Sometimes Verbal Filters Are Overrated

It was Sunday morning, two days after my initial diagnosis. My family and I went to the grocery store after having our weekly dose of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. My husband was stuck in the store having chosen the do-it-yourself express line despite the fact that he had about 75 items. Hungry and antsy, the kids and I decided to vacate the store before 1) I started telling my husband how to properly checkout, and 2) my kids roller derbyed a cart into one of the white hairs who regularly shop on Sunday mornings.

I loaded the kids into the car and noticed a few stray carts in the area. Being a good samaritan — I always liked that story as a kid — I collected them and rolled them over to the cart corral. It was the right thing to do. From out of nowhere a woman appeared from behind and said, “Excuse me. Miss…” Well that certainly got my attention because I generally no longer hear that salutation. Once you have kids and are dying your hair to cover the gray, it’s more like “Ma’am?” I would prefer Madame to Ma’am — at least it has some cachet. At any rate, I turned acknowledging her voice. “Yes?” She continued, “Miss, are you wearing a black thong?” I stood there, incredulous. As I stared at her through my bug-eyed Maui Jims, she continued, “Because your dress is quite sheer and you can see the outline.”

Ok. A bit of reading comprehension here. Does everyone recall WHERE I had been prior to the store? Ding ding ding! I was not dressed like a stripper nor was I wearing a thong and stilettos and approaching little kids in the candy aisle. Nothing wrong with strippers. Everyone has to make a living; but I certainly do not have the body to be dressing like one. I’m built like a boy although I enjoy dressing like a girl. There’s a psychosis in there somewhere, I’m sure.

We stood there face to face for a few seconds. “Well, you actually have the wrong color,” I replied. (She made some additional comment about the outline like she was trying to protect me from my purported immodesty.) “But I do have colorectal cancer, so I suppose I have bigger fish to fry than worrying about my underwear.” She gulped, loosely apologized under her breath, and with that, she drove away.

Exhibit A: The Dress.

Since my diagnosis I have not been so brazen with all of my exchanges. There has been no need. I have been the recipient of pitying eyes, of tearful eyes, of concerned eyes — from the first nurse who tried to comfort me to the doctor who made the initial diagnosis. I’ve seen the look in the eyes of high school friends and the eyes of friends newly made. Not that they would want to carry my burden or change places, but I can see that they are asking “WHY?” There is a sadness there. Perhaps they too are realizing their own mortality. In that instant they are taking a walk down memory lane and remembering what was. Then the moment passes and life goes on. They go home to their lives and families, to their plans for vacation and parties marked on the calendar.

I am still here. I am still me — the woman who has been diagnosed with cancer.

It’s not a death sentence, thank goodness. I’m a realist in knowing that anything can go wrong at any given time; but, for now, it’s manageable and treatable. Should I require chemo, I will not lose my hair. BONUS! I asked my doctor that question right before I went lights out for the colonoscopy. I like my hair. Not that any chemo is good, but at least a sense of self can be maintained through this type. We as women identify with our hair. Why on earth would we spend so much time and money on it otherwise? It’s a part of us that is defining. I am fortunate to maintain that part of me.

So far the CT scans are positive. The cancer has not metasticized to other organs. My local GI doctor had the tumor biopsied and the path report shows that it’s likely Stage 2 and T2. As a culture we’ve become familiar with the “stage” term; however, the “T” term is a new one, at least for me. The “T” is accompanied by numbers 0–4 and describes the extent the cancer has spread through the layers that form the wall of the colon and rectum. I also had an MRI which staged the tumor as T2. If you’ve never experienced one, that was 90 minutes of lying strapped down in a tube in a chill chamber with Sirius XM tunes playing in my headphones while the machine’s drum beats jockeyed for position and my attention. Loads of fun. I will need an ileostomy bag temporarily and I have not quite come to grips with this. The doctors will need to re-route my bowel function until I heal internally. I guess I won’t be parading around the grocery store in my thong. My eight year old asked me if I’d smell. I promised him that I’d do my best to keep things clean and not embarrass him. OF COURSE I WON’T! Do I now?? Spoken like a child. To be that cavalier and carefree. It warms me that his only concern is my hygiene, or lack thereof, and his potential embarrassment.

I have been picked and prodded like I never imagined I would be at this age. All in the name of science — and survival. When I first went to the doctor on June 5, my symptoms were raging. I was bloated, gassy, bleeding. I wanted to wear maternity pants even though I had tossed those nearly six years ago. Nothing felt good around my waist. But since the colonoscopy…poof. All of the symptoms have vanished. If I had felt then like I do now, there would have been no reason to see a doctor. I feel like the old Amy — except I am not. And therin lies my message. Women — and men when you tune in — listen to your bodies! It doesn’t matter that colon screening begins at 50. cancer knows no age. It knows no boundaries. Breast cancer screening begins at age 40; why not colorectal cancer? You can’t feel inside your colon. When symptoms present themselves it’s often too late — you already have cancer. The simple early detection and removal of polyps could save lives.

So until then, until the insurance companies will pay for earlier screenings, tune in and listen to your body. Don’t put off the doctor’s appointment and don’t let your doctor tell you it’s nothing — that it’s just a part of getting older. Don’t let your husband tell you it’s your diet. Perhaps it is; but perhaps it is not. Most importantly, don’t let your fear prevent you from taking the next step. Your own intuition can be your best defense. Why take the chance? Be your own advocate.

*Since being diagnosed, I have decided to write a weekly blog. Some posts will be clincial in nature, while others will be a brain dump of my emotions. All are intended to help me cope with my new reality, and more importantly, to help raise awareness about colorectal cancer. Please join me and spread the word. Thank you! -Amy

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