I had known about the cancer for about eight days when I sat in the umpteenth doctor’s office to proceed with what has got to be the most unglamorous cancer. Not that any cancer is particularly fabulous. Though I imagine pinky finger cancer having some level of sophistication. “Pinky up” is altogether more suave than any butt, colon, or ostomy slogan going.
But this particular afternoon, I was waiting on what turned out to be an endometriosis test.
(**Speaking of said endometriosis test, I feel it necessary to interject a request here. Ladies who have never had an endometriosis test, ears open please. We need your advocacy. Ladies experienced with this intrauterine torture, you know where I’m going. An endometriosis test basically goes something like this: You know that obnoxiously long shish kabob set that came with your grill utensils? The one that barely fits in your long utensil drawer? And the one that you’ve only used once because you didn’t realize how many cubes of meat, onions, and peppers you needed to chop to fill just one stick? Well imagine if someone took that stick and wrapped it in your basic Dollar Tree pipe cleaner and then stuck said stick up your Queen Victoria and slowly, mind-numbingly slowly, scraped the lining of your uterus for two minutes that justifiably felt more like two years. That is a modern-day endometriosis test. Wide awake, completely aware, and praying for salvation each and every second. Yours truly’s blood pressure plummeted in the middle of hers. My mouth went dry. Black spots covered the tiled walls, and I had to stay for observation until the nurse felt confident I could walk out of the room. Why am I bringing this up? Because if someone stuck a massive pipe cleaner up a man’s King Albert and slowly scraped the inside of his royal jewels while he was wide awake, there would be hell to pay. Which leads me to this question: Female GYNs where the heck are you? You know this test is the spawn of Satan. Seriously, get in the game, Mamas, and demand the anesthesia. Or at least a stiff drink.**)
But back to my unglamorous butt cancer and gynecological oncology visit…
So there I sat answering all the same questions again.
“I take ten milligrams of Zyrtec each day, Flonase, and …”
“I’m here because I have rectal cancer and my uterus looked a little large on the MRI…”
“I’ve had three natural births....”
And then another nurse poked her head in the door, “The doctor will want to do an endometriosis test, so make sure she puts on the gown.”
To which I immediately blurted out, “Oh I’m so glad I shaved my legs!”
It seemed like a perfectly normal response. Don’t you shave your legs before going to the OBGYN? Doesn’t everyone? We shave our legs before pedicures, strappy sandal shopping, first dates, job interviews, and church. Often, the surfaces of our calves are smooth and shiny even when the chance of someone’s eyes dropping to inspection level is a mere possibility. So naturally I’d bust out with almighty thanks for shaven legs when some man I’d never met was about to be within inches of my knees (just before he nearly killed me by way of Dollar Tree pipe cleaner.)
But my nurse, the same one asking if I was allergic to anything (aspartame, not that it applies to gynecology...I think) said, “Now what are you doing worrying about the hair on your legs, girl? Don’t you know we’re here to help you, not judge you?”
I didn’t know how to respond. I want to look my best when met with an 18 inch pipe cleaner? But of course, in this circumstance, it had nothing to do with that. I shave my legs before getting dressed and going to fancy restaurants even if I’m wearing pants because I want to feel extra fabulous. But in this instance, I wasn’t aiming for fabulousness. I was relieved my legs were smooth because God forbid the GYN and the nurse think I’m unkempt. And I guess that’s what the nurse was getting at.
You’ve got butt cancer, Annie, and your big thought is, “Thank God I shaved my legs?”
I laughed at my nurse and said, “Why do I always say stuff like that? You’d think I’d know by now how ridiculous I sound.”
