Even Wonder Woman Cries
“You have cancer.” said the doctor.
It was 10:10am, December 24, 2019.
After a two month saga with appendicitis which resulted in an appendectomy, my surgeon called me while on his skiing trip and told me that the pathology report of my appendix came back positive for cancer. He thought I should know immediately.
I sat in the back office at work in complete shock.
This was supposed to be a standard appendectomy and now it's cancer?!
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it.
In the split second of hearing that word, I felt like I was standing in a deep canyon in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the words C-A-N-C-E-R echoing throughout.
I’ve never broke into tears faster or cried harder than at that moment. Not even my mother’s death 11 years ago rendered such burst of emotions. My life turned upside down in a matter of minutes. I just entered a wonderful relationship with a truly amazing man and had new projects in the works. Now, I wonder if I’ll make it to my 47th birthday.
A right hemicolectomy and a partial removal of my liver is strongly recommended. After that, full staging of the cancer can be determined. Chemotherapy is likely.
That wonderful man I mentioned was sitting next to me during the pre-surgery consultation serving as my emotional support and official note taker. There’s no messing around with news like this. An action plan was in order and my doctor didn’t waste time.
If you live long enough, you will get cancer.
- Dr. Robert A. Weinberg
I could just kick myself for not paying better attention in my biology class freshman year of high school. Perhaps I'd be able to understand all this medical jargon. All I can say is it’s about the thousands of cell mutations happening in our bodies every minute of the day. A malignant cell is bound to happen, especially the older you get. The science to all of this is more than my brain can handle yet, it’s the spoonful of shitty-shit-sugar I had to swallow.
Catching cancer before it becomes a malignancy spread throughout the body is the only hope for a cure. Aggressive combinations of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can often completely eliminate cancerous cells that haven’t yet accumulated too many mutations. In these cases, patients can enjoy a full recovery – until they get cancer again.
- Dr. Robert A. Weinberg: Cancer, mutations and the facts of life
There’s no way to properly explain the whirlwind of craziness that comes upon you when you’re diagnosed with something like this, so I reached out to friends who’ve dealt with cancer to hear what they had to say.
ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE
Ana - Argyle, TX was diagnosed with Stage 2B Neoendocrine Carcinoma of the Lung in 2017. Currently cancer free, she maintains 6 month check ups at MD Anderson. Ana is a recent empty nester - amazing as I was both her children’s music teacher in elementary school! In her spare time she loves to read, travel with her husband, and spend time with her girlfriends.
Claire - Seattle, WA was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer ER+ in 2009.
Aside from regular treatments, Claire also took part in clinical trials and rode the hell out of her bicycle throughout.. She remains cancer free with annual check ups at Kaiser Permanente. Claire loves wine and fine foods, but she's most at home doing her annual 200 mile ride on the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP)
Sharon - Ripon, WI was diagnosed with Uterine Cancer in 2011. After a major surgery, she had 6 month check ups for 3 years. She maintains a clean bill of health and remembers the congratulatory handshake the doctor gave her. The sun shone bright that day. Sharon is the mother of two handsomely devilish musician brothers and the Crafting Queen of the Midwest.
Roxanna - Houston, TX was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer in 2007. She underwent 6 months of chemo followed by a mastectomy of the right breast and 6 weeks of radiation therapy. After 5 years of Tamoxifen she was declared cancer free. Roxanna is now pursuing a Nursing degree while working a full time job. Although it's taking some time, she will never give up even if she 'becomes a grandma and while still in college".
Heather - Seattle, WA does not have cancer, but lost both her father and sister to Brca1 positive breast cancer. Heather keeps their memories alive and enjoys skateboarding, raising her violin virtuoso son, and tries to teach herself something new every day.
ON HEARING THE NEWS
Lots of my friends thought it cruel for my doctor to deliver the news on Christmas Eve. Honestly, that was the least of my concerns, but I understand my friends just wanted me to enjoy the holiday season. A co-worker had walked into the office mid-conversation and put his arms around me as I cried, I worked for the rest of the day if only to maintain some sense of normalcy. The day ended with more phone calls to family and lots of wine.
Sharon got the call on Valentines Day - so much for a romantic evening. She sat in her living room stunned at the news and also had a good cry. The hardest part for her was calling her two sons.
It wasn’t a holiday for Heather when she received a call from her sister telling her she was diagnosed with the exact same cancer as her father. He was diagnosed a month prior. All Heather can remember is immediately feeling weak and devastated.
