Endometrial Cancer: A Farewell Ceremony for My Uterus and Her Friends
On the fifth long day after my biopsy, my gynecologist finally phoned. “Barbara,” Dr. Freid said, “the pathology report indicates early endometrial cancer.”
A blob of blood had shocked me one Saturday morning. Since then, I’d endured three procedures. Finally, I had an answer. Not the one I wanted.
“I’m confident you’re going to be fine,” Dr. Freid said. He explained what needed to happen next. As he spoke, in his kind voice, I gradually took in the news. Healthy, happy me was sick – seriously sick. My body had grown cancer.
The disease feared by millions was now my disease.
A week later, I sat in front of Dr. Gerhig, the oncologist. “We make small slits to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes,” she explained, eyes serious and intent. “The uterus we pull out the vagina, unless it’s too big. If so, we cut a longer incision near the others.”
Luckily, during the examination that followed, my uterus passed the daintiness test.
“We can’t determine the extent of the malignancy,” Dr. Gerhig warned, “until we operate.”
She certainly didn’t present the upbeat scenario my gynecologist did. Yet from that moment, oddly, a sort of Cancer Courage set in. I’ve heard this from others who’ve walked the cancer path. Along with this courage, came a deep gratitude for my life.
Thirty years earlier, I stood in the shower on many mornings, my daughters, ages five and two, shrieking in the hall, arguing over a doll stroller or Lego pieces. “Let me live through this day” became my morning mantra.
But live I did, and those years were good, challenging, years. My girls are grown now, and they bring me such happiness. Phone calls. Shopping trips. Advice on my hair. My decorating. My writing. Every now and then, they even ask me for advice.
“A daughter is a daughter for the rest of your life,” the saying goes. I’m lucky enough to have two of them. I was scheduled for a full hysterectomy in three weeks. Before my surgery, I wanted to say goodbye to the parts of me that created them.
My husband Cliff and I had recently visited Oxford, Mississippi, where literary pilgrims pour bourbon over William Faulkner’s grave as a tribute to the writer. My organs wouldn’t have a gravesite. Their burial would be less than pretty. Why not a ceremony now? A thank you celebration of sorts for my uterus and her friends.
Cliff agreed to attend the ceremony. Husbands become pliable, for a while at least, when you’ve got cancer. And, since this ceremony featured both alcohol and nudity, Cliff probably figured it would include benefits. The liquor of choice? Southern Comfort. After all, my surgery was scheduled for a noted Southern hospital: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Let the ceremony begin!” I declared the next day, flat on my back, mostly bare, husband next to me.
“Thank you, ovaries. You held those important eggs! My daughters began with you.”
I saw the round baby faces of my girls. The determined toddler faces. The energetic grade school faces. The way cool high school faces. The confident, smart, college girl faces.
I dipped my fingers in the glass and sprinkled some Southern Comfort. I’m a bit clueless on anatomy, so I could only guess the exact location of each organ on my belly.
“Fallopian tubes, you moved the eggs, like an efficient tunnel does, to their new location. Good job!”
I’ve never understood how fallopian tubes work. But I don’t understand how electricity or plumbing works either. I splashed on more Southern Comfort.
Cliff didn’t say too much, but that was okay with me. My cancer came as a shock to him. And I know how much he loved those babies from the very start.
Now, the final organ.
“Uterus, you did the bulk of the work. I watched you expand with each month of pregnancy. I felt your mighty contractions in labor. Thank you, thank you so much for my girls!”
I sprinkled Southern Comfort for the last time. Then Cliff and I took a few swigs. I won’t reveal details about how our ceremony ended, but you are free to guess.
At my first oncology appointment, I had given permission for my cells to be used in a cancer study. Feeling pleased with my small shot at immortality, I asked the researcher, “Does everyone say yes to this?”
He shook his head. “No. Some people worry we’re going to clone them.”
I smiled. “Cloning! Hey, that’s an idea in case the cancer kills me.”
But kill me it didn’t, and most likely won’t. Dr. Freid’s suspicion was right. The cancer was early stage and had not spread past my endometrial lining. I found out the good news within hours of the surgery. That day in UNC Hospital was one of the happiest of my life. Never, ever, have I experienced such relief.
A year later, I’m in good spirits, and I feel great. Although the odds are low my cancer will return, I go for an exam every six months. I live in fear of discovering blood again, which might indicate the cancer is back. Cancer survivors tell me the fear goes on forever but will lessen over time.
Through my blog, Friend for the Ride, and my other writing, I’m working to advocate for endometrial cancer awareness. The most common cancer of the female reproductive system, it’s usually highly curable when caught early.
Sometimes I put my hands on my belly, searching for a hollow space where my organs used to be. I can’t find one. And my sadness at losing them? Gone. Vanished. The surgery saved my life. I’m pleased though, that my uterus and friends had a proper ceremony, a fine farewell.
Cliff and I continue to pour glasses of Southern Comfort, but now we sip it all; we don’t drip any on my belly. We lift those glasses skyward. To our daughters! To our grandchildren! To our travels! To life!
Have your faced cancer and needed a hysterectomy? Or have you had a hysterectomy for another medical condition? What were your emotions as you said goodbye to your reproductive organs? Do tell us your story! Please join the conversation and “like” and share this article to keep the discussion going.
Barbara Younger writes Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster. The author of over twenty books, she lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with her husband Cliff. She’s the mother of two grown daughters and grandmother to one adorable little boy.