Cancer Lite is still Cancer Guest Post by Lora-Beth Barnett

Lora-Beth Barnett has been my (Mary’s) friend longer than I have known my husband. We are honored that she chose to share her story with us and our blog readers.

A few months ago I went to the doctor to get some prescriptions renewed.  I happened to mention that even though I was well past menopause I was having some period-like bleeding.  Before I knew it I was having a pelvic ultrasound that revealed extra tissue where a woman of my age should not have extra tissue.

The gynecologist did a D and C and when I went to his office for the results he said that he had good news and bad news for me.  The bad news was that he had found cancer cells in the lining of my uterus.  The good news was that it was in the early stages and a hysterectomy would take care of it. It seems to me that only cancer can make the need for a hysterectomy the good news. Within a month I was in and out of the hospital.   New procedures in robotic surgery make hysterectomies less invasive and one night short of out-patient surgery. Two weeks later I was back to work with only a small row of incision scars to remind me of the last three months.

Yes, just three months start to finish. Cancer Lite.  No pain, no chemo, no nausea, no hair loss, no t-shirt proclaiming survivor, no golf tournaments to raise money for my treatment.  It was a no muss no fuss cancer to be sure.  As someone told me, it was the cancer to get if you are going to get cancer.  So why write about this seemly boring cancer experience that really has none of the drama most cancer stories feature? Because there are still lessons to be learned.

The most important lesson is that this is not the cancer to get if you get cancer. It is a dangerous cancer because it has virtually no symptoms.  If I hadn’t already had a doctor’s appointment I would never have told her about the bleeding which by the time of my appointment had not recurred for several weeks.  My experience was fuss free because the cancer was caught early.  If it hadn’t been caught things would not have gone so smoothly.  I might have died as did the wife of one of my friends. She had the same cancer but it was not caught until it was too late. Get those screenings. They may save your life.

Since I was past menopause children were no longer an option.  When I told people that I was to have a hysterectomy the most common comment was “Well, you weren’t using your uterus or ovaries anyway.” No, I wasn’t and I laughed along with them.  I even suggested that maybe I could sell the good parts on the black market to pay for the operation. But the truth is that the surgery took away part of what it means to be a woman and part of what it meant to be me. The loss may not have been as visible as the loss of a breast but it was still a loss that was not only physical but emotional as well. It is also a loss that may have other physical consequences down the road.  We have to keep our sense of humor in these kinds of situations but we should always realize that sometimes real emotion pain is hiding behind that humor and needs to be addressed.

Just because I didn’t look sick didn’t mean I didn’t need to be babied now and again. Now I didn’t tell a lot of people the reason for my surgery because cancer will sometimes make people uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say or do. Neither did I. We don’t like to believe that we are self-centered people but there are just times in our life we want and need it to be about “me.” At those times a card, or balloon, or really big cookie can go a long way. Or a hug just to let someone know that they are not alone.  The Cancer Society or the Heart Society or any other society may not notice us, but it doesn’t matter as long as our friends and co-workers do.

Even going to the doctor’s office with a sick friend goes a long way in helping them face a serious illness.  Yes, they may be able to drive themselves, but it can be a lonely, lonely feeling entering that office by yourself especially when the sign on the door says Cancer Center. I am thankful I had my husband for all my visits except one. I know someone else who also had a supportive husband but he was not able to attend the office visits due to work.  She said it was hard to go alone even though she knew he was at work thinking and praying for her.

After the surgery it was assumed that because there were no casts or bandages visible that everything was ok.  People forgot that internally I had had major surgery and needed time to mend. This meant that I occasionally needed help with the small things of life like cooking and laundry. I had to remind myself that I was not superwoman and could not do what I normally did. If I did I would risk making my recovery time just that much longer.  We need to look beneath the surface when someone we know has been sick or had surgery. Appearances do not always give the whole story.  For the first week I was back at work, people could see me standing and talking but didn’t know how much effort it took to stand long enough to say hello. They probably never notice how closely I hugged the wall and for the first time ever took the elevator rather than the stairs. Notice the small things that tell us what our friends will never say out loud.

