They say that childbirth is one of the most painful experiences a woman can go through. But afterwards, you forget the pain because they bring you your beautiful baby and love overrides the memory of the pain. But I didn’t have a baby. I had a tumor. And quite frankly, that thing was a real asshole. They gave me a picture of it. It even LOOKED like an asshole. It almost looked like THE Asshole. You know, the one who caused the whole world to descend into anger and outrage from 2017 to 2021? All pinched and puckered and a sickly yellowy orange color. But NOBODY needs to see THAT.
Ok, let’s back up. In May of 2021, just as CoVid vaccinations were allowing pandemic restrictions to begin to loosen their grip on our lives, I was in the process of switching to a new Family Doctor. She sent me off to do some standard lab work for her records and based on a couple of things in those labs, she sent me for a routine colonoscopy. My first one. More about the prep for THAT later. At my colonoscopy they found a tumor. They couldn’t get the camera past it. And yes, it was cancerous. That same week, my father-in-law passed away, so a day after I got my diagnosis, my husband had to fly back to Massachusetts for ten days. It was an important trip, he needed to go. And I guess I needed time to process everything on my own. The Doctor sent me for a CT scan so they could get a better idea of everything. The report came back that it looked like the cancer had spread to my liver. But he said it was a small amount and isolated on one side, so they could perform a liver bisection surgery and remove that, too. So, his game plan was to remove the tumor in my colon, send me for 4 or 5 months of chemo, then send me for the liver surgery, and then another 4 or 5 months of chemo.
I yelled and screamed and cried; I wrote angry journal entries; I meditated every day; I called up my closest friends and family members and told them I needed their support; I started morning Yoga; I spent as much time as I possibly could outside enjoying nature; I ate the healthiest food I could. I changed my habits and made a new routine for myself. I kept myself occupied with home projects meant to make my recovery from the surgery more comfortable. But everything turned into a metaphor. For instance, I decided to replace the wooden patio tiles on our balcony which had been there for over 5 years. Pulling up each tile was a new experience in horror. All the creepy, crawly, roly-poly bugs that were living under there – just under our feet for years without us knowing. Just like the creepy horrors that can be in our bodies without us knowing. What you can’t see… right? I pulled tile after tile, swept the bugs down the drainpipe and scrubbed and bleached and rinsed that balcony until it was practically sanitized. Cathartic? Yes. Disgusting? Even more so. I tried to be thankful: after all, if I hadn’t switched to a new doctor, I never would have known, right? And at least I live here in Canada – if I were still living in the USA, the healthcare required to fight this thing could have easily bankrupted us. But it still didn’t seem fair. I’ve always taken such good care of my body. This wasn’t supposed to be part of my story. I didn’t want to be defined by an illness. I didn’t want people’s pity, and I definitely did not want to play the victim. I’m a fighter. A survivor. As a dancer, I’ve always been really aware of my body and my health. Funny thing was, there were a few little things with my system that were a bit off, but I just chalked them up to menopause, as so many women my age do – or are persuaded to believe. I was getting tired a little more easily, my appetite had decreased a little, my digestion seemed a little sluggish (although I was still pooping every morning like a champ), my hot flashes had returned. Just little things. At 52, it was all just a part of aging, I figured.
They gave me my surgery date. June 9th. That date is the anniversary of my mom’s passing. You see, I’d been worrying about a different kind of cancer. Ovarian. That’s what took my mom in 2017 after a five-year fight. She had the BRCA2 genetic mutation for breast and ovarian cancer. I was tested, and I had the mutation as well. I became part of the Hereditary Cancer Program and High-risk clinic. I was given annual breast MRI’s and mammograms. And I was encouraged to have my ovaries removed preventatively. Because there is still no screening for ovarian cancer. It just sneaks around laterally and when they finally catch it, it’s because it’s moved into another area of your body and set up housekeeping. I was petrified that’s what had happened. I had just made the decision to have my ovaries removed, but hadn’t set a surgery date yet. Then this happened. I cursed my indecision. I’d had a surgery date set back in 2019, but I cancelled it a few weeks out. I’d done some research and I just didn’t feel ready yet. So I asked my surgeon if they could yank out my ovaries while they were in there. I mean, no sense in cutting me open twice, right? So they found a gynecological surgeon to be there at my surgery to do just that.
On my witchiest friend’s advice, I made a little altar to my mom at home with photos and mementos of her. I figured if my surgery was on the date of her passing, there was a pretty good chance she’d be there in the operating room, protecting me, watching out for me; making sure it was a success.
My husband returned and I was in a good place: strong, healthy and getting myself mentally prepared to take everything one step at a time. He had to quarantine at home for 14 days after his trip to the USA, so we spent a lot of time together, enjoying our home, our cats and each other’s company as I was getting ready for step 1 – my colon surgery.