Monthly Archives: January 2013

Body Parts

The first time I try using the therapeutic dildo, it is so painful I think – “May the walls shrivel! Who cares?” I mention the pain to a female doctor friend. A few days later a present arrives. I love presents and tear open the package. It is a humble jar with a homemade label: “Vital Vulva Wild Yam Salve.” Can you imagine the ads on mainstream TV, equal to erectile dysfunction ones? “Is your Vulva depressed, dry, and unwelcoming? Does your vagina suffer from lack of use, loss of vitality, or has it recently been irradiated? Renew your vulva now! Restore it to the vital vaginal gateway that it once was with Vital Vulva Wild Yam Salve!! Best of all there are no life threatening side effects since Vital Vulva Wild Yam Salve is 100% NATURAL. So no worries! When you are ready for love, so will be your Vital Vagina!”

Vital Vulva Yam Salve

The whole idea of the radiation was to kill replicating vaginal cells just in case they were cancerous. My private parts are decidedly un-vital, uninviting. Even with lubrication, the therapy feels like torture and I finally quit. As parts of myself are shrinking, I have been watching tadpoles thriving in the kiddy pools I bought them. They are growing new appendages. One day they have little leg buds on either side of their tails, a few days later, substantial legs with feet. They adapt to this new mode of locomotion with fervor. Their flicking tails are the last to go.

Toad Babies

My metamorphosis into “spayed female” leaves me with a feeling of being hollowed out. Is it the loss of the protective omentum or the uterus, ovaries etc. that make me feel this way? I start to wonder which body parts are vital to keep moving forward through life.

A few years before the cancer diagnosis, I visited my mother at her Assisted Living Facility. She was eating lunch. Suddenly her eyes widened, she paused in her chewing, spit a tooth into the palm of her hand. I was overcome with dread, reminded of a recurring dream of losing all my teeth.

Losing Teeth
Dreams about tooth loss are said to signify loss of power, inability to express one’s needs, fear of death.

“Mom, we need to take you to the dentist.”
“Because your tooth just fell out.”
“So,” she says, stalwart as ever.

I ask her for the tooth and she hands it to me as though it were a discarded tissue. I clean it, put it in an envelope, and label it “Mom’s Tooth.” I do not want my mother to fall apart. Bit by bit, she does. She does not go to the dentist. She dies not long after losing the tooth. About eight months later I take my father to have a tooth pulled. When I go to pick him up, I expect to find him in a cozy carpeted waiting room. “Your father is still in there,” a young woman directs me to a large hollow green tiled room. The place seems barbaric. My father sits in the dentist’s chair as though left here alone to come out of the anesthesia. He has a bit of blood on his chin. A tray of extracting tools and bloodied gauze pads are next to him. I see his tooth on the floor and pick it up. He smiles at me as though all is well. I take the tooth home, clean it and sequester it in the envelope with my mother’s, just as their wedding rings nestle together in a velveteen box. My father dies two weeks later.

A friend of mine is interested in a new form of therapy. She offers to introduce it to me. She gently suggests that I should ask myself why I got cancer – what did it do for me, as though I had some say in the matter. She asks, “How would you characterize your relationship with your uterus?” Willing to try anything to put myself on a path of healing, I struggle for an answer. “Well, my periods were always painless, so I suppose I owe it some gratitude . . ” This seems superficial. I try to dig deeper, but come up with nothing, and now that the uterus is in Kaiser’s deep freeze, less than nothing. Did I get cancer because I neglected my uterus all these years??!!

Continuing Where We Left Off – Irradiated the First Time

Here is the last image that I posted – the first radiation treatment:
Radiation Room

July 14, 2009 The Second and Third Radiation Treatments
“Okay Ms. Ogus. You are done. Now our technician will come in to test the radiation levels in the room to make sure it is safe.” What? What about me? What about him? He is not wearing a lead suit. He just points his Geiger counter at this and that and says “Okay.” The nurses return to extricate me from the shoulder straps, tube, and stirrups. By now, Queen Vagina is so sore I don’t care that I yell out in pain when they remove the tube. Any sense of modesty or shame is long gone. I had consensual sex with radiation in front of a cavalry of nurses, doctors and technicians. Consensual or not, I feel raped, violated. When I get to my car, I double over in tears. A vagina is too tender for this kind of treatment. Though mine no longer leads anywhere, it must contain a million nerve pathways heading straight to the center of my being. Crowned, raw, and irradiated, at minimum she deserves a role in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. A Greek chorus would be more like it: Rows of real females, not the usual masked males, join hands, raise their arms up high, shout their outrage to the heavens. They wail, evoking the pain of every woman ever raped. A hundred voices singing every violation of this tenderest of female parts; dissonant howls that merge and finally ring in harmony.

(Today is January 4, 2013. A major current news item is the rape and subsequent death of a young woman in India. She was gang-raped on a bus. The men shoved a metal pipe in her vagina. This caused so much internal damage that she could not be saved. I too was raped as a young woman – by a single stranger. Both my rape and this radiation treatment are trivial compared to what happened to this Indian woman. A Greek chorus should wail for her.)

During the week after the first treatment I gird my loins (sorry I couldn’t resist) take on a get tough attitude and ask myself, “How can I turn this into something positive?” I decide to take my cancer cookbook, One bite at a Time, by Rebecca Katz to the waiting room to share with the other patients. Instead of the noisy flock, there are only three women in the waiting room, a frail elderly white woman, a forty-ish robust-looking woman whose shins are marked with black x’s, and a middle-aged Asian woman, maybe Filipino. I introduce myself and the cookbook, rave about Rebecca’s skill at turning kabocha squash into a gourmet meal. The Filipino woman takes a look. The elderly woman smiles, the woman with the black X’s says, “All I eat is sweets. I hate vegetables.” I want to cry out – “But sugar feeds cancer. It’s bad for you!” Just in the nick of time, I realize my desire to share is proselytizing, not what these women need right now, nor can I cure anybody else’s cancer.

