Honoring Those Who Have Succumbed

It is time for the surgery. I feel that I am in good hands. I trust my surgeon. I am surrounded by love, friends, family. This love makes me want to honor those in my too limited experience who have succumbed.

Those Who Have Succumbed

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Cancer Frog Blog by Judith Ogus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at cancerfrogblog.randomarts.biz

This Week – September 19, 2009

At the 9-11 memorial this year, 2009, in New York, another name is added to those who have fallen from the horrors of that day, Leon Heyward. He died last October after developing lymphoma from the tumbledown of toxic debris. This, after he pulled one injured person after another to safety. And this week:

adhoc_1a

The word “cancer” starts to jump out at me from random sources: I read a collection of short stories.  In “Good Country People,” Flannery O’Connor writes of her protagonist: “As a child she had sometimes been subject to feelings of shame, but education had removed the last traces of that as a good surgeon scrapes for cancer . . .”  On the radio, a reporter asks the mayor of Kandahar, Afghanistan, why he has chosen this precarious role. Isn’t he afraid for his life? “Somewhere else you die of cancer or heart attack. Here you are shot or blown up by a bomb. What’s the difference?”

Death and fear coax me out of acceptance. My imagination runs wild. Instead of staying in the present, I project myself forward to post surgical treatment – to the radiation that awaits me:

radiation450

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Cancer Frog Blog by Judith Ogus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at cancerfrogblog.randomarts.biz

Nirvana

As we leave the surgeon’s office, he promises to get 5 other opinions from colleagues and he hands me a folder containing Kaiser’s prepared flyers about cancer.

I am home alone when two of the opinions arrive via the Kaiser web mail program:

1. Don’t mess around with papillary serous . . . .
2. Yes, I agree with the protocol you have selected.

The other 3 opinions are missing. This seems ominous to me. Are they so dire that my surgeon decided not to forward them on to me? I have another irrational bout of weeping.

Irrational Weeping

When I calm down, I open the Kaiser Cancer handout.

Patients respond differently when they discover they have cancer . . . Many feel the need to cry. It is natural and healthy to cry.

I imagine other people who find themselves home alone, or driving across a bridge, or changing a diaper, or trading hi-yield bonds, or humming Yellow Submarine, or eating a spoonful of chocolate ice cream; suddenly it hits them, “I have cancer.” We cannot help ourselves. We cry.

Preparation for surgery requires an EKG, a chest X-Ray, a CT-scan, blood work. Almost everyday I go in for another test, fasting for one and drinking some horrible white concoction for another. This is supposed to taste like banana, but tastes cloyingly sweet like liquid bubble gum.

EKG450

I am lying down on a palette, about to go through the doughnut hole of the CT scanner. I have an IV in my arm and the nurse is administering some dye into my veins. “You will have a sensation of going to the bathroom – don’t worry, you won’t be.”

“Going to the bathroom.” What does she mean? Urinating? Making a bowel movement? I do not feel the fluid entering my veins. The scanner whirs and beeps and its internal ring spins. It directs me as the palette moves forward, “Hold your breath . . . . . Breathe,” as it retreats. Everything slows down. I feel immersed in peace and acceptance. I relinquish myself to my cancer, to this test, to the EKG, the chest X-ray, the imminent surgery. By directing my breath, the scanner has induced Shavasana, the corpse pose, the pose of stilling the body, the senses, the mind, the spirit. For the first time since the diagnosis, my chi settles. The need to turn myself inside out, to get rid of the errant cells no longer propels me. I have a sense that I may even be ready to die, that until that moment, I will heighten my awareness of every experience whether it is having needles inserted into veins, shaving my head to anticipate hair loss from chemotherapy or eating a favorite food. I am sure that I am approaching Nirvana when a sensation that is both moist and dry, warm and tingling spreads through my pelvis.

