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A blow from left field

March 25, 2014

Less than three weeks ago, to my immense surprise, I became a woman with cancer. I had always thought that my fatal weakness would turn out to be some form of autoimmune disease, and this belief was reinforced two years ago when I had the DNA decoding company 23andMe assess my genome to determine my health risks. Because six out of my nine top genome-linked tendencies were autoimmune in nature, I never dreamed that cancer would snag me instead. But perhaps it will be shown one day that autoimmune tendencies support certain cancers, in which case 23andMe won’t have been so far from the target.

My cancer is MMT, Mixed Mullerian Tumor, which attacks the female reproductive organs. I’d already had a hysterectomy so the disease went for my ovaries. Fifteen days ago I had major abdominal surgery to remove large cancers from both ovaries. The smaller one was the size of a lemon; the bigger one was at least twice that size. Countless small “granular” cancers remain inside my abdomen and will need to be targeted with chemotherapy.

Because I’m a journalist by profession, I see no reason to censor the flow of information. To link shame to a diagnosis of cancer  seems to me to be a vestige of the 1940s and ’50s, when doctors often didn’t tell their patients that they had cancer at all, and spoke of it to their relatives only in hushed voices, behind closed doors. I’m all for openness and truth, not shame and obfuscation, which is why I’m writing this essay. Those who don’t feel the same can simply stop reading right now.

Cancer has lessons to teach us, if we’re open to the experience and don’t flinch. Lung cancer claimed the lives of my two dearest women friends from college days, and sorrowfully watching their painful deaths taught me a powerful lesson. It’s not just how we live that affects people around us for better or for worse, it’s also how we die. One of these two women collapsed into fear and anger at her diagnosis and shut herself off from all her friends and acquaintances, refusing to answer phone or email messages, and refusing to let people come over and hold her hand and tell her how much they loved her. The other woman reached out to all her friends and asked for their emotional support, and basked in their love until she succeeded in wresting a year-and-a-half remission from her 99% deadly form of cancer. What I learned from the deaths of these two women was that the support of friends is heartwarming and immensely valuable, and that fear/anger rubs off on the survivors who are left behind.

So I have resolved to tell everyone the facts about my disease, and to be as courageous and brave as I can manage. The mortality rate for MMT cancer is not at all good, but those mortality rates are based on the average American who struggles with that disease. And I’m not an average American by any means. Average Americans too often eat junk food, drink to excess, have messy personal lives, and are overweight. I eat organically, I have always taken care of my body, I am  surrounded by a loving and close-knit family, I’m happy and optimistic by nature, and to my astonishment (with heartfelt thanks) I have discovered that scores of people value me and are rooting for me to defeat this disease. And all these factors can be extremely powerful when it comes to influencing the mortality rates. I’ve been an outlier all my life; so I think it entirely possible that I can prove to be an outlier when it comes to cancer as well. Time will tell, but I see many reasons to hold onto my optimism right now.

Tomorrow I get a baseline CT scan and my chemo port. Wish me well!

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45 Comments
  1. Mary R. permalink

    I hope your procedures go smoothly tomorrow, Carrol. I’ll be thinking of you!

  2. Regina permalink

    Carroll, you have the exact right attitude. You’re going to be great. I have a friend that hired a photographer to shoot pictures of her from the time she was diagnosed until her remission. She’s still cancer free… and I think the attitude one has is so important. Trite sounding, but true.
    Regina Moore

  3. Veda Stanfield permalink

    This is brave, forthcoming, wise and optimistic–just like you, dear Carrol. I believe that you have all that you need to be the outlier you know yourself to be.
    Love to you!
    Veda

  4. Constance P. Hoge permalink

    I am praying for your victory. Thank you for the honor of your truth. And thank you for the marvelously written Cancer sucks.

    Connie

    >

  5. Constance P. Hoge permalink

    (Oops, I’m butterfingered, too.) But I love your essays and the oddly interesting – or interestingly odd- things you write about. Thank you,

    Connie

    >

    • Thanks, Connie, you have perfectly identified my persona and my writing: interestingly odd AND oddly interesting! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I take off my hat to you….and thanks so much for your support! 🙂 Carrol

  6. Liz F. permalink

    Carrol, I agree with you and the ladies who commented, attitude has a LOT to do with recovery. And you are positively bursting with good energy–always have been. KICK CANCER’S ASS.
    XXO
    Liz

    • Thank you, Liz! I intend to kick ass as long as I can kick, and hopefully that will be a long, long time to come.
      Thanks for reading / writing! hugs to you, Carrol

  7. Georg'ann permalink

    Let me add my voice to this chorus. I am proud to know you and grateful for your honesty and strength. I look forward to many more encounters at our friends’ the Gass’ – dancing our hearts out. Love to you. (I’m looking forward to adding my name to whatever food caravan has been set up.)

