Ok, so a quick recap. In May 2019, I had a long-overdue colonoscopy. I was basically diagnosed with cancer immediately after the procedure. And my life had changed forever, changed by one simple question: “Where do you want to go for oncology?”
Next I met my surgeon, a man that knows my insides more intimately than anyone else on the planet. But the cancer team most certainly did not stop there. Not by a long shot. The next providers I got to meet were my oncologist Dr. Breakstone and my radiologist Dr. Leonard. They were both at my intake appointment, which I thought was sort of weird, but what did I know. Dr. Breakstone, the oncologist, definitely seemed to be the one in charge. And I really, really liked her. She was so confident, yet I felt heard at the same time, which can be hard to find when you start drilling down into “experts.”
To be honest, I really have no idea what either woman said or what I said during that visit. I don’t even remember if my partner came with me or not. He missed most of my appointments because of three reasons. The first was simple logistics. We have little kids at home and if he was going to come with me, it meant we had to find someone to watch them, which can be super challenging. Second, I kind of didn’t really want anyone with me. And as sit here and I think about why, I honestly believe it is because I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I had rectal cancer, because, well, isn’t that a MAN’S cancer? I know how utterly stupid that sounds and I had NO idea I even held such a bizarre bias, but I sure did. And I had the ass cancer coupled with this weird embarrassment to prove it. This journey, although it deeply involved everyone in my life, was still so, so intimate for me. It was something that was going on deep in the cavern that is my body, my method of transport, my vessel. The whole thing was just so, so bizarre. And I kind of wanted to tackle it on my own. I wanted to remain focused and felt like having people with me would be a distraction from the emotional and energetic work that the cancer was sent to instigate.
See, I was never, ever mad that I had cancer. Not once. Sure I was sad and scared, but I believed from the very beginning, well, rather, once the shock wore off, that the cancer was here, in my body, to serve a purpose. I learned so, so much during this journey. Like, what it feels like to not only have but to truly recognize one’s tribe. I learned about the importance of support and how difficult it was for me to ask for it. I learned that I needed to slow down. And I learned that I really, really, really needed to forgive. I had been holding on to so much bitterness and so much resentment and it had manifested itself into a life-threatening growth in the one place that has power and control over letting go…my rectum. How apropos. But we’ll talk more about this later.
Ok, and so the third reason I did most of my treatment on my own is something that I didn’t learn until 18 months past my diagnosis. And that reason is that my partner needed some separation from my treatment. He had to keep the house, the kids, and himself together and if he had been inundated with the sights, sounds, and smells of cancer treatment, it would have been too much and his head may have exploded. I’ve talked to other survivors about this and who said as much about their partners.
And to be honest, home is really where I needed him. When I was at treatment, there were a gazillion support people all around me. So, I was never really alone. I learned how to lean on them quickly and found my own little tribe at the cancer center. Where I needed my partner was at home, to listen to me cry, to encourage me to do what would make me feel better, and to keep the house and all creatures living in it stable and functioning. And those are not easy tasks.
Ok, back to the team. So we have Dr. Vrees, the GI surgeon, Dr. Breakstone, the oncologist, and Dr. Leonard, the radiologist, as the stars of my ass cancer show. I will go into detail about each of them as we move through the treatment process but wanted to just give you an idea as to how cancer treatment starts. But there were many, many costars and other stars that would be revealed later in the process.
As I reflect back on my initial appointments with each of them, I realize that I was very much not present. I tried so, so hard to listen and to pay attention and to be “a good patient” but damn was it hard. My thoughts were so muddled, so all over the place. Everything was happening so fast that it was almost as if I wasn’t thinking at all. I went almost immediately onto autopilot and spent the next year and a half in this weird daze. I did what they told me to do. I went where they told me to go. I took the drugs they told me to take. I stopped eating and drinking what they told me to stop. I was mindless throughout the entire process. I had to be. If I had to think about everything that was really going on, I would have ended up a completely nonfunctioning, blubbering pile of mess. The best thing I can equate it to is driving.
When we drive, we most certainly do not think about every single thing that we do. We rely on muscle memory. Haven’t you ever ended up someplace and realize that you have no recollection about the actual drive to get there? That was cancer treatment for me.
Alright folks, so that’s it for today. The stage is now really set for the ass cancer show I’m about to share with you.
And please remember…the whole reason I’m sharing this is to educate on what it’s like to be a cancer patient AND to strongly encourage you all to get your cancer screenings as soon as you can…colonoscopies (colorectal cancer), PSA scores (testicular cancer), mammograms (breast cancer), pap smear (cervical cancer). And of course please have your annual physical including blood work. Because I promise you that early detection is a vastly important predictor in survival regardless of the type of cancer.
So stay healthy and well so that you, yes YOU can mine your light beside me.
All my love to you all~