Cancer as Cure?

Many times I’ve wondered why I got bladder cancer (I was diagnosed March 4, 2019 and am currently cancer free after many surgeries and treatments.) Maybe my smoking for almost fifteen years, ages twelve – twenty-six, caused it, plus ingesting my dad’s constant pipe and cigar smoke for the eighteen years I lived with our family. Maybe the pollution in the environment. Maybe the fillings in my mouth, leaking mercury and other toxic metals into my system. Maybe chronic inflammation that resulted from the post-traumatic stress of infant surgery without anesthesia or adequate pain control. I’ll never really know.

What I do know is that cancer cured my ambivalence about life—about whether I want to live and appreciate being alive. Cancer forced me to want to live so badly that I’d do just about anything. What had to go was the attitude I’d adopted as a result of my early pyloric stenosis surgery at twenty-six days old: ambivalence.

I’ve written numerous blog posts about how that surgery impacted my life, which you can click on and read. One of the major impacts was that I had undiagnosed PTSD for most of my life, causing instability and distress. So while the surgery saved my life, at what cost? I have always felt ambivalent about having been saved.

So many burdens from the early surgery weighed heavily: the financial strain on my parents; the emotional toll my near death caused them; my brother’s anger at being neglected during my health crisis; a deep distrust and fear of my body; the grief over the abrupt separation from my mother and attachment problems that resulted; a large scar on my belly that made me feel ugly, unlovable, and alone in the world; an inability to find comfort in my body. I rarely, if ever, felt grateful that I had been saved.

My parents and doctors were, of course, thrilled I made it; however, my parents were so stressed and traumatized by almost losing me and by struggling to help me recover that they’d neglected to communicate much of the good fortune and gratitude part. I felt their stress more than their happiness.

So along comes cancer, saying, You want to live? Well…….., I began to answer. Cancer interrupts: Oh no, that’s not good enough. Uh uh. If you are going to beat me, you have to be all in—gratitude, trust, a new way to relate to your body: Not fear but friendliness. Learning from your body and listening to it.

Cancer came as a message: You, Wendy, can no longer afford the luxury of feeling ambivalent about living. No. You’ve got to flat out love your body and love the life you’ve been given. No buts, maybes, ifs, sort ofs, sometimes. Your goal is to learn to love this life.

No one in her right mind asks for cancer. But cancer cured me of any ambivalence I’ve held since those early days. It cured me of hesitation, and self-doubt. Indecision. Yes and no. Maybe. This change did not happen overnight. It took time. Through affirmations and Healing Touch bodywork, I began to change. My meditation in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh helped, too. And while I am not always in the I-want-to-live zone, I am much of the time. I’ve learned to make my mind up about it and notice when I slip into ambivalence. Then I simply flip the switch on my attitude. And that is a very good thing. Because I want to beat cancer and keep on living.

I have a history of taking pride in being a disbeliever, a naysayer, a sarcastic person who was always looking for the underbelly of things—the gimmick or unfairness in life or the fact that things don’t always work out. But now that I’ve been given a second chance through my treatment at UCSF Medical Center, I’m taking it. I’m convinced that I have a right to be. I’m convinced that my life was worth saving as a baby and it’s worth saving now. I was meant to be here on this planet in this body. Sure, I feel despair at times, sadness, frustration, grief, and disappointment. I feel those feelings and then, get back to gratitude, ambivalent no more!


16 Responses to Cancer as Cure?

  1. Like Mary wrote, this post blew me away, Wendy! I am so grateful that your experience of cancer has moved you to put ambivalence and negative self-thoughts behind you. I certainly sense your new energy and positivity about life!
    I am with you on that, although my attitude turned the corner some time ago. Like you I still mull over the wash-up of my infant surgery: I too find the symptoms of PTSD clear, but how much of that was due to the surgery, the hospital-regime, my parents’ own trauma and inability to manage it, and last but perhaps not least, my temperament and life circumstances in childhood? Whatever, the past 10 or so years of networking and discovery have opened up a more actual and larger world to me, and my Christian faith has also challenged me to reconsider my fears and self-loathing.
    It’s also “so good” to have you “on board” our blogging again. As I wrote in a Comment on my own blogsite, your input is often very special.

