by Charmaine Coimbra
I traveled this road before and harbored not one wish to return to the place where lavish attention was mine, where there was abundant rest without guilt, and someone else prepared my meals and cleaned up after me. If you asked, “Would you take another round-trip ticket to Cancerland?” my response would be, “Nope. Been there, done that in 2004. Take your roundtrip offer and put it to flame.”
December 16, 2017. My social media page lit up with birthday wishes like the candles on my birthday cake. However, it was near impossible to savor all those joyful wishes because on that morning I was handed, with a no-return status, another trip to Cancerland. “Charmaine, I’m sorry to start your day with this, but your biopsy came back positive. Let’s get you set up with a gynecologic oncologist ASAP,” said my OB/GYN.
On Monday morning I faced the specialized oncologist who said that yes, this cancer is a rare uterine sarcoma, and it could be deadly. He suggested that I get into surgery for a complete hysterectomy as soon as possible.
If only I had realized earlier that my uterus had grown so large that that was the reason why I was humiliated with bladder leakage. But it was that bladder leakage that nearly everyone agreed was not unusual for a woman my age, and especially those of us who have given birth to children. If television advertising has its say, bladder leakage is no bigger deal than the common cold.
This is personal and painful to share.
My occasional vaginal blood spotting, I read, was not unusual especially after a strenuous activity — like an afternoon pulling weeds, or a robust and strenuous hike — my two most favorite things to do. Denial entered with my rationalization of a history of uterine fibroids. So, I noted on my to-do list that when I finished a huge fundraiser that I co-chaired, I’d make an appointment with a OB/GYN, just to be sure that it was nothing more than a return of those pesky fibroids.
You see, I picked denial over the possibility of another ticket to Cancerland.
And today, while I sit on a comfy sofa watching a video about radiation oncology, I’m trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey from my pubic bone, past my navel. Damnit! I did radiation before and for six weeks.
Suddenly a crystal clear memory formed from 14 years ago in a Santa Fe cancer center where I was covered in a hospital gown and robe and sat next to a man similarly attired. We became best friends ever, as we laughed and howled our way through radiation. It was how we each maintained our sanity knowing that the radiation burned our flesh and disrupted our lives while killing cancer that we each had. My friend eventually lost his life on his second trip to Cancerland.
I hate Cancerland.
And this trip is more insidious than in 2004. Then, we caught the breast cancer early; surgery was a lumpectomy that allowed me to go home afterward. This time a dose of liquid radioactive material was injected into my bloodstream for a PET scan to see if this uterine cancer had spread. This time I would be hospitalized for three to five days. This time, my uterus, plus all of its neighboring parts would be removed and dissected by pathologists — the very vessel that took the seeds of my late husband and allowed my two beautiful daughters to grow from embryos to babies that I would nurse and nurture until they became self-sufficient young adults. This sacred part of my body—the part that clearly defines my womanhood, was poisoned and toxic with a cancer that may not lead me down happy trails, but down my final trail instead.
I’ll be in Cancerland for a while. Fortunately, the oncologist believes my prognosis is good. For this, I am grateful, even though I know that Cancerland is fraught with sharp objects that puncture flesh, causes bouts of swelling and discomfort, and my personal wish that this was nothing more than a nightmare instead of a train ride right into the center of a world where I’ll watch beautiful men and women lose their hair and dignity, where gurneys and hospital gowns are a part of a world where medical personnel are in full battle to heal and save their patients from a return trip to a Hieronymus Bosch scene.
Anger rises every time I see that hideous vertical scar up my abdomen. Why? How?
And that’s where I am now — a woman of interest to research. This path was unexpected. Because I’ve had two primary cancers, and each one somewhat complicated and graded as aggressive, and because I have a family history of cancer, perhaps information derived from my genetics, the pathology of that toxic uterine tumor, and whatever else I can provide in a research-underwritten study of my lifestyle, DNA, and family history will help geneticist and oncologists to better understand why and how. Perhaps.
So on this second journey to Cancerland, I graciously accept the lavish attention given me, rest without guilt, and let others cook and clean up after me. But my intention is to burn through this journey and return to health with the wish that this trip will bring health and well-being to both my descendants and possibly to other women handed a round-trip to Cancerland.