Female cancer. I did not sign up for this.

How lucky can we get? Buds on our chests that in adolescence decide to grow generally less or more than we wish. Menstruation. (Do they still call it “the curse?”) Cramps. Pregnancy. And just when we think we have at last resolved the emotional and/or physical issues related to all of the above, a female organ craps out. (In hospital parlance: develops a tumor. Female cancer.)

Female cancer

A vintage French anatomical illustration. The offending organ in Suzy’s life is “e”, the uterus. CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia

In my case, the organ that rebelled was my uterus. It could have been my ovaries or my breasts. They all present significant cancer challenges. I was diagnosed with stage four adenocarcinoma. Endometrial cancer (the lining of the uterus). By the time it was discovered, a tumor had destroyed my uterus and my ovaries and invaded my pelvic bones. It was a nightmare of a diagnosis. The treatment was rough. Complete hysterectomy; chemotherapy; radiation. But eight years later, thank God, I am here to talk about it. As a longtime journalist and an author, I process traumas by writing about them. The story of what I went through, and how I survived, makes for a harrowing but ultimately encouraging read.

If you are struggling with a female cancer, or caring for someone who is, I believe you will find hope from my experience. GODSIGNS: Health, Hope and Miracles; My Journey to Recovery is a memoir. It tells the story of the physical toll of my battle with cancer. It also reveals a number of amazing coincidences that occurred during the process—events I came to see as, and to call, Godsigns. It is, as the title says, a story about hope and recovery.

The following is an excerpt from my book. It gives you an idea of the candor with which I tell my story. It might even make you smile. When we have cancer, it is hard to find reasons to smile. I hope my story helps.

In this passage, I am dealing with the self-consciousness that comes with discussing our female organs. I contemplate how Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, helped me to become more comfortable with my own genitalia. I have just been vaginally examined by my radiologist, Dr. Forman, one of the docs in charge of my case. He informed me my vagina did not emit an odor.

…Thanks to Eve, aptly named for the source of the First Vagina, I became more grateful for my own female orifice and more comfortable mentioning it. After seeing the play, I began to pronounce all three syllables out loud, with appropriate emphasis, almost as unselfconsciously as I might say “apple tree.” Still, discussing my tortured vagina with a cute fifty-something doctor I hardly knew, spread-eagled on an examining table, was a challenge. (I am tempted to say “stretch.”)

Dr. Forman was slender with wavy dark hair just beginning to fleck with grey. He was a friend of friends, someone I might run into at a party or restaurant. We should be talking over cocktails about the terroir or the notes of nutmeg of the wine we were sipping. We should be discussing the coral reefs we viewed while scuba diving in the Caymans. We should be toasting to the Detroit Pistons recent win. He should be admiring the cut of my dress, the sparkle of my earrings. Not looking up my vagina. No less sniffing it.

At least I didn’t smell, I thought. Amazing, in the face of death, the things you can still care about.

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