You’re probably wondering how I could consider giving something as serious as cancer—The Big C—the whimsy treatment. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What could I be thinking? Well, Breast Cancer Awareness Month got me thinking about the effect of any type of cancer diagnosis.
I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I was cured. I was well aware that cancer is serious business.
During the colonoscopy that I had four years ago this month, my gastroenterologist Dr. S found a low-lying cecal polyp that could not be removed easily and would require surgery. She took photos and two biopsies instead. When I heard the word biopsies, I figured she suspected it was cancerous. She called me early the next morning—yes, that soon—with the biopsy results: diagnosis of malignancy—a tubulovillous adenoma with high-grade dysplasia consistent with intramucosal carcinoma. The only good news was that the cancer was stage one. We caught it early. Dr. S mailed the lab results and photos of the cancerous polyp to me.
Doctors will tell you that maintaining a positive attitude is essential to a successful recovery from a serious illness, so I elected to be immensely positive. I wouldn’t let cancer define who I was or how I lived my life. I figured if I could laugh at Big C, it had no power over me. I cracked silly and darkly humorous jokes about my condition, and I watched lots of funny films and TV shows that made me laugh—and laughing made me feel better. People cope with life-threatening illnesses like cancer in different ways. My way was somewhat unorthodox, but it worked for me. True, it’s not the way the average person would normally deal with cancer, but hey, I never claimed to be normal.
After I received the photos of the cancerous cecal pole polyp, I emailed a friend who shares my screwball sense of humor.
ME: It’s definitely cancer. My gastroenterologist sent me a sheet of photos of the polyp–in living color.
FRIEND: Are you going to frame it and hang it on your living room wall?
ME: No, I was thinking Christmas cards. I could superimpose tinsel on the polyp.
FRIEND: Don’t do that. I have a great Christmas wreath graphic that you could put around the polyp.
ME: Even better. Thanks! 🙂
[You will no doubt be relieved to know that I decided against the “Merry Polyp” cards and sent out a Christmas newsletter instead.]
When I consulted Dr. C, one of the surgeons I interviewed and the one I eventually selected, he offered robotic assisted surgery as an option. (The doctor sits at a console and controls the robot’s movements as it performs the surgery.) I hadn’t heard of robotic assisted surgery before, but I’m a long-time science fiction fan so naturally I thought it was completely and fabulously cool. My immediate response was, “You mean you have R2-D2 assisting you in the operating room?” I elected to have the robotic assisted surgery, of course.
I was certain from that point on that The Force was with me. In fact, I made sure of it. I visited my pastor to receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. I felt better having God in my corner for this fight.
You shouldn’t be surprised to learn about that. Despite evidence to the contrary, I do have a serious side–as in Serious Whimsy. Get it? Serious Whimsy? Oh, well. Never mind.
At the last critique group meeting before my surgery, the girls toasted to a successful surgery for me. I responded: “The condemned ate a hearty last meal of chips, salsa and margaritas.” Not exactly true. I feasted on steak quesadillas too, and it obviously wasn’t my last meal—or my last margarita.
I had a CT scan prior to the surgery to ascertain if there was cancer anywhere else in my body—thankfully, there was none. I had to drink two bottles of barium beforehand. It wasn’t the tastiest drink I ever had, but compared to the colonoscopy prep, it was downright delicious.
Without question, the prep is the worst part of the colonoscopy procedure. Mankind landed astronauts on the moon. Mankind built an international space station that orbits the Earth. Mankind has yet to develop a bowel prep solution that tastes good. Really?
Medical researchers need to find a better way to clean a colon out—a way that doesn’t involve gagging down gallons of vile-tasting, nauseating liquids and scurrying to the porcelain facility every ten minutes. Eww. You know what would be fantastic? If we had a working matter transporter like the one on Star Trek’s Enterprise, we could set the transport coordinates to the interior of the colon and beam the poop into outer space where it would freeze and become tiny asteroids. No fuss, no muss, no prep, no poop!
On the morning of my surgery, when Macho Guy and Dr. C met for the first time, I introduced Dr. C as Robby the Robot’s brother. Macho Guy cleared his throat and said it must be the drugs talking. A definite possibility; I was feeling no pain at that moment. I also said I was looking forward to meeting the robot, but the anesthetist dashed my hopes. He said I would meet the robot but because of the anesthesia drugs dripping from a tube into my bloodstream, I wouldn’t remember anything about it when I regained consciousness. He was right, dang it. After the surgery, he told me that we had a chat about what I was writing at the moment and that I got to see and ask numerous questions about the robot. I remembered none of it. Bummer.
The good news I received was that the cancer hadn’t spread; I had a surgical cure (no chemotherapy or radiation necessary). Also, I only had small poke-hole scars on my abdomen that eventually disappeared. The bad news was that I had to have annual colonoscopies from then on.
I went back to Dr. S the next year for a follow up colonoscopy. I asked her a question that seemed perfectly logical and sensible to me: “Since part of my colon is missing and you have less to examine, shouldn’t I be entitled to a discount?” I’m still waiting for that discount . . .