Ana’s news came on her routine heart scan. Roxanna had her biopsy on Christmas Eve and diagnosed a few days later. Claire wasn’t surprised at all at her diagnosis after feeling a lump in the shower.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It’s devastating news of epic proportions and there’s no one day that’s better than another to get that call.
ON “FIGHTING”, “SURVIVING”, AND “BEING ON A JOURNEY WITH CANCER"
Before I continue, I want to express my deep gratitude with the messages of support and encouragement I've received from loved ones; however, I’m finding it hard to relate to some words in the cancer language. I must also say that I felt this way even before I was diagnosed with it.
Fight and journey weren't the best words as my sister and dad wanted to keep an upbeat and positive vibe. Instead, my sister got a tattoo with the word hope on her wrist - Heather
I never felt as though I was fighting because I was in a battle I didn’t want to be in. I just knew I had to be strong and stay upright. Despair, pray, hope, sleep. Rinse and repeat. That’s what I did every day. - Ana
I don't like the terms fighter or survivor. It’s just a case of doing what it takes and following what the experts tell you to do. - Claire
I didn't feel like I was fighting cancer, but everything else. I fought against Satan's attacks on my heart and mind with Bible verses filled with promises. I fought anger with knowing God had a plan. I fought fear by loving those that were terminal. I fought for joy and friendship and acceptance of circumstances - like loss of friends, hair, fun outings, income, and time with my sons. - Roxanna
See, I considered myself a survivor after that fateful day of Jan 7, 2012 when I broke my ankle while on a solo hike with a bear on the trail. Or that weekend of Sept 13, 2018 when my friend and I almost died of drowning and nearly falling off cliffs in the Olympic Wilderness.
As for fighting, well there was that one time on the playground when I was 8, but I digress.
When it comes to the phrase journey with cancer it’s not like cancer and I are holding hands frolicking through the meadows. Cancer is the worst boyfriend, ever! Carla's Book of Life is the journey and unfortunately, cancer is the Debbie Downer chapter in my book.
The feeling of isolation is a dark, murky son-of-a-bitch and it spreads thick as molasses. All of us deal with bad news in different ways and while there’s no right or wrong way to handling it, when it comes down to it, few of us are really there when a friend needs us. Especially if it involves facing our own mortality.
Dealing with cancer is long and arduous. Besides the disease, one now has to keep an eye on depression. It's serious and frightening. Friends and family members are affected too.
At first, everyone was supportive and I had a party where the girls decorated a quilt for me, they wore pink, asked questions, and talked about their experience(s) with cancer, but then some drifted away. Not everyone can handle the burden of a disease like cancer either because they don’t understand it or they just don’t have room for it, mentally. I got that, but it hurt so much to hear the words "I'll be there for you" or "let me know what you need" and they weren’t there. I've learned not to make promises even under the best intentions unless you're going to truly back it up. - Roxanna
Yes, it's been crucial and comforting to talk to friends like Roxanna, Claire, Ana, Sharon, and Heather. But what about my friends who don't have cancer? Will they have the 'mental room' for it? Hell, there are friends I haven’t heard from since I posted about my cancer diagnosis. I have no idea if they even know.
I wasn't working anymore . I was mostly home and saw friends occasionally. I did notice with some who didn't have cancer themselves and one person in particular, who never really had much to do with me, was suddenly concerned about me. I didn't want pity. True friends will be there for you even if they don't know what you're going through themselves. They will be the good listeners. - Sharon
FOR WHAT’S TO COME
As I write this, I’m preparing for a full physical, a colonoscopy, and the BIG surgery. I still don’t know what will happen after that. And frankly, that’s unsettling.
I can’t think straight.
Shit, I can't think beyond what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow.
I’ve worn the same clothes multiple days at a time - hey, it doesn’t stink.
I think about my pops, my brothers, the friends I haven't seen in years, how I will keep timely on bills, will I get to see my my aunt? Will I get to go on another epic hike? Will I lose sexual desire? Will I still love gumbo? Will I still get to see the colors of the sunsets over the ocean? Will I get to celebrate my friend’s accomplishments? And many, many more things.
I don’t believe in bucket lists, but seriously, if I could just see a Sasquatch.
Every day is different and that's all I can say.
I just need you to let me be the happy, sad, angry, darkly funny, annoying, grateful, loving, laughing, dramatic telenovela latina, wonderful, confused, usual self.
Because in the end, even Wonder Woman cries.
* I would like to give a special thanks to all the divine women (Roxanna, Ana, Claire, Sharon, and Heather) who helped me write this post. You all reached out to me first when I didn't even know where to start in dealing with this news. Thank you for holding my hand through this.