Europe today. Perhaps that's why I'm so depressed. I don't feel envy anymore. If I was with them it would be difficult to enjoy myself with all of this to look forward to. I think it's more a fear that my mother will not be able to enjoy herself. I want her to have a good time, and I want my father to have a good time, and I want my brother to have a good time. It's not pure selflessness on my part, either. I just know how important European travel is to me and my family. And I would feel so terrible if I were to know that I was responsible—unintentionally, of course, but still responsible—for making any of them not enjoy themselves as much as they might have if I hadn't had cancer. It's a subtle thing, I guess. I just don't want to be making other people's lives miserable. And it's so difficult for me to fake that I'm not bothered by this whole situation and that I'm not scared and that I feel just great and optimistic. My parents taught me never to lie.

Wednesday Week 8

I went to the library today to see what I could find out about adenocarcinoma of the cervix. In their new computerized card catalogue they had listings under "cancer" and "cancer - cervical" and "cancer - squamous cell" but nothing for "adenocarcinoma" and nothing for "cancer - adenocarcinoma" except for various magazine articles about lung cancer. So I went to the Cancer section on the second floor and browsed through the indices and tables of contents of all of the books. Almost none of the books said anything about adenocarcinoma. Few of them said much specifically about cervical cancer. Only two books actually mentioned adenocarcinoma of the cervix. Both of them kept referring to "cervical cancer" as squamous cell cancer. Each of them finally said that there is an extremely rare type of cervical cancer called adenocarcinoma, but since it's so rare they weren't going to discuss it.

So I basically found out nothing. I have learned in the past couple of days, however, that apparently dysplasia turns into squamous cell cancer and not into adenocarcinoma. (So adenocarcinoma is not necessarily detected by a pap smear? What does this mean?) I also read that women who get squamous cell cervical cancer tend to have had multiple sex partners in their life, but there is no correlation for women who get adenocarcinoma of the cervix. They can be either promiscuous or virgins or somewhere in between; it doesn't matter at all. It just feels like we're talking about two completely different diseases here. Reading all I can about "cervical cancer" is only going to educate me on squamous cell cervical cancer which appears to be completely irrelevant to adenocarcinoma of the cervix. It's like shopping for a size 5 in a size 7-9-11-13 world.

Thursday Week 8

Today we received the following items in the mail:

  1. the gas bill;
  2. an American Film Institute renewal notice;
  3. the September issue of Consumer Reports Travel Letter;
  4. another in a series of Blue Cross Explanations of Benefits (for lab/xray services July 31, 1992);
  5. our first insurance-adjusted bill from Swedish Hospital for $106.53;
  6. our first insurance-adjusted bill from Seattle OB/Gyn Group for $102.92;
  7. a letter from a group called "Choice in Dying" offering Living Wills to people who are going into the hospital—and, of course, asking for my contribution.

Tuesday Week 9

I started my final menstrual period some time last week. I'm not sure if it was Wednesday or Thursday or Friday. It was at least two days early, anyway. And I'm still having it in buckets; I am bleeding profusely this morning, so much that I don't think I'll be able to walk down to the post office without bleeding through a tampon and a pad. It's impressive.

I've also been experiencing quite a bit of pain with this period: burning pain. I thought this period, being my last one, was going to be particularly sweet and nostalgic and memorable to me. Instead it's been rather catastrophic (in terms of getting blood on everything) and exhausting and debilitating. M and I enjoyed a cold rainy day at Bumbershoot yesterday, and I kept leaking through my corks.

Yes, it's rather cold and rainy. Today is M's and my second anniversary of living in Seattle. It's been in the 40s at night and the 60s in the daytime. I'm wearing a sweater in broad daylight in the summertime. It's such wonderful exciting weather. I wish I felt just fine and I could go out and enjoy it to the fullest and stroll in the rain and sit in an espresso bar and sip a latte while watching people walk by in coats. Oh, well, as soon as I'm healed from my surgery, winter will be waiting for me. Snow and rain. Beautiful fresh cool air: air with which to start my life over.

Wednesday Week 11

It's a week before my surgery. I'm finally getting really nervous and agitated. I had trouble sleeping last night and awoke at 5:00 this morning. It's almost 6:00 at night and M will be home and I'm so nervous because there is so much I want to finish, letters I want to write, projects I want to finish, before I go into the hospital. I haven't felt this stressed out in a long time.

