September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Survival rates for those diagnosed with childhood cancer are increasing (!!!!!). As survivors age, their chances of experiencing chronic or life-threatening side-effects of cancer and treatment increase.
Cancer. It’s evil. We must go to war. We must battle. We must win.
But how can I demonize something that is a part of me; something that literally grew out of my own cells, and from my own DNA? The language of a fight against something that is literally evolving from my own body has been so alienating. I spent years dissociating my mind from my sick body, as if they were two separate entities. I don’t understand how my mind can be so alive, ambitious and passionate, while living in (what I used to refer to as) an 80-year-old woman’s body. The connection of this body with this mind has had quite a detrimental impact, as my body couldn’t live up to my mind’s wishes and expectations. My body spent years subduing my mind. My mind spent years othering my body. I have spent years trying to reclaim my body and mind as one.
While in the process of reconnecting my body with my mind, my body will say “nope” by growing something new or letting something fail, which inevitably put my mind into a state of shock. One year ago, a message was left on my answering machine stating that something was noticed on an ultrasound of my thyroid and they wanted to biopsy it. The cancer fear was again instilled in me in August 2016. I was sitting beside two 5 gallon tubs of solidified honey outside of my office building hoping that the honey would liquefy and that the wasps would just leave me alone. I was gripped with fear, tears and this sense of falling. I’d already climbed so high.
In December 2016, I had the right side of my thyroid removed.
In January 2017, I found out that the thing on my thyroid was a microcancer. I cried, but more because I was on pain killers with disgusting abdominal pain and in the hospital. Soon I would be telling people that I was diagnosed with kidney cancer – Unclassified Renal Cell Carcinoma – not a relapse of my childhood cancer, but a *shiny new!* diagnosis.
My new tumour was luckily on the surface of the kidney (unlike what they had originally thought). But, it was on the surface of the interior part of the kidney – specifically by the ureters, which is what caused so.much.pain. The only treatment option was surgery, and the potential outcomes were complicated by the fact that I already only have one kidney (*shakes fist at cancer*). No matter what, to get the tumour, the kidney had to come out. Following extracting the kidney and removing the tumour the potential outcomes were that: 1. I would lose the kidney, immediately start dialysis, and wait for an organ, again; 2. the doctors would be able to partially save the kidney, reimplant it, and I would still have to start dialysis and eventually need a new kidney; or 3. the doctors would save a functioning kidney and successfully reimplant it in me.
On February 7, 2017, I woke up with 37 staples holding together my two new fancy scars. Voices floating over me told me that they had completely saved the kidney. I pressed my pain button and fell back into a morphine slump, sedating the excitement from this news and the confusing pain that weighted my right abdomen. Once I was more clearheaded it registered that the doctors reimplanted the kidney in such a way that they normally do kidney transplants – in the front of the abdomen, and closer to the bladder (usually they do not remove the failing kidney).
So I had two major surgeries in an 8 hour day, leaving me: Cancer free? With no evidence of disease? A referral to a genetic counsellor, because I may have a genetic predisposition to cancer? Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh at life’s circumstances. And sometimes it feels really hard to smile through it all.
I’m trying to be patient with myself, and I’m trying to forgive myself. It feels like I have spent so much time being sick, recovering and surviving that those are the things I am best at doing. I’m working on re-patterning my brain and repopulating it with passions, ambitions, and love. I’m working on using my body to pursue these passions, ambitions, and loves, because we are one and the same: mind, body, soul. And for some reason, for me, cancer is a part of that.
WHILE I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, please sign up to BE AN ORGAN DONOR (for Ontarions: https://beadonor.ca/). Seriously: what do you plan on doing with them when you’re dead?