I was delivered by C-section in late August on the best date for the doctor and at a clinic close to the hospital, because the only hospital in the area was Roman Catholic and did not allow interference with the birth process. After delivery, my mother was whisked to the hospital for recovery and a 7 day stay for recuperation.
I was whisked off to surgery because of the large tumor that was attached to my chest, which was full of “garbage” and was as big as I was. I do not know the time of day I was delivered – it was believed to be 8 o’clock in the morning as I was the first scheduled for that date. I know nothing more about the growth other than it was presumed that I was a sickly child because of it.
My parents had just recently moved from the trials of graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, with two other children, and my father was beginning an amazing post with State government in Education. They had rented a small cottage at the end of the point right by the lighthouse entering the Inlet off Puget Sound. I believe I was a surprise and unplanned and that I was more of a problem than a joy.
I love the sound of the fog horns off the water at night. They make me feel safe.
I cannot tell you how many screaming in pain ear infections plagued my days and that every cold that passed through our household was mine for months. Every time I encountered chicken pox, I came down with chicken pox; I can count at least 5 times, which I am told repeatedly is not possible.
My third year of college the kidney stones started. After the school nurse took me to several gynecologists to talk to me about the bleeding, which was because she was sure I was having too much sex (well, I had not even had a date by this time in my life!) the school medical clinic told me I was lying. On Good Friday, at 4 am in the morning I called a cab and spent $100 getting to the closest hospital in North Carolina to find my own relief from the pain. The doctors removed three craggy nuggets of iron and two growths that they called cancer and paraded all the student doctors through my life for three weeks of drain tubes, hallucinations, treatments and dehumanization. I did all this alone and graduated from college; got into graduate school and other than not being able to perform my senior vocal recital or pass my logic exams, I healed.
Every Doctor I have encountered since this time in my life has said these two things, “my you are a large scar former, and I do not believe iron kidney stones are possible – they are calcium.”
Graduate school was a series of more kidney stones and a great deal of fun until Nixon abolished the draft and all the people I admired packed up and left immediately. I just had a year to go, I knew I could make it, and then I developed a Pilonidal Cyst at the base of my spine which also joined up with the word cancer during the surgery and recovery period. I missed my graduation and spent months lying face down and reading.
I had a dream that I was falling down the stairs because I had cancer and the Doctors could not find it – a naturopathic physician found it with her fingers and lots of perseverance, so 1996 brought me Ovarian Cancer and cysts all over my ovaries and an incompetent surgeon and huge infections in the entry site. My 12 year old took care of me and cleaned up the smelly exploding pustules. I was sure they had cut out all my creativity in the process. In 1999, a repair surgery by a great plastic surgeon who I own much too for my child’s success with all his surgery skill and for piecing me back together and giving me future. He said my insides were as awful as many of the folks he repaired from shrapnel wounds in Viet Nam.
In more recent years, I keep hearing pre-cancerous words attached to the polyps removed from my vocal cords and my large intestines, and ganglion cyst attached to my finger growth and we “don’t have any idea what it is” growing on my upper lip – that my recent round of antibiotics seems to have slowed down. I haven’t been able to sing since the vocal cord surgery and that makes me sad and I think raises my blood pressure.
I have not written this to share my surgical experiences with everyone, but rather because I wanted to tell you I am not afraid to die – I am not afraid of death. It is always with me – I know of nothing different.
This knowledge has made me a great care giver and a good assistant to those who are dying – a strong ear and guide. I take huge risks.
I write this because I wish to inspire, when death is always a part of life, I am left with encouragement.
My fear is this – I will not inspire enough folks to be the best that they can be and find the joy in living and that in my end I will be alone and bankrupt my family – those who are left behind.