Yesterday I went in for my pre-op exam. I discovered the Number 12 bus runs right by the entrance to the medical building, so I figured I'd go downtown and catch the Number 12 so I wouldn't have to walk three blocks uphill from the Number 3 and therefore be out of breath and have a raised blood pressure and racing pulse for the doctor.

So I caught the Number 4 at 10:46am intending to get off at 3rd and Union and wait 10 minutes for the Number 12 which would get me to my 11:15 appointment at 11:09. The Number 4 was late and running very lethargically. As I got off at 3rd and Union I saw the Number 12 off in the distance, about a minute past my stop. So I waited for the next Number 12, which naturally was late.

I made it to Doctor H's office at 11:25, exactly 10 minutes late. Doctor H had been called to the hospital to deliver a baby, so they sent me over to the hospital to go through pre-admitting.

A young woman in a suit sat me down in her office and began inputting address and insurance information into a computer. She suddenly looked at me and said, "You look great without makeup! I wish I could get away with that!" Next a nurse weighed me. I weighed 51 kilograms. Then he led me into a room and asked me various assorted medical history questions and told me not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before and to bring my toothbrush and slippers. He went down a list asking me about my personal habits. When I replied to the "alcohol" question that I usually had a couple of beers every night, he peered off dreamily. He finally sighed, "I'm a Guinness Stout man myself..." I told him I was a Redhook fan and really enjoyed the winter ales. He grinned contentedly and said, "This is a great town for beer, isn't it?"

There was a phone call for me. Doctor H had returned to her office but had to go perform a circumcision in a few minutes. So I rushed back over to her office. She didn't examine me; she simply wanted to talk to me about the surgery. She told me again that they would make a six-inch incision in my abdomen, and that while she was in there she was going to check all of my organs carefully to make sure...well, I don't know, she didn't say exactly. To make sure they aren't encrusted with cancer, I suppose, is what she didn't want to say. But she said not only will she look at my ovaries and my bladder and my intestines, but also my kidneys and my liver. I say if she's going to be rummaging around up by my liver, maybe she should go all the way up and check out my lungs, too. She could tunnel up to my heart and maybe clip off that mitral valve flap with a pair of hedge clippers while she's there. I should have asked her to check out my inner ear if she makes it that far.

I walked back over to the hospital and another nurse drew blood. Amazingly she found a vein right away. Today I noticed I've got a thick track mark and quite a swollen purple vein in my arm.

My brother phoned from France a couple of weeks ago. It sounded like he was in the same room. The next week my mother phoned from England. It sounded like she was phoning from England. My parents got home yesterday, but I haven't talked to them yet. I may call my mother tonight.

I seem to be spotting again. I'm very horny and I keep forgetting that M and I have to have lots of sex for the next few nights. God, am I nervous, so nervous. This might be my last entry until I'm well enough to at least write. Strange. The next words on this page will be uterusless.

The Last Week Before

Monday Week 12

The week before my surgery I became nervous and a little depressed. I received phone calls from my aunt in Texas, from a friend in Albuquerque, from a friend in Sebastopol, from my uncle in San Francisco, and from a friend in Long Beach. This evening I received a phone call from my close friend in El Cerrito who said he was scared and wanted me to calm him down. I also received another call from my Texas aunt and calls from my aunt in Kansas and from my mother-in-law in Long Beach.

Tuesday Week 12

I received a number of good-luck phone calls: from my close friend in Los Angeles, from a cousin, from a friend in England, from a friend in Oregon, from a friend in Palo Alto, a couple from a local friend, from my brother, from my sister-in-law, and from another friend in New Mexico.

My mother had flown up for three weeks, so I took her to Green Lake and we fed the ducks and geese. Then we went to Gasworks Park to see the view, and then my mother bought some salmon. My nurse friend T was coming up on the train from Oregon. My local friend B was going to meet us at the train station and come back to our house, and my mother was going to cook for us which was good because I was getting pretty nervous by now and I didn't feel like participating in any social events. I think M was getting pretty nervous, too.

Unfortunately T's train ran into problems. They had to back it up on the tracks for an hour, a bridge broke and they had to fix it, and she ended up getting into Seattle at 10:30pm. So M and I went down to pick her up. The train station is right next to the King Dome where a sporting event was just about to end. There were police all over the place and they had all of the streets closed off. It was a real mess, but we finally got T and came home and went to sleep.

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