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 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. 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!

 

Finding Comfort in Our Bodies*

“Becoming comfortable in their bodies is, for our patients, the number-one, paramount issue, and if we can’t help them do that, then we can’t help them at all.” –Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, world expert on the healing of trauma As a survivor of infant surgery without anesthesia and/or pain control, my first two decades… Continue Reading

The Attack of the Great White Shark: A Trauma Trigger Strikes

As I lay in the dark in bed recently trying to sleep, the fear of death paralyzed me. My stomach was tight, my mind raced with fears: Has pyloric stenosis finally gotten me after all these years?   The week before, I had been pulling oil, i.e. chewing coconut oil, an ancient prescription for reducing inflammation in the… Continue Reading

Beth Israel Hospital, Newark, New Jersey: Returning after 62 years

For the first time in sixty-two years, I returned to the hospital that saved my life when I was one month old after having been operated on for pyloric stenosis, a stomach obstruction. Now the hospital is called, as is obvious from the photo, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and is well-known as a trauma… Continue Reading

The Colors of Success: The Story of a Sacramento Meetup

Time to let go of a Meetup Group I’ve led for the last year-and-a-half called Freedom after Trauma. (Meetup is a network of free classes and meetings that one can sign up for online.) The meeting was an opportunity for folks with post-traumatic stress to ReStory their Lives and find more freedom through associative or free… Continue Reading

My Toastmasters Icebreaker Speech about Pyloric Stenosis

THE ALIVENESS OF ME The good news is that I was born a healthy 6 pound, 7 ounce baby. The bad news is that I began to lose weight. One pound. Two pounds. When I reached 4 pounds, the doctors finally got the diagnosis right: pyloric stenosis. Pyloric stenosis is a blockage between the stomach… Continue Reading

Can We Free Ourselves from PTS Prison?

Talking with folks about PTS, those who have it and those who don’t, I get the feeling that, in general, people believe that those with PTSD will just have to live with it the rest of their lives. Or, folks are a tiny bit hopeful that they or someone can change but don’t really believe… Continue Reading

It's about infant surgery, stupid!

Indulge me for a moment while I rant about the fact that Google doesn’t seem to be picking up the key words on my blog: It’s about infant surgery, stupid!  It’s about infant surgery. It’s about infant trauma, stupid!  Infant trauma. It’s about post-traumatic stress, stupid! Post-traumatic stress.  It’s about using writing as a healing… Continue Reading