An ovarian cancer survivor describes the changes her body endured after treatment and explains why she chooses to laugh at them.
For those who follow my articles, I have done many pieces about my cancer story.
As I read back on these pieces, my words reflect hope, fears, information, analogies and my story. There are some moments that may make you smile, but I thought I would devote this piece to myself and my body with a touch of humor.
1. Body scars
I have a road map of scars from my surgeries. They do not look like train tracks — I always envisioned scars looked like tracks when I was a kid. They look like they have a switchback (mountain road) or two as they meander from the top of my chest to just above my pelvic area. There are lumps and bumps embedded in the scars. My first surgery scar was about 7 inches long, and the second two surgeries required incisions that were about 11 inches long. Thank goodness they used the original opening and did not make a new scar.
I remember with my last surgery, I begged my surgeon to take some visceral fat as part of the deal, but he said he was not allowed to do it. I was looking for a free liposuction minus the liposuction wand!
All I need to do is look at something and I can get a bruise! I guess I am a bit of a klutz so when I work out in the yard, clean my house or sometimes just walk, I find bruises all over the place.
If you are like me, you will be taking a shower and see a strange bruise on the back of your arm or on your thigh and wonder, “Where the heck did that come from?” I also remember running into something and saying, “That is going to leave a mark!” but I soon forget and later wonder where the bruise came from.
I do take a low-dose aspirin as I had some blood clot issues not related to my illness, so I do bruise easily. Added to the hundreds of needle pokes I have had, there have been many bruises. Some days it looks like I am polka-dotted! It looks like I am abused but I assure you I am not. I am so loved by my husband. He is the one that helps me discover the ones I cannot see — I love that man!
3. Hair loss
One of the chemotherapies that I had initially was one that guaranteed a good chance of hair loss two weeks from the chemo infusion. It was almost to the minute of the two weeks when my hair came out.
I had long, blonde, straight hair when I was diagnosed and when I was told I would lose my hair, I decided to get a short haircut — my first short haircut in over 45 years! I cried the whole time I sat in the chair. My awesome hairdresser donated the hair to Locks of Love. My husband and I went out to dinner that night and everyone said my new haircut looked so cute. I was crying inside thinking of the reason that I got the cut.
Two weeks later, my hair was coming out in big patches, so I called my hairdresser (she is an angel) and she came to my house and gave me a buzz. No tears that day — I was glad to have it gone. I wore baseball hats for most of the time while it was growing back in. It came back curly and gray. Am I that old to have gray hair?
After a few more haircuts to trim and shape the newly growing hair, it went back to my natural blonde. I was excited as I did not have to highlight it for a while. Eventually, the highlights have been put back in to hide the gray as I am in my 60s, but I feel like I am back!
4. Neuropathy in my feet
Like the hair loss, I was told that I may have neuropathy in my feet and hands and that it would come after a few treatments. Each time I went during the first round of chemo, the nurses would ask if I had some tingling in my feet or hands. I did not at first, but after the third round, I finally felt the tingling.
Unfortunately, I did develop neuropathy in my feet, but fortunately not in my hands. I mentioned that I am a bit of a klutz so stumbling on my feet or running into things is the norm. I just need to be extra careful not to fall. And when I stumble or fall (and that has happened), I just blame it on being a klutz or the neuropathy. That gives me two options. I get to decide! I can blame it on the neuropathy to avoid the embarrassment of being a klutz!
5. Internal body systems
By “internal body systems,” I mean going to the bathroom! This is an area that I hope to make light of describing the issues of constipation and diarrhea. This is supposed to be the humorous part.
I remember when I had my children, I was not able to be discharged from the hospital until I was able to urinate and have a bowel movement. For humor purposes, I am going to say tinkle and poop from now on as those are funny words.
Let me remind you that years ago, protocol was to administer an enema before you delivered a baby. I guess that was to avoid pooping on the newborn! When my first child was born, the enema was administered. Yes, “uncomfortable” is the correct word to describe sitting on the “John” pooping and having contractions at the same time. What if the baby comes out in the toilet? After the baby is born, you have nothing left in you and they expect you to poop! Add hemorrhoids from all the pushing and it becomes more fun.
I remember after I had my second child (no enema with him), the nurse came in and gave me instructions to poop so I could go home, and I struggled because I was sure I had a hemorrhoid the size of a basketball. It was actually extremely small. I did finally get to go home after going to the bathroom.
When you have the kind of surgery during which the doctors open you up completely, you need to do a bowel prep. This is a necessary task as you do not want a bowel perforation during exploratory surgery. The bowel prep is not a fun thing to do. For me, it seemed like I had to drink 10 gallons of fluids and laxatives the night before to thoroughly clean my bowels out. I thought I would float away. It was not like laying on a cool raft soaking in the sun in the Caribbean!
When you wake up from surgery, you are given pain meds which can make you constipated. Also, they may have moved all your organs around, so nothing feels like it is where it belongs. As a result, problems in the bathroom can occur. Nothing like gambling and losing with gas that is really diarrhea! I could devote a book talking about the gas (farts are funnier) that patients with cancer experience. Just have your own laugh at that. Farts always make people laugh, as they should.
When you take certain medicines during your cancer treatments, constipation is always a possibility. If you have ever seen the commercials advertising a medicine for anything, they always list the major side effects. Almost always, diarrhea and constipation are listed. You may ask, “Can you have both?” The answer is yes! When you have cancer, you usually are going to have one or the other, and often, both. It makes an interesting party in the bathroom.
This morning, I had a conversation with a family member (you can talk about poop with family) who does not have cancer but had a problem with some constipation. She shared that she had the greatest respect for me and other friends who deal with constipation every day as one of the “fun” side effects of our therapy. We chatted and discussed suppositories, enemas and sweating to get the poop out. Yes, we do that and more. Personally, prunes have really helped. I was told by a pharmacist that prunes may help me when I started on a new drug. They did work, and it was just like eating giant raisins.
So, my body has gone through many changes since my cancer diagnosis. I have funny looking scars, polka dot bruises, hair issues that command the best hairdresser, klutz admissions to my friends and unique bathroom challenges. I have lost weight and gained weight. I have had nearly all the side effects from all the meds.
But I am here today to say that humor has been the constant in my journey with my ovarian diagnosis as well as losing my husband years ago to prostate cancer. We found humor then and we find it now. Humor can make you smile when you want to cry. They say a good belly laugh helps to soothe the hard times. In this piece I used the words tinkle, poop, diarrhea and fart. If it made you smile, then maybe laughter is the best medicine! It works for me.
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