    • Thank you so much, Georg’ann! I look forward very much to seeing you and the others again (and the sooner, the better!).
      hugs, Carrol

  8. Hands down. You will beat this. Sending good vibes your way tomorrow… and thank you so much for sharing.

    • Thanks, Cappi, for your support! It means a lot to me, and I mean that, with all my heart.
      hugs to you, Carrol

  9. imagesbyrox permalink

    Well said, my dear. I will be right there with you, though far away I send my love and support as you travel this confounded path. You have managed to make it real for me, not something I want to run from. I will not run from you, but instead will look forward to sharing this experience in whatever capacity I am able. I love you.

  10. Chris Sturbaum permalink

    I am a fan of yours! I have always liked your straightforward honesty and interest in truth. I will be reviewing your Showers Bros book this week to review my neighborhood’s early history for our new guidelines as a new crop of neighbors encounters historic preservation. Thanks for writing about this new subject for us all.

    • Thank you, Chris! I still hope to get the chance to write more about Bloomington’s history.
      🙂
      gratefully, Carrol

  11. Claire Arbogast permalink

    I wish you more good days than bad ones. May the spirit of spring, the humor of chickens, and the backbones of well-built houses help sustain you.

  12. Claire Arbogast permalink

    oh, and you may find this magazine and website worthy: http://www.curemagazine.com/

  13. Louise Slater permalink

    Very well said, Carol. I started my journey a year ago this month (stage 4 leiomyosarcoma, being treated as metastasized ovarian). I am rooting for you, and sending you strength, Your positive, courageous attitude makes all the difference and I’m sure you will be happily surprised by the outpouring of love and healing light from those who know and love you.

    Please email me anytime. I suggest looking into the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance at http://www.inspire.com. There is a wealth of practical coping information that is very helpful.

    With much love,

    -Louise

    • Thank you for this web link, Louise, I will look into it ASAP! I really appreciate coping tips from others who have been where I’m about to go. hugs to you, and continued healing, Carrol

  14. Beth Lodge-Rigal permalink

    Carroll, Thank you for this post. I’m such a fan of you and your writing–and of your perspective, so beautifully articulated here. Sending you light and good vibes for healing and “dealing” with what is. I so admire the courage to say things out loud, am honored by this truth and rooting for you!
    Peace

  15. Diann Lock permalink

    I’ve always admired you for your professional attitude and your many works, but now I also admire your attitude in this most personal challenge. My heart goes out to you and send you vibrations of strength and hope. You have so many that love you and care – please count me as one.

  16. Dawn Hewitt permalink

    Oh Carrol, I wish you well! I wish you strength and courage and good cheer, to the extent possible, despite it all. Good vibes headed your way continuously from southeastern Ohio!

    • Thanks, dear Dawn! I was thinking of you when I posted the Emily Dickinson poem on my Facebook page, “Hope is a thing with feathers.”
      🙂
      Carrol

  17. Phyllis Schwitzer permalink

    I commend and support your attitude and positive take on the support of friends. One of my friends who had cancer told me, when I asked how she was: “It doesn’t do any good to complain because people will stop coming around. She didn’t deny what was happening, she fought it, but she allowed us to come and visit about other topics as well.

    Best to you,

    Phyllis Schwitzer
    Bloomington Garden Club member

    • Thanks for writing, Phyllis! I agree about complaining, it’s counterproductive and only serves to vent. I thank the Garden Club for their wonderful support, with all my heart.—Carrol

    • Thank you for reading my post, Phyllis! For me, it’s better to have my friends on board with my illness because in doing so I feel myself to be a part of a community filled with love and care. I can’t imagine how lonesome it must be to hide away the truth. Thanks for your comment!
      —Carrol

  18. Stay strong, Carrol. Attitude is so important and will help get you through the difficult days. You can do this.

  19. I wish you well with all my heart, and I know that you have a much better than ‘average’ chance of beating this. It sounds as if you have the best mental attitude, and there is so much untapped power in the mind. Stay strong and I am sending you lots of positive wishes!

  20. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, Jo! I REALLY appreciate it, very much so. —And please let me add that reading your blog is always a delight.
    🙂

  21. Carrol: I always found you pretty much entirely admirable, but never more so than now. Godspeed.

  22. Deborah Klein permalink

    Hey, Ms. Carrol – Outlier. Advocate. Pioneer. Curious Mind. And most generous friend. Justen and I miss you, and sometimes talk about what it would be like to have our old neighbourhood living alongside us again, here in the Aussie bush….Thank you so much for being so MUCH yourself, and I’ll burn a little fragrant eucalypt in your honour. Best to you, and to Frank, and to Myles.

    • Dear Deborah, so good to hear from you again!! We have not stopped missing you since you left. Each time we see Phyllis walking little Rex on a leash, or stoop to pet Lucy when she trots across the street, we think of you. Thanks for the kind greetings! I will drop you an email when I’m feeling more energetic.
      🙂

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