The second treatment is a repeat of the first. The gold seeds must have been flushed down the toilet during the previous week. Usually they stay put. “I’m sorry Ms. Ogus. You are just unlucky. This rarely happens. I am so sorry.” This time the doctor shoots them in with more thrust. By now everyone is used to my yelping. I ask him to x-ray me before he sticks in the radiation tube instead of after – so we can avoid excessive strafing of my poor vaginal walls. Again, they leave me alone while the radiations is administered. Birthday or not, when it is all over I have no appetite for mint chocolate chip ice-cream.

The following week, they X-ray me again before inserting the Tube. Three is the charm. The gold seeds stay in. When the eleven minutes are up, the nurse tells me to dress and meet for a consultation in her office. She seats me next to her desk on which there is a brown paper bag. “I have some presents for you,” she says cheerfully. “Here is your diploma for completing the treatment.” It is a rolled up certificate secured with a pink ribbon. “And this.” “This” is a white, hard plastic, smooth walled dildo whose diameter looks daunting. “You need to used this for 15 minutes everyday for the next eight months to keep your vagina from closing up. The radiation can make the vaginal walls shrink.” I want to ask if she has a smaller one, but that seems so . . . unmacho.

Presents After Radiation

The first time I try this, it is so painful I think – let them shrivel! Who cares? I talk to a doctor friend, and she recommends a natural lubricant to ease the process – in fact she sends it to me as a present.

Return to the Cancer Frog Blog

Dear Cancer Frog Blog Readers,
It has been two years since my last post. Why did I stop? There are a few reasons. One, I started to dread thinking about cancer all the time. I wanted to think about the rest of life. Instead I had drawn a really ugly scary cartoon about hope and death and thought “Who wants to look at that?”

Death Dreams

Two, I got lazy – I had framed all the cartoons and had a show of them at a local gallery. Many of my friends generously came to the opening and bought the framed pieces (which I was not expecting – I sort of forgot that the art was for sale and that the gallery wanted to make some money). After all this excitement and a return to work and recreating, I didn’t feel like staying up till 1 in the morning to work on the blog. I became a couch potato. The last reason is the most embarrassing to of all. I got scared. Here is why – this was written at the time it happened:
January 2011
I continue to write down the names of famous people who die of cancer, Jill Clayburgh, American actress, of Leukemia, Maurice Lucas, basketball star, of bladder cancer, Pete Postlethwaite, British actor, unnamed cancer. This gets tiresome, seems elitist, not to mention wearing. So many people are dying of cancer everyday.

Chronicle Books has a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity. Make a donation and you can present your book idea to an appropriate editor. I print out some of the frog blog illustrations and three entries of text. It is a rainy day in San Francisco. I wear an ultramarine long raincoat whose fabric flows artistically. Chronicle’s small retail store serves as the waiting room and many eager writers mill around, reading titles, leafing through books. I imagine the Cancer Frog Blog imprinted and bound professionally between two hard covers with amphibian textured end pages. What an honor, what a coup, what a perfect ending to this ordeal! I look at my notes for my Pitch. I feel a hot flash coming on but don’t want to take off the attractive raincoat, as though the bright blue will help me get published.

Just before my turn to approach an editor in the Living and Style section, another candidate approaches me and we exchange book ideas.
“Oh, I had a friend who had cancer. She just died, four years after her diagnosis.”
“What kind of cancer did she have?”
“Same as you,” she says. My blood pounds in my temples and I am suddenly so hot, there is no question of leaving on the raincoat. I take it off, juggle it with my cheat sheets and blog excerpts. My name is called. I approach a small table and sit in front of a young woman with cropped dark hair, hip casual clothes. She is half my age. The raincoat slithers out of my grasp and puddles to the floor. My faces flushes. Instead of cool blue I present her with freaked out red.

Chronicle Books

I hand her the proposal with 3 pages of text and 15 printed illustrations from the blog. I stammer something about a memoir about cancer using a frog as the protagonist. She looks through the art. She does not read a single word. “I don’t see how people could relate to a frog,” she says, “and the quality of the art . . . Furthermore you have no platform.” Later a friend of mine who is a published author tells me that editors these days are all looking for an author’s “PLATFORM,” like a diving board from which the work can soar with a fancy sequence of commercial gymnastics. “Have you seen Marisa Marchetto’s book, Cancer Vixen?” My face flushes again. I hear: “You are a nobody. Your art sucks. Marisa is a famous New Yorker cartoonist. Her book is being made into a movie starring Cate Blanchette. Even Kermit wouldn’t want to star in a film about you.” To this young, ambitious and determined editor, I am just a statistic who will soon die of cancer.
“Who is reading your blog?” she asks.
“Friends, other people who come upon it or are referred to it. Everyone seems to like it.”
“Well just keep writing it for your friends. Thanks for coming by.”
I try to smile graciously but feel my eyes shrinking into dark little beads of humiliation. I grab my notebook and the raincoat, which keeps snaking off my arm. I am so hot I don’t try to wrestle it on as I hurry past the tidy shelves of smug published books into the drizzle. A car honks at me as I dodge blindly across the bustling San Francisco traffic.

End of the post. So the young editor’s opinion was enough to scare me into inactivity. Because of the disappearance of the blog, people have even wondered whether I have died. Well I have not – yet. And the Cancer Frog Blog is back!!!