I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope.
Psalm 16: 8, 9 Book of Common Prayer
I wanted a woman doctor for my ovarian cancer, but there wasn’t one in my region. I wasn’t up for road trips, especially by the time I needed a gynecologic oncologist—after the blood work, the CATscan, the ultrasound. By then, every literal bump in the road sent off seismic waves of pain.
I came to love my gyn-onc, despite his maleness; so, when I needed another specialist for what we learned was bladder cancer, I took his recommendation. The first time I met the bladder surgeon, I said, “My name is Judy. I don’t want a bag. Ever.” This has become my standard greeting to anyone dealing with my bladder.
The man was a good surgeon, though devoid of the comforting bedside manner I so much appreciated in my first specialist. After what was supposed to have been a “look-see” became a surgery to remove what he termed the largest bladder tumor he’d seen in five years, he sent me home. With a bag. For three days. This did not endear him to me. Nor did it change my mind about having a bag on a permanent basis.
Convinced we were dealing with a new and separate cancer, rather than a recurrence of ovarian cancer, the two men recommended a woman oncologist specializing in bladders. In her office, I finally sobbed as I had not been able to do with my male doctors, beloved or not. “I feel such a sense of violation,” I wept. “I am so tired of men poking and prodding and looking at my private parts.”
She murmured sympathetically, pulled her chair closer, then offered me the standard of care for bladder cancer: chemo, followed by removal of the bladder for safety. And a bag for life.
The next day I boarded a plane for West Palm Beach with a friend, who’d offered to accompany me. I needed five days of walking the beach to feel like myself again. I came home, fired the surgeon with no bedside manner, and determined to do everything in my power to prevent a recurrence or a bag.
A year later, I left a different hospital, after a different surgeon removed the latest round of bladder tumors, which I’d had the unhappiness to see on a screen. I left with a bag. For two days. Despite explaining to this man that I didn’t want a bag. Ever. At least he has told me that he doesn’t see a bag in my future on any permanent basis. He calls mine a low-grade, nuisance cancer. That has been the case; I’ve since had another surgery for more of those non-dangerous tumors.
A glad heart, a rejoicing spirit, a resting and hopeful body—I don’t find these easily achieved. At first, I struggled mightily and daily with my fears. Now the outpatient surgeries, cystoscopies, and CATscans have become almost routine. And now that spring is coming, it’s easier for me to rejoice. I hear hope in the resuming of morning birdsong, see it in the snowdrops that have bloomed. I’m grateful to be here.