Not currently having cancer (shmancer poo poo poo) but having to have myriad procedures and surgeries, I feel as though the best way to describe my current status is to say that I have a timeshare in Cancerland. Thank G-d, I made it through my most recent mission, a therapeutic “Davinci-assisted supracervical hysterectomy, with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.” Amazingly, I have just four tiny incisions across my upper and lower abdomen. No angry gash held together with staples. No weeping wounds–and no stitches of any kind, just four little steristrips. My post-surgical appearance is strikingly different than the hysterectomies of my mother and sister, as well as many women before them. What is deceiving about the Davinci assisted procedure is that while there is no gigantic valley of an incision that was the hallmark of a “complete” hysterectomy, I still had 3+ organs removed from the interior of my being. And, not surprisingly, I’m experiencing some discomfort!
More than the discomfort from the surgical sites, however, is the pain I feel from the loss of my membership to The Woman Club. It was early in my pregnancy in 2004 when I received my membership. I shared with a friend’s mother how surprised I was to find myself knocked up after years and years of failed attempts. “But why?” she questioned, her tone of voice doing little to hide her exasperation, “You ARE a woman–you DO have a uterus.” Now that I don’t, have I given up that membership card? Am I no longer a woman?
To make sure patients who had the Davinci-assisted supracervical hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy understand exactly what they lost with their surgical choice, the hospital puts all GYN patients on the same floor. This means I was awakened during my hospital stay by the sound of newborn lungs being tested for the first time. It means I got to see the beaming faces of new fathers running back and forth from their birthing suite to the floor kitchen getting ice chips for their laboring baby mamas. I got to watch women who had been mommies for only two or three hours push bassinets containing tiny humans that just two or three hours previously were inside their distorted uterus. The uterus was the Alpha Organ on this floor–either you produced a human from it, or you had it and all its little friends removed. Period.
For me to say that this contrast did not bother me would be a lie. Here I was in a hospital ward where people were celebrating a production of The Uterus. The Uterus housed and cared for new life! For these patients, it was a time of great celebration. In my room, however, there was no Celebration of the Uterus. In fact, my surgeon told me my uterus had been a source of pain because it had been adhered to my stomach from top to bottom. The one tenant who found purchase in that rocky place truly was a miracle! But, the knowledge that I no longer have the chance of ever again biologically sharing my DNA and creating a person is hard for me to handle. Being on the same floor of the hospital as birthing suites was just salt in the robot-assisted surgical wound.
My feelings came to a head as I tried to get ready to be discharged from the wood-trimmed, softly-lit, chop shop. I dropped the shirt I was about to change into and burst into tears. Before I could even sniff the tears back into my nose, as I tell my 6-year old to do, I was surrounded by nurses, some making sure my vitals were OK and I wasn’t crying for physical reasons, others making sure my psyche was OK and offering Xanax, “to take the edge off.” What I really needed was a therapeutic hug, but having just had abdominal surgery and not too long before that having had bilateral mastectomy, the hugs I receive are not as deep and intense as I might need. Don’t get me wrong (and don’t hug me harder!), I know this is only temporary, but my physical condition has a great impact on the condition of my psyche. The Xanax I was offered wasn’t the fix I was looking for. I needed a salve for my soul.
Not long after that crying jag, I handed the receptionist the keys to my timeshare and left CancerLand till next time. Now I am charged with cleaning up the mess The Girls Downstairs left before they were evicted. According to experts, It should take me about a year, if not sooner, to get used to not having the girls around. I’ll go through the side effects of instant menopause because of evicting The Ovaria Twins. However, my nemesis AngioEdema should make a quick exit, and I have almost no risk of getting uterine or ovarian cancer. I’m no economist, but I’d wager that in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, ‘no cancer’ trumps ‘keeping b!tchy frenemies The Ovaria Twins’ any day of the week.