In my last blog, I revealed the cancer and the impending seven-hour surgery when multiple parts of my nether region would be removed, biopsied, and the next phase of my journey would reveal itself. Well the sucker spread to three lymph nodes -- only detected through biopsy. The sucker is gone, the lymph nodes and the 14 nearby are gone, multiple organs are gone, and now I wait for treatment -- chemotherapy to blast away any microscopic cancer turds that might have stuck around. So I wait -- wait to heal from the surgery, wait for treatment, wait for more test results, wait, wait, wait. As I’ve admitted before, I’m an impatient patient. Idleness is my Achilles heel. I am weakest when left with empty time to fill, (which unfortunately is part of surgery recovery.) That’s when I go dark. That’s when bad thoughts fall from nowhere and land in my mind and I believe them to be real, true, and fact. But the real, true fact is these tormenting thoughts don’t come from nowhere.
My father had a saying that I wrote about once in a Halloween-themed blog a few years ago. (Link here.) “Garbage in, garbage out.” His opinion was that what we consume is what we put out into the world. He mostly used this phrase in reference to horror movies. Pop loved a good, suspenseful B-movie. The kind that would run on public access stations on late Saturday nights. The more ridiculous the better in his critical eye.
“Pop, I can see the wires the bats are hanging from,” I’d mock some Dracula flick that probably had a production budget less than the cost of boxed wine.
“That’s what makes it so entertaining,” he’d reply and then grab a fresh bag of Cheetos and some ice milk for the second half.
To be fair, his favorites weren’t all rated one Rotten Tomato. He enjoyed Hitchcock. And he enjoyed disaster movies, the ones where the world is going to end but then an unlikely hero saves the day and Aerosmith sings a heart lurching ballad as ashes burn out and promise is restored. He also enjoyed movies with man-eating creatures, like crocodiles, piranhas, and rabid, rogue bunnies, frogs, and again, bats. But he was always selective with the content. There couldn’t just be a happy ending. His variety of scare had to be either blatantly preposterous, so bad it was brilliant, or it had to glean something inspirational to give the darkness light. In contrast, gore, fright for fright’s sake, and the macabre were never on the program. It took me years to understand this, but Pop wanted to laugh in the face of evil and anything that set out to be sinister. He didn’t want the enemy to just lose. He wanted it exposed.
I read recently that not only is the devil real and he wants to ruin our lives, but he wants no credit for it. He wants us to believe he doesn’t exist because it benefits him more if we feel that our most negative thoughts are so crystal clear that they have come from our highly evolved minds. Or worse, straight from God, like a premonition or something, a warning of what to prepare for. I don’t pretend that all of you have the same religious beliefs as I have. On the contrary, I know that many of you consider yourselves spiritual, but not religious. So let me put this in other terms. Evil is as real as Good. We know this is undeniable just from watching the news. And the goal of evil is always to destroy -- one way or another.
I have a friend who is fighting cancer right now too. Humor seems to be her armor of choice, but also something else -- certitude. She just knows she’s going to be fine. She has no doubt. And I envy her for that. I, on the other hand, am tormented by thoughts of worst case scenarios. They toy with me daily. I’m like my golden retriever’s stuffed turtle. Just when it seems she is done gnashing her teeth into the fabric and gouging its eyes, the dog comes back for more. Poor turtle. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. I’m not lying under a chair in a pile of dander and dust hiding from a sixty-pound beast, but I am scared. There, I said it. I am worried too. I am mourning life before the diagnosis when I didn’t read labels for lists of preservatives like my future depended on it and when cancer was something that happened to other people. But I’m also learning. A whole lot. And what I know enough to know is that just because I think the bad thoughts, it doesn’t mean they’re fact. And just because I think them, that doesn’t make me a lost cause either. I am in a kind of grief after all. But I also have a prediction of what I will know enough to know. And that is, Pop had the right idea all along.
My father knew that whatever wasn’t pure, noble, for peace, hope, and righteousness, and in the name of love and light, wasn’t worth his time. It was worth laughing at. Sort of like when a nurse can’t help but chuckle when a cancer patient worries about the shave on her legs more than anything else. So concerned was I of harsh judgement about my dumb legs that I robbed myself of my good judgement. “Why do I always say stuff like that? You’d think I’d know by now how ridiculous I sound.” The same could be said of the enemy -- Satan or evil -- whatever you call it.
Don’t we know by now how ridiculous he sounds?