Yes, everything went well, there is little chance that the cancer will return, and I am back to work. I am still left with the aftermath to deal with. There are the bills.  Maybe not as many as those folks who have to do the chemo and years of treatment but for someone in my economic bracket the bills are no less daunting. So maybe no one needs to do a charity golf tournament for those of us with less advanced cancers but that doesn’t mean we don’t need a little help too. Insurance is great but doesn’t cover everything. Each bill that comes is a reminder of what might have been. Some are small but when you have many of them they mount up. My credit score has plunged in the last three months.  Consider the needs of your friends. Sometimes a surprise tank of gas or trip to the grocery store just may help them pay at least one of these “little” bills and ease some of their stress.

Intellectually I know that there is little chance that the cancer will reappear. Still for weeks after the surgery every pain, weakness, or sneeze put me on the edge of panic.  The occasional emails that let me know my friends were still out there went a long way to keep me grounded.  At least until someone just had to tell me in detail about their aunt or uncle or cousin that had also cancer.  Maybe those stories are best left for another time.

So I have now told my cancer story. I fought no battles. Endured no chemo. Enjoyed no medical marijana. Gave no interviews.  I doubt that I will ever wear an “I am a cancer survivor” t-shirt but I am a survivor nonetheless.  The people in my life who were with me are survivors too.  For it was an emotional time for them as well.

It is not easy to face the possible loss of a spouse or friend.  It doesn’t matter how “treatable” the doctor says it is, our minds inevitably go to that worst case scenario. I take two lessons from this experience.  Don’t skip the screenings and pay attention to the needs of those around us. Just because the disease isn’t newsworthy doesn’t mean the need isn’t great.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “Cancer Lite is still Cancer Guest Post by Lora-Beth Barnett

  1. Pingback: List of Blog Entries by Subject (The same blog post may appear under multiple categories) | Elk Jerky for the Soul

  2. I’ve never read this Cancer Lite blog nor heard the term before but I guess that’s what I have. I was recently diagnosed with a Superficial Spreading Melanoma that turned out to be malignant and in the sample, only at a Clark II depth (2nd layer of skin). At about the size of a silver dollar, it was too large to be removed in the plastic surgeon’s office so I wound up having to go under general anesthesia and have the surgery in a hospital. I should have the stitches removed on Wednesday and I assume the biopsy results will be back by then and I will get the results.

    They removed it all and I have an 8″ scar on my back so I am completely confident that I do not have any more cancer in my system. The doctor knows that I can’t afford to go back if he didn’t get it all and I told him that I wasn’t concerned about a scar. I have no insurance and haven’t worked in three weeks.

    Sadly, I haven’t told many about what I’m going through because I don’t want to worry them with something that will probably be over and done with this week. Maybe I was protecting myself from people doing to me what they did to you. I don’t want false sympathy from people who think they should say something and I don’t want to feel like a victim, which is how some people make me feel.

    I trust God to provide for the finances just as I believe He is responsible for this malignant melanoma being found in time. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it! 😉 I really did enjoy this story and it opened my eyes. I hope I remember it so that it helps me to help another in your situation.

  3. I have been pondering our seeming inability to reach out unless it is a major crisis. When was the last time you asked your boss for time off to go to the doctor with a friend or sit with a friend while a family member had surgery? My best friend’s husband was dying and it was time to remove his tube and let him go. I told my boss I needed the morning off to be with her. She treated me like a shirker. She agreed to let me go, but did not understand the need. By the way, she was a nurse. I think we don’t respond to the less urgent needs not because we are self absorbed but more because we are ruled by our jobs and are constantly juggling the needs of home versus earning a living. Just my musings.

    • This is so true. We have so much pressure, especially with the economy, to avoid any risk-taking on the job. God knows our hearts, though, and He is still in control. And He is the God of all comfort in times when our ability to be comforters fails, for whatever reason.