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Cancer Frog Blog by Judith Ogus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at cancerfrogblog.randomarts.biz

Beware the Saber Tooth Tiger

I have brought a long list of questions to the consultation with the surgeon  “Will I have to have Chemo?” “Yes.” “Will I have to have radiation?” “Yes.” “Will all my hair fall out?” “Yes.” “What’s an omentum?” “It’s a layer of fat the covers your abdomen. It might have been useful back in the day when you might have been clawed by a saber tooth tiger. The omentum would move to the point of the puncture wound and seal it up.” Later I read that sometimes when people have an appendicitis, the omentum will wrap itself around the inflammation.

I am so shocked by the dire news, by all the organs I will lose, that I forget the list with more questions in my right hand, ready as a reference. I feel like I am falling off of a high cliff – into the chasm of my own fate and I can no longer speak. “Is there any thing else you want to tell me about yourself, anything else I should know about you?” I can’t imagine what else he needs or wants to know. I want to run away, to escape. I am no longer rational. “I guess I’ll be okay, unless I run into a saber tooth tiger.”

Saber Tooth Tiger

Everyone laughs, though we are mostly miserable.

“Fine then, your surgery is next Tuesday.” It is Thursday. I’m glad. I want it as soon as possible. Yet I hesitate. “What if I change my mind at the last minute?” “Then you will deprive someone else of that surgery slot, and you don’t want to do that.” As isolated and terrified as I feel, I must acknowledge the scope of the cancer community. There are so many of us who want to get rid of the disease. Any act of selfishness is unthinkable.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 42,160 new cases of cancer of the uterine corpus (body of the uterus) will be diagnosed in the US during 2009, but more than 95% of these will be endometrial cancers. An estimated 7,780 women in the US will die from cancer of the uterine corpus during 2009 (ACS Cancer Facts & Figures, 2009)

And of course there are so many kinds of cancer . . .

As we are leaving, my best friend says to the surgeon, “Take good care of her. We want to keep her around.”

“That’s my job,” he answers, smiling, reassuring. And suddenly I feel myself shift into a state of hope and trust. I decide he is my white knight. He will rescue me as long as I keep a cheerful attitude.

My friends suggest that I seek alternative therapies. One medical professional suggests that I envision what my cancer cells look like and what it will take to rid my body of them. Some people see them as something to conquer. Others see them as something to send on vacation. “Do what ever feels right to you,” she says.

I see them as miserable creatures with feet but no hands, colored crazily and frowning. They aren’t happy and together make an ominous foe. I imagine my white knight, a member of the Kaiser Clan, attacking them on a mighty steed, with airborne help.

whitenight450

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Cancer Frog Blog by Judith Ogus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at cancerfrogblog.randomarts.biz

Confrontation with Reality

Does it matter, where the DNA came from? Wise people recommend attending to the present, not dwelling on the past.

Buddha Frog

There is no more time to think. The day of the consultation with the surgeon arrives. He examines my nether parts, then calls in all my friends and loved ones who have come along to give moral support. He is kind and makes sure we all have something to sit on. “I am going to be blunt with you,” he starts. I am ready for this no-beating-around-the-bush attitude. “The patholgy report shows that you have a particularly aggressive cancer called papillary serous. You will have a complete hysterectomy.”

The Surgeon Lectures

I have worn a shirt with brightly colored squares, orange green yellow red purple, to show that I am a happy positive person, but my face goes pale. My mother told me that when she had her hysterectomy, they left in a little bit of ovary to keep her hormones in balance. “This kind of cancer likes ovaries,” says the surgeon. “We cannot do that here. Besides you are already in menopause, so it doesn’t matter.” Somehow, it matters.

Listening to the Lecture

Am I not, after all, a robot with enduring robust and sparkly parts?

Sparkly Parts

Am I really filled with an organic gooey fragile mess, a mortal, like those relatives who went under the knife for the sake of science?

Gooey Mess

YES!!

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Cancer Frog Blog by Judith Ogus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at cancerfrogblog.randomarts.biz

Where does it come from?

I cannot wait to hear from the surgeon’s office – I call them myself. “I’m sorry, I cannot make an appointment for you right now. I have to wait until the surgeon’s schedule clears up.”
I am inclined to panic. Suddenly I want all the afflicted organs out NOW. This is not an available alternative. Instead I do research. Who gets cancer? Why? What about the genetic component?

