This is my first contribution to this group, to which I owe so very much. I hope this will encourage you to share your own introductions to, and journeys with, this strange disease, whether it whispered or shouted.
It is called “the whispering cancer” because ovarian cancer has no distinct symptoms. In the year before the diagnosis, it seems to me I spent more time in doctors’ offices and had more x-rays and CT scans (head, chest, belly—but, for the belly, an x-ray, which cannot “see” ovarian cancer) than I have throughout the rest of my life. And yet, no one caught it until I went the rounds the second time with my complaints of constipation. Constipation! Late on a Wednesday afternoon a clinic physician I had never seen before palpated my belly, and had the nurse make me an appointment for a CT scan asap. The scan was Friday morning, and by Friday evening I was in the hospital talking to the gyn-oncologist, standing by my hospital bed in my hospital nightgown. Why didn’t I sit down? I don’t know.
The sense of being not quite well (not ill, just “not quite well”) had been with me for some time. Generally I put it down to aging (I am now in Medicare) and a fairly stressful but rewarding job—though a part of me always knew this explanation was inadequate, and that’s what kept me going to the doctors. How long? Several years, it seems on reflection, but was that always the cancer? Who can say? The year preceding the diagnosis, however, was a doozy. Again and again my husband and I were thrust into situations readily described as “life-threatening”, that all eventually evanesced—two heart-pounding highway near-accidents due to a malfunctioning car (one that has been regularly serviced and checked and had never given trouble before); a stroke that wasn’t; a fall that should have resulted in a cracked skull but only occasioned a colorful bruise. Death was at my shoulder shouting in my ear. I finally went to a psychologist. I told her I had to find out what this meant, because if I didn’t, I would lose something—perhaps my life. It was shortly thereafter that constipation led to my evening conversation with the on-call gyn-oncologist, a wonderful physician who has become central to my treatment.
Over the years I have regularly used alternative therapies—chiropractic, reiki, acupuncture, meditation, sound healing, aromatherapy — partly out of curiosity and partly because “there are more things in heaven and earth ….” It was always complementary to standard medical care. I had no hesitation in accepting my gyn-oncologist’s recommendation for immediate radical surgery, and then participating in a Cancer Institute research project and research therapy. I consider it a sign of his excellence as a healer that he is interested in, and even encourages use of, alternative methods, while himself practicing the most advanced cancer treatments available.
I am now finished with intensive chemotherapy, and am on maintenance chemo. There is a “before cancer” and there are many “afters”: “after surgery”; “after intensive chemotherapy”; “after the CT scan that says there is no longer any evidence of cancer.” I am not to that point, but neither am I moving in the other direction. My oncologist and his team remain both optimistic and cautious. They are very very good at the psychological side of treatment, and I am grateful.
But there is no “after cancer”, particularly this kind.
Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7:30-8:30 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.