If it is difficult for me at age 61 to face a diagnosis of uterine cancer and the imminent loss of my “female organs,” imagine what a woman who is 40 years younger must need to cope with. I’m wishing sister blogger Emily, age 22, the very best this week as she faces her total abdominal hysterectomy–and a life that is probably going in a different direction than she could have imagined before getting her diagnosis on November 21.
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The Cancer Community
One of the surprising aspects of opening up part of your life to the larger world is discovering how many people have or have had very similar problems. Some of them are even within the closest concentric circles of your life–family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances. . . . Others, like Emily, are part of the increasingly important virtual community.
The word “cancer” used to strike our hearts with a cold, gripping fear when I was a kid half a century ago. Today, so many types of cancer are treatable that many survivors–and thrivers–are here to tell us all about it.
Digression: Why is accelerated mitosis (the basic cell division in our bodies gone haywire) called “cancer“? The word is ascribed to the father of medicine himself, Hippocrates, who in 400 BC associated abnormal masses of cell growth with the karkinos—“crab” in Greek. (You people born in June and July may be interested in knowing about the origin of your astrological sign.) See this interesting NPR story for a discussion.
When your doctor calls you and says, “Well, we’re not done with you yet . . .” and the next words you hear are “. . . the pathology report shows you have uterine cancer,” you go into a sort of dark tunnel where you’re the only lost soul desperately trying to find your way out and back to whatever “normal” was before you got the call. What you don’t realize is that the darkness is really fear–and it is fear that is camouflaging the community of souls traveling down that tunnel with you.
People cope in different ways. I’m an editor-writer, so when I started gathering information and having frustrating experiences, I started this blog within a few days of receiving my diagnosis. I think of all this as an educational, taking-care-of-business time of life; and because my focus is on information and learning, sharing what I’ve been finding out seems natural–and, I hope, helpful.
The benefits to me are, yes, that it provides an outlet, as many have said to me. But beyond that, it provides a means of connecting with others–especially those who have struggled with similar problems. In private correspondence, I’ve been hearing from people I know–and also a few that I don’t–about their own stories with cancer and its effect on their lives. Many of these stories are heartening. Some, such as Emily’s, are more sobering.
Beyond the Cancer Community
Cancer isn’t the worst thing in the world. Don’t misunderstand–it can be devastating, destroying lives and families. Leukemia, a blood cancer, killed my only remaining childhood friend three years ago, and no one in her life has recovered from the loss.*
What I mean is that it is loss itself, of any kind, that is the real killer. And loss comes in many, many forms, whether it be physical illness, psychological disturbance, or emotional bereavement.
For me personally, the most painful loss I have ever experienced–among many–is the loss of connection with others. And this has pointed, sharply, to an even deeper loss–a separation from my sense of self. Uterine cancer has nothing over the erosion that happens to a soul suffering from poor self-acceptance. The old adage is true–you can’t love others, or they you, unless you love yourself first.
Being “sick” is very gradually teaching me how to take better care of myself, to treat myself as if I’m worth being loved and nurtured. Somehow I’ve managed to get through most of my life without believing this. Now I realize that I have to be my own nurse and best friend before I can receive and appreciate what others have to offer.
Here I would like to take a moment to thank those who have been supportive in different ways since I’ve starting grappling with this current disease. Although some people in my life have been silent, others have sent kind written messages, and a few others have offered in-person help–and, more important, company.
Radiation in the form of kindness and companionship is the most healing element of all. I’ll take that over X-rays any day. 🙂
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Please consider sharing your own story through this blog–you can do it anonymously be sending it to me using the Contact Form, or you can let everyone know you’re out there by leaving a Comment. In this context, sharing is caring. My best wishes to all who are working through their own health-and-well-being trials or are helping others with theirs–especially if they involve loss.
*In the meantime before I tell you Sandee’s story, please see her husband, Mitch’s, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising page.