I’m the kind of cancer survivor who laughs when people admire my strength.
Strength has nothing to do with it. The treatment doesn’t require strength. Just a ride to the doctor’s office. All you have to do is lie there.
I want you to admire my resilience. My ability to snap back. My self-image is that I’m the person you want in a crisis. When I look back at 2020 that’s how I picture myself moving from cancer diagnosis through chemo and surgery.
“I got this,” I told everyone.
I did, from the moment I knew what “this” was. But there was a between time. A week after hearing that I had ovarian cancer before I found out how much.
It was a dermatologist, not a gynecologist, who broke the news, and I had to interrupt his rattling off the next steps: Get a blood test. Schedule a CT scan. See an oncologist.
“What do I do first?”
Pick up the orders for the blood test from his office. Drive to the place where they do the blood test. This was April 2020, when we didn’t know if we could get COVID-19 from surfaces. I used my shirt sleeve to open doors, then woke up in the middle of the night wearing the same shirt and wondering whether there was coronavirus on my sleeve.
Northwest Pathology was COVID testing in its parking lot. Rob had to park a couple of buildings away. We walked the long way around, the vapor of my breath dampening my face inside my N95 mask. I didn’t have any cute fabric masks yet. At this point, they were still allowing partners in waiting rooms, so Rob sat with me in the lobby. A doctor passing through offered us plastic-wrapped cookies made by his wife. Was that even safe? Rob declined, but I put one in my pocket and ate it later.
The chatty phlebotomist asked how my day was going. “Oh, I’ve had better.” Couldn’t she see on the form that I just found out I had cancer?
I couldn’t call my mother. She would have too many questions that I didn’t know the answers to. I could tell her, “I had a dermatologist remove a thing and he said it’s ovarian cancer, and that’s all I know.” And she would have follow-up questions.
I wanted to wait until I had the results from the CT scan, but I couldn’t even schedule a CT scan until my insurance authorized it. Her feelings would be hurt if I waited a week before telling her. Her feelings were hurt I waited a day.
“You found this out yesterday?”
She sent me flowers. Yellow roses, pink and white chrysanthemums, purple daisies, and pink peonies, in a wide vase holding clear pink, green, and yellow plastic eggs filled with water. An unwitting Easter arrangement mocking the betrayal of my own reproductive system.
I laughed so hard.
About a week later, Rob and I met my gynecologic oncologist over videochat. I hadn’t yet been prescribed Ativan, but my anxiety lifted somewhat now that we had a plan, even though she told us, “Ovarian cancer isn’t curable, but it is treatable.”
She’d seen the three tumors on the CT scan and projected confidence that the standard treatment of three chemotherapy infusions, surgery to remove all my reproductive organs, and then three more infusions would get rid of them. “You’re young and healthy.”
Was I? I was forty-four and I had cancer.