Robin, a psychotherapist with a family history of cancer, was 70 when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, but it never took center stage in her life.
I had cancer about six years ago. It was a blip. I had started to bleed so I went to the gynecologist within 4 hours, who took a biopsy. There was something we were watching, and he called me two days afterward and said, “I can’t believe it, but it’s cancer.” He gave me the name of a surgeon and first thing Monday I was calling to get appointments. I found it bizarre that Sloan Kettering wouldn’t give me an appointment unless I first sent in a letter and was accepted. It’s like, you don’t understand, I have cancer. I don’t want to wait to send in a letter, I want to be treated.
My mother died of breast cancer, and I had an older brother who died at age 29 of liver cancer some 20 years before her. I knew cancer was something to be taken seriously. I just went into the mode of getting the decision made and getting this done. My daughter was right with me every step of the way. We both felt strongly that I should take care of it as soon as possible.
We met three doctors; the one my gynecologist had recommended was gruff and I didn’t like him. I don’t remember the second one, and then the third, a woman, was wonderful. The first thing she said was “This we can cure.” Initially, she gave me an appointment for a month out, but she noticed that I didn’t look happy, before I even said anything. So, she gave me an appointment for a week and a half later.
Two Old People in Love
The surgery went well, and things were mainly uneventful. I don’t think I had much reaction to the surgery. I either have a high tolerance or no feeling because I don’t ever remember pain and I had had three prior minor surgeries. It was no big deal; maybe I’m peculiar. I was prescribed Percocet with Tylenol afterwards and took two: one before it started hurting and two afterwards, but that was it.
The only thing I really remember strongly was the feeling of being frightened. About a week and a half after surgery, I was going outside for the first time and it was noisy. I went out with my husband, and we crossed the street slowly and walked into the park. I am fit and active and normally move very quickly, but I had the sense that I wasn’t going to be able to jump out of the way if a car was coming too fast. Then, as we sat in the park, I had my head on my husband’s shoulder, and a woman on a bike stopped and said that she wished she had a camera. I said to my husband, “She thinks we are just two old people in love.”
It was a very odd time. The first day I was allowed out was for my granddaughter’s birthday. As we were leaving the house, one of our boys called to say he didn’t feel well. It sounded bad, so we went to the hospital instead of the birthday party. He was pretty sick. I went from being in bed to spending several hours a day at the hospital, alternating with his sister. I had no time to think about much else. Taking care of him became all of our focuses and. I wound up totally forgetting about my own surgery and put off d further treatment for a month, which the doctor said was OK.
I didn’t have chemo, just three radiation treatments. They gave me a “modesty skirt”, which stretches and is see- through. There was nothing modest about it. I asked if I could take it home because it struck me so funny. Also, during that time, a friend of my daughter’s sent me a sweet stuffed animal. It was a monkey. When I came home from the second radiation, the monkey was wearing my modesty skirt. So, when I went for the last treatment., I took the monkey with me, which turned out to be a heart-warming experience. Every woman waiting in line for radiation giggled and wanted to hold the monkey in its modesty skirt just like the one they each wore; it brought laughter and a moment of forgetting. I took the monkey with me into radiation, where it sat in my arms. Everyone said I looked so serene.
Since then, I’ve been sending a stuffed animal—preferably a monkey—to anyone in the hospital. I also took my monkey to a dear friend who had been a sergeant in the Israeli army, and who was in the hospital seriously ill. She couldn’t quite figure out what she was to do with this monkey, but I told her that it was mine and how it was a great comfort to me. When she died, her daughter returned the monkey to me, telling me that her mother said it was important to me. So, I guess she realized it’s meaning for me, even if she never quite got comfort from it for herself.
Now when I go through health questionnaires, I stop at the cancer line; it isn’t in my head that I had cancer. It’s peculiar, given my family background, but I believed my doctor when she said, “We can cure this” and I did everything she said.
When my mother was dying from breast cancer she was in Florida and I went down every two weeks to be with her. I have lots of feelings about that. She lived cancer free eighteen years, before it metastasized to her lung. She lived for a few years after that and without much lung capacity. The doctors were amazed. We enjoyed the time together, knowing she was dying. We laughed fully and often, talked about the past, made recordings of her life, and our lives and relationship. It was healing, and she died in peace, and I made my peace with her.
Can’t Imagine It
My husband has cancer now. I don’t feel like I’ve had a rough life, but this cancer thing is very persistent. I was worried when he was diagnosed, but I didn’t think he would die. I’m very optimistic and just do what needs doing—that’s just who I am. It may be peculiar, but I never really worried about my own death from cancer either. I found radiation to be easy and had no side effects. My husband, however, is anxious before every test. I still go once a year, but I don’t worry, I just do what I’m supposed to do. Again, I think it’s the optimism, which equates to: if there’s something wrong, I’ll just take care of it. I read once, “Very smart people often make bad decisions because they can’t imagine a bad outcome.” Well, I don’t know how smart I am, but I think I just can’t imagine a bad outcome.