(We’ll get back to our “regular programming” next week…promise!)
I was in a pretty bubbly mood, this morning, as I headed off to the doctor’s office again. I was prepared to discuss surgery and anxious to get this ball rolling. For the past couple of weeks, when people have asked me what I’m giving up for Lent, I’ve answered “My uterus!” and been rewarded by the type of looks usually reserved for odd circus acts.
When I left the doctor’s office a few minutes later, my mood had changed. The “It’s not cancer” banners that had been waving in my mind since I received the happy news last Friday had been replaced by a chaotic mix of less settled and happy thoughts. Dr Bergen had just explained that the biopsy done two weeks ago is only 90% accurate. She prescribed a more invasive type of biopsy that will require general anesthesia. Unfortunately, that can’t be done until April 6th. A tentative hysterectomy is scheduled for April 11th.
Having heard her description of the immediate, lasting side-effects of surgery, I’m less eager to “get the ball rolling” than I was this morning. Because of my breast cancer, the ravages of life without estrogen will have to go untreated, and the worst-case-scenarios are not pleasant. So…do I have her take everything out to resolve my current problems and avoid new cancers in the future? Do I just have the uterus removed, causing milder side-effects, but leaving a future cancer site in place? Do I want to spend the next few years living from hot flash to night sweat and waiting for (worst case scenario) hair loss, weight gain and mood swings?
This is where my musing becomes a little more personal than usual. In melodramatic terms, a hysterectomy is the amputation of womanhood. And I’ve kind of liked being a woman all these years. If you consider that a woman’s face, breasts and reproductive organs are what set her apart as Female, these health issues of mine have been something of a surgical strike on my femininity. The perfect trifecta: face, breast and reproductive system. And yet… In oncology, as in French movies, there simply aren’t any giddy-ever-after outcomes.
This instant defeminization, as necessary as it is, feels like a final assault on my identity. Part of me wants to seriously consider alternative treatments. Part of me wants to trade in my body for a cancer-resistant model. Part of me—most of me—knows that “who I am” is not determined by intact organs, scar-free skin and nights uninterrupted by hot flashes and chills. Though the physical components do determine some of what I can do and how others perceive me, it is on an intellectual, emotional and spiritual level that I can be most accurately defined. As I wrote during cancer #1, “I know who I am because I know whose I am.” It is from my faith in Christ that I derive my spirit’s identity, one that is untouched by limitations and scars.
Cancer #1 taught me that I can live with a big old scar across my cheek. It even earns me points with little boys whose eyes get wide as saucers when I tell them I used to be a pirate.
Cancer #2 taught me that medicine is a miraculous thing, that I am stronger than I thought, and that every day is a fragile bonus I should cherish and use wisely.
I can only pray that this new medical crisis, whether it be cancer or not, will yield a deeper reliance on my maker, a broader understanding of His realness to me, a greater gratitude for His presence as I wade through murky decisions, a fuller awareness of His power and love sustaining me, and a higher calling to be all that He asks me to be.
This is where purpose comes into play: if my life is truly about what God can do through me to affect positive change within my sphere of influence, the wholeness of my body becomes less critical. Surgery or not, I can still grow, learn, love, engage, enlighten, teach and challenge. Though the surgery ahead may alter my hormonal makeup, with God’s help and healing, it won’t hinder my purpose as I live out however many years are still available to me.
I cling to that truth as I redouble my efforts to research as much as I can about what’s ahead for me, because I KNOW that God gave us intelligence to support wisdom.
I would be remiss and disingenuous if I didn’t mention the George Clooney factor. I’m a single woman glimpsing the cliff from which a swan dive into “old age’ is inevitable. If I were to encounter someone with whom I’d want to spend my remaining years, how could I expect him to be drawn to Trifecta Girl with her missing parts and scarred surfaces? It’s easy for me to feel like every medical crisis I live through leaves me with less to offer in the context of a romantic relationship…
God began to whisper His answer to that train of thought as I was driving by a body shop on the way home from the hospital today. There sat a rusty “vintage” car, flat tires pigeon-toeing and wipers broken out at painful angles… And around that car stood a handful of male admirers practically drooling with appreciation. The parallel, though stretched, is obvious. If men can see the beauty in a broken-down 1968 Mustang sitting, scarred and motorless, in a crowded lot, they might be able to see something in me too. And then the spiritual parallel, one I know with my head but sometimes fail to believe with my heart: That is exactly how God is able to love me. He loves me for my potential and he loves me in spite of my glaring, ugly flaws. I am so, so grateful for that kind of outrageous mercy.
I apologize if this entry struck some of you as too personal. I believe we can only learn through honest self-assessment and teach through fearless communication. And now…I’m dragging my lawnchair down to Tom’s Auto Repair. I have a few weeks to wait before April 6th. Might as well spend the time with people who can appreciate a not-so-spotless 1968 Phoenix.