He explained that I would need surgery to remove my bladder and part of my colon. My choices were either to have surgery or to be reconciled to the possibility that my cancer would grow and prove fatal.
As I watched the doctor, I thought he was going to cry. I said, "Oh well, I guess it is my turn, as I have had a lot of good luck in my life." I leaned over to pat the doctor on the back. "Hey," he said, "I am supposed to console you, but you are consoling me."
It all started with a tiny drop of blood. I thought it was nothing, since I had no pain or other symptoms. I was examined by a nurse in the emergency room at the hospital and was told nothing was wrong. A month later malignancy was found.
In June, 1985, I had a hysterectomy. My uterus was loaded with cancer, and the cells had gone three quarters of the way through the wall. Therefore, I had to choose between radiation and chemotherapy. I chose radiation.
Radiation therapy was not too bad. I experienced just a little nausea, and the inconvenience of getting to the clinic in Palo Alto (a forty-mile trip every day for six weeks). I had to give up my golf and a few other activities.
Life Goes On
Everything was fine. My life went on as before. Then eight months later, the following April, 1986, I discovered another tiny spot of blood, and went back to the doctor. This biopsy was also positive, and more radiation was prescribed, to the limit I could take.
Radiation thinned the walls of my bladder and colon so much that the doctor said the tissue would perforate. He advised that my bladder and part of my colon be removed.
An appointment was made for me to see a cancer specialist in San Francisco. He explained the surgery I was to have, using a plaster model of female organs. He was very patient and said for me to take all the time I wanted and ask all the questions I wanted.
Then, the enterostomal therapy (ET) nurse tried to show me the equipment I would use after surgery. At this point, I really broke down and cried. I refused to listen or to look at any of the equipment she had gathered to show me. With tears in her eyes, she gathered me into her arms and held me while I shook with sobs. She spent a great deal of time with me in the hospital later on. What a wonderful person and a great help she turned out to be!
Early one morning, while I was still in sort of a stupor after my surgery, I opened my eyes, and there was my surgeon, standing above me, smiling and rubbing his hands together. He said, "We examined you all over, and we did not find any more malignancy."
The significance of the doctor's broad smile and statement did not dawn on me until much later. I met several people who were told the opposite after their surgery, namely, that more malignant cells were discovered, and that they would need further treatment after their surgery.
I believe I had the very finest of care at Kaiser Hospital, even though there was a strike going on at the time. The nurses came running whenever my beepers went off behind me. When I was uncomfortable, they gave me a back rub and talked to me as though they were very interested in me.
In Praise of ET's
Of course the most important person was my ET nurse. She brought a huge minnor, which she stood on the floor, so that I could see what I was doing while practicing applying my equipment. She made me practice every day for about a week, even though sometimes I did not feel like it. As a result, I was able to take care of myself when I got home.
It is a comforting feeling to know that just about every problem you have with your stoma can be corrected by your guardian angel, your ET nurse. Sometimes you think you will lose your mind with a painful, unbearable itch, and she cures it in half an hour. I know it is not always that simple in all cases, but it helps to know that I can always depend on my ET, my friend.
Pearl A. Anderson is president of the Santa Clara County Chapter of UOA, and, as a certified visitor, is called upon often to see new patients. She and her husband of nearly 50 years have four children and ten grandchildren. She swims, gardens, and says she enjoys all the things she did before her ostomy surgery.