Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Holy crap, you had CANCER??? When did this happen?

So. Busy. So. Incredibly. Busy. There has been home renovation. Talking to Realtor about putting my mother's houseon the market. Getting offer on my mother's house before it was even listed. Signing contract to sell my mother's house for a very fair price for both buyer and seller. Preparing son for trip overseas. Beginning planning for event in December for World AIDS Day ecumenical celebration. Preparing for Bishop's Annual visit to the Little Episcopal Church that Could. Speaking to a group for National Cancer Survivors Day... Among other things. For anyone interested, here is a copy of the speechy thing I gave at the Survivors Day event. I am available at reasonable prices to speak to your groups! ==================== My name is Elizabeth Trever Buchinger. I’m 36 years old. I’m a wife and the mother of a teenager and a toddler. I’m a freelance writer. And for the past 15 months, I have been a member of what I very fondly call Cancer Club. And for those of you wondering, yes, this is my real hair. I wouldn't have paid good money for a wig that looked like this. I’d like to thank the misguided people who invited me to speak today. As my family, friends and anyone who has recently had the misfortune to sit next to me on a bus or airplane can tell you, I don’t talk NEARLY enough about my cancer. Actually, I’m like the 90 y/o woman in the joke who tells the priest she’s having an affair with a 25-year-old ski instructor. The priest starts to assign her penance, but she interrupts him. “Oh no, Father. I’m not Catholic,” she says. “Then why are you telling me this?” the priest wants know. “Are you kidding?” she says. “I’m telling everyone.” So am I. I had cancer. And I’m telling everyone. And I’m honored and flattered to be asked to speak on Survivors Day. Survivor. In addition to being an amazingly popular TV series, “Survivor” is an amazingly heavy word. Survivor. I’m not quite comfortable using it when talking about myself. Yes, 15 months ago, I was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer. The cancer was removed, along with most everything else in my pelvic cavity. I imagine my surgeons using a giant ice cream scooper to accomplish the task. At least, that’s what it felt like when I woke up. After all the slides were reviewed, the verdict was stage one ovarian cancer. No lymph node involvement. No spreading. With three months of ajuvent chemotherapy and, pardon me guys, a thorough pelvic exam every couple months for the next five years, my prognosis was excellent. I was lucky. I don’t use the word survivor to describe myself because it seems to imply a strength and grace that I did not and do not possess in the face of illness. During the uncertain weeks leading up to my surgery, I was anything but strong and graceful. I was terrified and whimpering. Clutching scraps of hope, faith and a Xanax prescription, I got through only with the support of the people who love me, particularly husband and my mother, who both comforted me through many tears and slept on hard cots and in hospital chairs during the week after my surgery. I’m not a survivor. I’m someone who had a little cancer and, thanks to skillful physicians and dumb luck, I got better. But I did get to join Cancer Club, which is the best worst thing that’s ever happened to me. The initiation is hell, but there are benefits. First, you get a doctor who will take your call at any time of the day or night. it sort of ruins you for ordinary medical care. And suddenly, you have a medicine cabinet that makes Timothy Leary and Elvis Presley look like tea-sipping school marms. And you meet the most amazing people. Every time I tell someone about my cancer - and I’m telling everyone - I get to hear stories of other people who are members of Cancer Club. People who are truly strong and graceful. People who are survivors. I’ve met people who have been fighting their battles for many years. I’ve met people whose diagnoses would have knocked most of us on our keesters, but these folks haven’t skipped a beat. I’ve met people whom I will never forget. We’re all members of the same club. And Cancer Club isn’t populated just by those of us who have had our own diagnoses. If someone you love has tried to put on a brave face while telling you how the doctor visit went, you’re in the club. If you’ve had cup after cup of bad hospital coffee while waiting for someone to get out of surgery, you’re in the club. If you’ve said goodbye and held your breath every time the phone rang, you’re in the club. Even without my own diagnosis, i would have gotten in the club. When I had my surgery and got my diagnosis, my mother was at my side. She was pulling double duty comforting me as Mom, and getting the straight medical scoop as a nurse. After I was released from the hospital, she stayed at our house, running errands for us, keeping the extended family informed and watching daytime TV with me. It was the best time we’d had together since I was a child. And it was over quickly. Ten days after I got out of the hospital, my mother went to the emergency room after supper with chest pains. She coded during a CT scan, which revealed massive, metastatic lung cancer that had spread throughout her body and compromised and artery. She never regained consciousness, and she died at 5 a.m. the next morning with my husband, son, mother-in-law, priest and myself, still in a wheelchair, at her side. If she knew or suspected she was sick, she didn’t share it. Before my surgery, when she and I would talk on the phone or in person several times a day, she told me that if she could go through it for me she would. That she wished she could. And she would have. Instead, she ferried me through, got me safely on the other side and almost back on my feet, and then she was gone. If anyone deserves to be called a survivor, it was her. And my husband, who is here, and will pretend that he hates attention. More than most people I’ve known, he has earned the title Survivor. In the past two years he prayed with his father while his father died of cancer, took my mother to the hospital and kept her from being alone at THE most important moment and supported me through all my own illness, grief and healing. He has stayed by my side through cancer and chemo and hot flashes and surgical menopause. That, my friends, is a man who deserves to be called a survivor. And he also was there the day when I realized I had joined Cancer Club. It was my first visit to my oncologist. We were in the waiting room, and I was trying hard not to look at anyone - or at least not to let anyone catch me looking. I was trying to figure out who had hair and who was wearing a wig. I was wondering how miserable everyone felt. I was looking around the little waiting room full of people, Cancer Clubbers all, and I couldn’t believe I was one of them. When the nurse called me back to get my blood pressure, I broke down and cried. She brought me apple juice and told me I would feel better after talking to my doctor. "Not if he's an oncologist," I thought. In public I call him Dr. Justakoff, which is not his real name. I call him that mostly to avoid lawsuits in case I write something he doesn’t like. In private I call him a saint and a frustrated stand-up comedian. When I complained to him once that even THINKING about my next dose of a particular antibiotic made me want to throw up, he replied evenly, “Well. There goes your contract as their spokesperson.” The nurse was right that day. I did feel better after I talked to Dr. Justakoff. I knew that whatever happened to me, I was in good hands. And then I noticed the sign under the phone on the wall. It read, “Telephone is for internal use only.” Ouch. As if getting all those pelvic exams and losing my hair weren’t indignity enough. See, when I went into that appointment, I had no idea what it looked like to have cancer or to survive it. Mostly, I thought people with cancer looked dead. Bald and dead. Or they looked like Barbara Hershey in “Beaches” - all serene and lovely going into that good night. I know differently now. People with cancer may look brave. They may look scared. They look sick or they look healthy. They look serene and lovely or they look like they just ran a marathon between the bathroom and the sofa. They wear baseball hats that show their soft, bare scalps in the back or they wrap their heads in scarves and look like nuns and fortune tellers. Or they show no sign whatsoever that they have cancer, or they’ve had cancer, or they’re surviving it. That’s why I’m telling everyone, and you should tell everyone too. There are already too many people in our club, and we get new members every day. They need to know that we’re all scared. But none of us are alone. And having cancer can be the b est worst thing that ever happened to you. Tell everyone.