  4. We have become a very self absorbed society and it seems to require the “big” tragedy to get our attention. I know I have been guilty.

    • Wow… yes… speaking of self-absorbed, it didn’t even occur to me to consider the times when I have been guilty of this in some way. The scripture that tells us to weep with those who weep, doesn’t say “unless you think they really don’t have anything worth crying about.”

  5. Great article!

    I, too, am a Cancer Lite survivor. My cervical carcinoma in situ happened 33 years ago. Yet it still scares me a bit when I have the odd pain or mysterious bumpy node, a sore that takes longer than it should to heal, or the summer chest cold that I somehow caught out of nowhere that doesn’t want to go away, like I’m having… Right Now.

    I was 26 when my cervical cancer was discovered thanks to a routine physical. When I went back to the doctor for my followup appointment and he gave me the results of my biopsy, his hands were shaking very hard. I remember that I was more concerned about the poor young doctor’s shot nerves, than about the news he was giving me. Until I got out into the waiting room, that is, and my husband asked what the doctor had said, and I replied: “He said I have c..c..c… CANCER!”

    The reactions of my husband, my mother, and even my closest friend, were less than comforting. My husband said nothing at all until we got out to the parking lot. Then he said, in his normal everyday life-as-usual voice, “Remind me to get gas on the way home.” I blew up!

    My mother, whom I called as soon as we got home, feeling the need for a motherly shoulder to cry on, promptly minimized my situation. “Oh, Cervical Cancer,” she said in a dismissive tone, “It’s so slow-growing and easily treatable, it really shouldn’t even be called cancer. Why, it’s hardly more serious than a case of the flu! Anyway, I’ve read that promiscuous women are the ones who get that kind of cancer…” I felt like I had been slapped in the face. I was not promiscuous, but my mother was somehow blaming me for getting cancer, at least that’s the way I took it. When I later learned that her long-dead mother-in-law, my stepfather’s mother, had died of cervical cancer, my mother’s un-motherly reaction to my situation was all the more puzzling.

    My best friend, when I called her later that night and told her, in a shakey tearful voice, about my biopsy result, took a deep breath, then said, in an outraged tone: “I am SHOCKED at you! WHERE IS YOUR FAITH?”

    If I could turn back time, my answer would be: “Where is your compassion?”

    A few years later, after going through some hard knocks and health scares of her own, my best friend apologized, and of course I forgave her. We all make errors in judgment, learning as we go.

    I hope your post will open some eyes so that fewer people make these kinds of tactless mistakes with people who have Cancer Lite.

    • Thank you, Lady Quixote. Will pass your comments on to Lora-Beth, Tact and compassion are gifts from God. May we all grow more.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing. I needed to know that I wasn’t alone in some of the emotions I was experiencing.

      Lora-Beth

      • Yup, you’re so right, you are Not Alone! Isn’t it amazing how comforting that is? I thank you, too, for writing this post. It was a brave thing for you to do, and it helped me, even 33 years after my Cancer Lite ordeal, to read this and know that I wasn’t the Only One to feel these things.

        I wish I could give you a big hug. Here’s a big Virtual Hug: ((((Lora-Beth))))

        ~Elaina

  6. Much needed thoughts shared here…My family understands. My son’s 9 and has been fighting lymphoma for the last year. Won’t be through with treatments for another year, but praise God he is in remission.

    • Praying for your family and your son, Bryan. Thank you for commenting.

    • Childhood cancer is the worst, Bryan. My heart aches for your son, and for the ordeal your family is going through.

      • Yes, we are a self absorbed society. It is the worship of our established religion. More, me, I want. Give me. It is my right. My the Lord forgive us this sin which keeps us from seeing the needs of others. To him that knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. Thank you each and every one for you comments. Thank you Lora-Beth for your post. Bryan, please keep us posted on the progress of your son\’s lymphoma treatments. If it is not to much to ask, what is his name?

    • Anonymous

      He will be in my prayers.
      Lora-Beth

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