Cancer: The Human Experience

Depending on the source, a taboo is defined as generally as “not acceptable to talk about or do” to as specific as “a vehement prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too scared or too accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake, under threat of supernatural punishment.” The more general definition is what the taboo portion of the Your Sexy Librarian blog is based upon, which means anything that people shush others over is fair game for a blog topic.

American society bottles up communication about certain topics, not because those topics are truly taboo but rather just plain uncomfortable for other people to think about or to discuss openly. One of these topics is a less than ideal medical diagnosis, such as a high-risk pregnancy or one involving birth defects, the diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease or a positive cancer screening.

I grew up with a mother who was diagnosed with a rare and often deadly form of skin cancer in the midst of my childhood. Her disease and its treatment would shape my childhood in many ways, both negative and positive, and would build my foundation as a natural caregiver. The Coolest. Mom. Ever. recently told me that, when she was first diagnosed, the other Parent-Teacher Organization mothers shied away from her. She believes this was because they were fearful of her disease. At that time, cancer was a death sentence more often than not. For whatever reason, my mom had a smaller support system than she deserved as she battled for her life.

My mom has told my brother and me on more than one occasion that she survived because dying was simply not an option. Her fortitude astounds me to this day and inspires me to be strong even on my weakest days.

That theory was put to the test recently when a dermatology appointment revealed I have a basal cell carcinoma in my hairline on my face. Even though basal cell cancer rarely metastasizes, or spreads, to other areas of the body or causes death, the bottom of my world fell out from underneath me at the simple diagnosis. Cancer is all over my family tree, and it appears my DNA just showed it may have a cancer gene hiding among its links.

I am not worried about the cancer spreading. Nor am I worried about the scar I will have after surgery. I am only slightly worried about how to pay for the additional medical costs for my treatment as my employer-sponsored health insurance is less than stellar. I am not worried about having to take more time off of work. None of that is important to me at this point.

What worries me most is how this diagnosis will affect my relationship with my partner Dutch. The stress of each of us working long days is already chipping away at our quality time together. My loyal canine companion of the last decade has been newly diagnosed with congestive heart failure, which adds more stress to my already hectic life. Coping with my mother’s recent breast cancer scare and a few bouts with a respiratory virus did not help bring Dutch and me any closer together this last month.

I bottle up and don’t communicate well verbally and do not like to be touched when I am experiencing high stress. I am afraid this cancer diagnosis will further erode my relationship with Dutch if my stress levels do not lessen soon. I am attempting to limit my overtime hours at work and to unplug all technological devices when I am spending time with Dutch.

After my diagnosis, I did the most difficult thing I have ever done in my short life: I went out to my car, called my mother and told her the words she never wanted to hear in the same sentence as the names of her children. After that hurdle, I drove to my employer, clocked in, put on my happy face and got to work because displays of anything-less-than-happy emotion in my workplace are discouraged. All I wanted to do was go to Dutch’s house and emotionally eat some ice cream while watching court television or, better yet, a re-run of Starz’s hit series Outlander.

The surgery to remove my basal cell carcinoma is next week. It will be a four-hour outpatient procedure in which a single layer of my skin is removed and checked for cancer cells. More skin and tissue is removed until the tissue no longer shows signs of cancer. This technique is called Mohs surgery, which is named after Dr. Frederick Mohs who perfected this surgery technique in the 1930s. Mohs’ procedure has a 99 percent cure rate for first time cancers. I am not worried about the procedure at all.

I am more worried about how to explain my absence at work next week without answering dozens of questions or revealing too much information. I am a private person and don’t typically share the intimate happenings of my own life with people I don’t know well, yet here I am writing about my diagnosis and upcoming surgery and wishing there would be less stigma associated with any not ideal medical diagnosis.

We should be able to discuss our fears after a medical diagnosis of any kind, yet, most times, we are shushed. We don’t talk about the diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease or a complicated pregnancy because that would make other people uncomfortable. What about the patient, and how he or she can feel alienated or alone in the midst of a potentially high-stress moment in their lives? Shouldn’t the personal, human element in a bad medical diagnosis outweigh the desire of American society to ignore discussions of uncomfortable topics?

Perhaps my “taboo” blogs can bring to light the everyday human experiences of the average person when those experiences impact relationships and/or self-image and, thus, affecting intimacy and sexuality. Hmmm…


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