Blogger Maggirat said...

I have a dear friend who's battling cancer now (and for her, battling is absolutely the right description). I don't know if another triumphant survivor essay is what she'll want to hear, but I've printed it out, just in case. Thank you.


6:36 AM  
Blogger PPB said...

You're the absolute best. This is so funny and amazing.

10:46 AM  
Blogger What Now? said...

I was laughing with tears in my eyes. Thanks for sharing with us this wonderful speech.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Dale said...

That's wonderful, and wonderful, and wonderful, in about 27 different ways. Bless you.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Moreena said...

Lovely. Ahhhhhhhh (doing the sigh that Anni has been doing lately)
Thank you for letting us read it.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Rory Kearn said...

I found this post from Moreena's blog. I must say, I've had a healthy cry this morning. Thanks for this post. I'll be back to keep reading you.


10:16 AM  
Blogger Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

I am at a loss for words. ~cries and applaudes~

3:01 PM  
Blogger jon said...

I was looking at your posts about cancer colon symptom and found a good article about the same cancer colon symptom info too...

God luck with it : )

10:54 AM  
Blogger amacdrummer said...

Nice cancer lymph node blog... Check out this cancer lymph node site.

1:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a lung cancer picture site. It pretty much covers lung cancer picture related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)


10:16 PM  

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