Cancer at 33

My body has changed a lot since last I wrote a year and a half ago. I grew a child, birthed that child through an incision in my abdomen after 24 hours of labor and 5 hours of pushing, breastfed that child, and stopped breastfeeding that child.

You think my body would have wanted a break. But it didn’t get one.

After I stopped breastfeeding, a tumor on my ovary got the green light to start growing at an accelerated pace. Three months later, the weekend of my daughter’s first birthday, I went to the hospital for what I thought was a bad case of the flu, only to find out that I had a 17 cm mass inside my body that was not supposed to be there.

At 33 years old, I had cancer.

Of course, I didn’t know I had cancer until it was gone. We knew it was a mass. I had an oncologist for a surgeon. He had a pretty good idea what it was. But no one could be sure until it came out. And it had to come out.

The pathology report said it was what’s called a mucinous tumor, exactly what my surgeon hypothesized. They had biopsied some of the surrounding tissue as well as some lymph nodes during the surgery, and those all came back negative. However, the tumor had produced some fluid, and there were cancer cells in that fluid.

My surgeon advised not taking any more steps for treatment. There may very well be cancer cells still in my body, but there’s a chance they’ll just keep floating around in there not causing any harm. Chemo and radiation don’t have a lot of success with this type of cancer. It wasn’t worth the pain to administer them.

So here I am, a cancer survivor. But it doesn’t feel like it.

I did not have the experience of cancer that one expects to have. I did not have to sit in a chair and receive poison through an IV, feel sick and tired all the time, lose my hair.

One day I had cancer. The next day, I didn’t.

To be honest, my life has changed little in the month since my surgery. Yes, I instantly lost 10 pounds, I got three weeks off from work, and now I have a 7-inch incision down my stomach. Those are all out of the ordinary. But overall, life has felt the same. I still play the same games with my baby. I still watch the same show with my husband after she goes to bed. I get up in the morning feeling like today is just another day, nothing special.

And that bothers me.

Because I had cancer, damnit. That’s not something to take lightly. And there still may be cancer cells in my body, meaning I am predisposed to have cancer again. And if it comes back, it will be worse, because I’ve run out of organs I can get rid of. Next time, it will be on an organ I need to survive.

I got lucky this time. I might not be so lucky next time.

So I’m living in two worlds now. Half the time, I enjoy the normalcy of my life, the quiet, the uneventfulness. Half the time, I feel like I need to carpe the shit out of every diem because who knows how long I’ve got until the other shoe drops.

I need to find a balance between the two.

I was talking with my cousin the other day. She is a believer and practitioner of energy healing, and while I like to think of myself as a rather open-minded person, I usually prefer to get my medical advice from traditional doctors and scientific research. But she told me an interesting story about her journey to find energy healing; she said her body pretty much shut down at one point in time, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Eventually, she came to discover that she was cutting out parts of who she was from her life, and she realized that she wasn’t being true to her whole self. Once she started to embrace who she was, her body started to heal itself.

To the skeptic, that probably sounds more than a little strange. And you could definitely call me a skeptic.

But today I had an epiphany.

Having a baby and becoming a parent is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There were so many things about it I wasn’t expecting, and I haven’t always been able to handle it well. Ever since our daughter came into our lives, I have been saying that I will write a book documenting the surprises, the revelations, the hardships, the untold stories of parenthood. There was no “if.” I felt like I finally had my writing purpose.

But I didn’t write. I haven’t written. It’s been too difficult on many levels. I have denied that part of myself, and in doing so, I thought I was protecting myself.

It seems clear now that I was actually harming myself.

I’m not going to say that I caused my tumor by not writing. That sounds ridiculous.

I will say that the timing of the tumor seems rather coincidental in that it started to grow after I had a child, the biggest transformative event of my life. And I will say that it also seems coincidental that I’ve never felt more of a urge to write and yet I continually refused to write, stopping up those emotions inside me instead of setting them free on the page.

No one knows why one cell mutates into a cancerous one. Maybe denying a portion of ourselves emotionally is enough to change us physically.

So here I am, back at my keyboard, getting words on the page instead of bottling them up, sending them out into the world and giving them a voice instead of silencing them in my head.

Because if I don’t, it may well be a matter of life or death.

It’s my first step toward finding that balance of feeling as if every day is expendable and every day is crucial.

So to all of you out there who are currently suppressing a part of yourself for whatever reason, I urge you to let it out, let it be free, and see what comes of it.

We shall see what comes of this.