The Genetic Component

Who passed it on?

The Vaudevillian

Who left my mother’s mother, bereft?

The Pharmacist

Who died too young, so my mother’s mother’s mother had to fend for herself; when her hot dog failed, she suffered the humiliation of being on welfare.

sexygrandma

Who, swooped up by the romance of the stage, fell for the Vaudevillian, gave birth to my mother, divorced the vaudevillian and died young.

The River Merchant

My father’s mother’s father, a pious Jew relegated to the Pale on the Dnieper’s Right Bank. He found freedom on the river, but kept his daughter under lock and key.

The Handy Grandma

Who fled to America to escape the river merchant’s prison. She survived colon cancer and lived well into her 80’s.

The Socialist

Who married the Ukrainian escapee, gave her two sons, then died at 21 during the Spanish flu epidemic.

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Cancer Frog Blog by Judith Ogus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at cancerfrogblog.randomarts.biz

Welcome to the Cancer Frog Blog

I have created it to share my cancer experience and to reach out to others who have been affected by the disease. Please feel free to post your reactions to the blog or to post thoughts and feelings about your own experiences with cancer.

Why Frogs? 1) Because my mother collected them in every form possible – silly toys, elegant jewelry, realistic ceramics, transcendent fine art; I loved my mother, Shirley Faye Luckman Ogus (1918-2006);  2) Because frogs are more fun and easier to draw than humans; 3) Because I had endometrial cancer and knew I would feel more comfortable depicting exterior frog anatomy and interior human anatomy. Finally, because I wanted to combine humor and candor while writing and illustrating a very serious topic, and felt that the frog would allow me to express very raw emotions without appearing to be whining about the challenges of cancer.

The Cancer Frog Blog

It started out as an innocent day, a day like any other day when I go about my business, get dressed, brush teeth, work, answer the phone.

Frog answers phone

“Hello,  this is Nurse K, can you come in today, as soon as possible? The doctor will make time for you.” This willingness to accommodate is unusual for an HMO. “Does this mean I have cancer?”

“I don’t know.” Nurse K is noncommittal, diplomatic.  There had been symptoms, coinciding with the normal symptoms of menopause – hot flashes, intermittent spotting of blood. One week the bleeding lasts longer – the last hurrah of my ovaries? Friends of mine had had the same symptoms, all benign . . . “I can be there in an hour.”

The First Terror

I do not remember paying the co-payment. I do not remember walking to the waiting area. I remember drowning in a vat of mud-thick dread. For an instant I come up for air, look at the other waiting patients and wonder how grave their ailments are. I consider how cavalierly I had come to doctor’s appointments in the past, cock-sure that my body would not fail me with its consistent good health.

“There is good news and there is bad news,” says the obygyn, leaning toward me as though about to convey some confidence.

obygyn_alone

“You have endometrial cancer. Of all the cancer’s you could have, this is the one to have because it is one of the easiest to cure and has a great survival rate. You will have to have a hysterectomy and they will take everything out – uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries. That should take care of it. Usually in cases like these, the hysterectomy gets rid of the cancer. ” I am struck dumb. There it is, no maybe’s, if’s, and’s or but’s. But, could they have made a mistake? Could it be someone else’s tissue? My body has never failed me before!!! Before I can ask, WHY ME??? she says, “I have ordered your consultation with the surgeon. You should be hearing from his office within the week.”

Rational

irrational

I walk around in a bubble of cancer. Is this how people will see me now? Is this how I see myself? Who am I? Am I encased in Susan Sontag’s metaphor of illness? People cannot speak or even write the word C_A_N_C_E_R. When they find out I have it, they send me emails: “I heard about your health issues.” Should I read Susan Sontag again? It was so painful the first time.

cancerbubble

Creative Commons License
Cancer Frog Blog by Judith Ogus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at cancerfrogblog.randomarts.biz