May 7th, 2012
I haven’t read Susan Gubar’s new memoir about her terminal ovarian cancer yet. The famous literary critic explained that she was motivated, in part, by a problem that Virginia Woolf’s generation of women writers had failed to solve: telling the truth about the experiences of a woman’s body.
I resonate with this motivation. As I explained in an early blog post, I have always found the silences around our bodies to be a strange form of culturally mandated dissociation. We all have bodies. They all have feelings and experiences, but we are somehow raised that it is impolite to discuss them.
The loneliest moments I have ever experienced have been in unanticipated, unrecognizable corporeal suffering. Somehow, putting words to these sensations and having others recognize them makes me feel less alone by acknowledging an important and essential aspect of our common humanity.
So here I am, having another intensely bodily experience. After two years and seven months since my diagnosis, my cancer treatment is coming to an end. My Medical Body is becoming a Private Body again.
Let me rewind a bit for you and explain. Early on, it became clear that Medical Bodies are not granted the normal respect granted to healthy bodies.
During my first diagnosis meeting with a team of doctors and residents, I heard the information about my disease: staging, tumor type, treatment plan. Needless to say, I was in shock.
Then the team wanted to “palpate my tumor.” I was to remove my hospital gown, stripped from the waist up, and sit on the exam table while, one by one, the doctors basically felt me up. I caught eyes with my husband, as we were both struck by the new bizarro world we had entered. This activity would have seemed inappropriate and lacking dignity just days ago. Now I was expected to endure this as a procedure, allowing the doctors to individually assess the location and size of the cancer.
This was only the first of many insults to my body. They are too numerous to list, but I will name a few to give you a flavor.
• The prolonged pain after my port placement that my surgeon responded to as “no big deal.” (I later fired her.)
• The way some nurses abruptly flip on lights in the wee hours during a hospital stay so that they can “take your vitals.”
• The way your bald head causes some cold-hearted people to shun you because you represent disease and mortality.
• The way some chemo nurses will “push” your infusion at the end of their shift so they can go home, even though it hurts.
• The way strangers simply appear without introduction when you are half naked on the radiation table.
As my reconstruction has progressed, the procedures have gotten more intimate.
Really. It is not possible to be any more flat-chested than this.
First, I went from my truly flat-chested body to one with some roundness. Then, I switched out hard tissue expanders for softer implants.
Now, the most intimate surgery of all is on deck:
It is so so private to talk about nipples. I can barely stand it.
But the awkwardness also marks a welcome return.
My Medical Body is becoming a Private Body again. And I am so thankful for that.
This entry was posted on Monday, May 7th, 2012 at 10:13 am and is filed under Survivorship, Treatment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.