      • Hi Jennifer, Can’t believe I missed this Comment! I was never notified of the Comment by my website and somehow didn’t view it when I would look over my blog. Thank you for Commenting. I am grateful for our friendship and glad that I’ve been an inspiration to you, for certainly you’ve been one for me! I see on FB that you are keeping your light bright in the world, which is wonderful. I will be in the Sacramento area soon and hope to see you at some point. Will be in touch.

    • So happy to be back, dear Fred. And so glad to hear that you “turned [that] corner some time ago.” Being all in on life is so important! How fortunate that you had your Christian faith to help you embrace life. I know that since meeting you, networking with others about this pyloric stenosis/infant surgery issue, and researching the topic of infant trauma more deeply, I’d become more compassion toward myself; I’ve come to understand so much more about the early forces that had shaped me. But I guess you could say I upped my appreciation for life from 75% to 95.5%:) Anyway, feels good to be back sharing on ReStory, contributing to SIS and other sites, and being co-conspirators, if you will. Thanks for hanging in with me and supporting me over this year and a half of illness.

  2. Wow, Wendy, this is amazing. For my part, I’m so glad that you are in this world, and continue to be, and want to be. I’m glad too that you’re back to blogging. Blessed Be!

    • Hey Suzie,

      Thanks for Commenting! Well, I’m not quite back to blogging, but I plan to get some help managing the site, so maybe I’ll start posting again. Sorry I missed your Comment. My website never notified me and somehow, I didn’t see your Comment when I looked over my blog. In any case, I am glad to be in the world and to know you and have known you. You hold a special place in my heart, that’s for sure!

  3. Hi Wendy! I am so glad to hear your voice! Your strong,brave,determined creative voice…I’ve often thought of you,heard of your move and heard of your brave struggle with cancer.So,so glad you’re doing well!

    Love you and hope to see you round the Poetree someday!


    • Hi Jen,

      So good to read your Comment. I miss you. I’m so lucky to be doing well. Thank you for writing and for your appreciation of me. I have always felt a special connection with you and hope you are doing well. More than that–thriving even! Hope to meet up again somewhere in this lifetime!

  4. Beautiful thoughts and writing, Wendy. As always you inspire me to reach for my best me. Self-love,’even’ for my body, is what I get from this. Thank You, WW!

    • Yes, love for your body, for sure. Thank you for your loving appreciation. Wow, I always inspire you to be your best self? An honor.

    • Thank you so much, Steven! We go back a long ways, don’t we? I am inspired by your health journey and appreciate our reconnection. You are such a special person. I remember what a bright, cheerful boy you were and how full of energy and positivity. Thank you for being in my life. So sorry for the long delay in replying to you. Website glitch resulted in my not being notified, but I’ll be checking my blog more regularly now.

  5. If you were ambivalent about life “before”, Wendy, you had me fooled! As far as I can tell, you’ve always been fully engaged – you’re always there for others, and you bring your energy and your talents to whatever you do.
    Great to hear from you! Stay strong and keep writing!

    • Wow, Bob, as I’ve been saying to some of the other Commentors, so sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. Glitch with blog notifying me. Thank you for sharing your positive feelings about me. I am so moved to read them. Yes, while we were on the Board together, I felt happy to be working with you and the rest of the members. Powerful times. So nourishing. I guess the cancer brought me to a new level of awareness of some negativity that had to be flushed out. Thank you so much for hosting the Women’s History Poetry Reading these past two years. It’s wonderful to see you and Joyce. Thanks for all you do to support poets and poetry! Hope you are still writing!

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