Introduction – To Start With

Introduction – To Start With


That December was a seriously bad time. A new high in low points. Who knew so much bad juju could fall from the sky in such a short span of time.

On the first of the month it was my gynecologist … she found an atypical cell …Not to worry, she said, it is most likely nothing, but we should check it out to be on the safe side. Don’t you love the editorial wethat doctors use? I began to regret going for my annual exam.I was so not ready for this aggravation!

Next up, it was the urologist … oh look, she said, there is a blob of something in your bladder. Looking through the thing-a-ma-bob-scope in her office I saw what looked sort of like a small serving of mashed potatoes … Oh! Not to worry, she said, it could be just some sort of dreck. Sort of like a pearl forming in an oyster around a bit of irritation. But, we will do a biopsy just to make sure. What is on your schedule for the 15th? Again? Seriously? More exams and more doctors?  I was beginning to feel like an oyster with a pearl coming on!

So, right before Christmas … when really who has the time … I went in for an outpatient procedure, also known as a biopsy. And once again they told me … Not to worry, I would be home by early afternoon, and should feel only minimal discomfort.  And hey, everything looked good in there.  They would let me know the results when the lab got back to them.

Then, the week after Christmas I heard from the doctor. Oh! Sorry, she said, my bad … it turns out that what you have here is an aggressive form of bladder cancer!


Wait a minute!

Bladder cancer?

Aggressive … does it carry a gun and have a bad attitude?

You can’t be serious. Who do you know that gets bladder cancer? Who knew that bladders even got cancer?

Get real … I am really healthy!

Listen up! I am really, really healthy!

They obviously got it wrong. This is someone else’s diagnosis!

No, she said … but not to worry, they can take care of it. The surgeon will remove your cancer-ridden bladder and replace it with a new one! Aren’t they the clever ones?

Well, it all went sideways from there. My life became a really bad trip deep into the uncharted regions of bladder cancer-land.

This book is the road map, journal, and color commentary of that trip. It consists of regular email updates that I sent out over the course of my chemotherapy, bladder surgery, and recovery. Attached to those emails were cartoon drawings of myself living the life of the seriously confused and unwell. Those illustrated emails were sent to an ever-increasing audience of concerned friends as well as other cancer victims who asked to be put on the mailing list. Along with each of the original emails, I have included retrospective commentary.

I spent much of my time in Cancer-Land being grateful to whoever created email. While close friends and family saw to my physical well-being, email became a vital part of my emotional support system. These email updates became more than reports on my health. They became an outlet to express to the world how I felt as an individual dealing with an overwhelming situation. I might have been tossing my cookies from the chemo, or groaning my way down the halls of Hartford Hospital during recovery … but I was still here … so, not to worry! Me Myself and I were still alive under all those layers of bad karma.

Humor really is hard to find in this world. Who knew it might lurk down there at the end of the gut. I mean … bladder cancer is about as gross as it gets … even the word is inelegant and uncool.

So, there I was … Ms. cool designer/artist … stylish and artsy … at the mercy of a shit sack bladder! *

Karma is really a bitch

So, here they are … my illustrated email updates … my year and a half of rumbling and kvetching and in general venting to the world about my circumstances. I have left the original emails intact. Reading them, one can see how challenging some situations became, and the extreme mental effort it took to come to grips with my downward spiral. There is evidence of fatigue and fuzzy thinking, as well as fear of the future. But, hey …they are what they are … authentic news from the front.

The commentary following each update is a parallel narrative. It is an expanded retrospective account that addresses what was actually involved in dealing with the chemo, the surgery, and the recovery from bladder cancer. They explore what it was to live through a year and a half of such catastrophic change, and how the Big C came and went, but never really left.

*BTW shit sack is another term used to describe an ostomy pouching system, used when the bladder is removed. Sadly, I am now an expert on urine pouching systems.


So, there I was in January, and I asked myself … how did I end up in this bizarre world of surgical offices, radiology departments, blood labs, and waiting rooms with bland artwork, old magazines, and sad artificial flower arrangements?

It had been something like 5 weeks since I first went to the urologist …

It had been about 4 weeks since I had been through the outpatient surgical procedure to take a biopsy …

It had been 2 weeks since I had been diagnosed …

It was maybe a week after I had seen the surgeon …

I was living in a completely different world, and it was crumbling a bit around the edges.

At my first appointment with the surgeon I was given a huge three-ring binder with all the information anyone would ever need to know about bladder cancer and its treatment. But it really was too much for me to process, so I left it with my friend Dottie to read. She promised to let me know if there was anything I really needed to know.

As it turned out, before I had surgery, I was to have three months of chemotherapy to eradicate as much of the cancer as possible. I was referred to an oncologist who would administer the chemo. I was panic stricken. I wanted the god-awful cancer-ridden piece of shit removed IMMEDIATELY. It was aggressive and spreading and waiting three months seemed ludicrous, irresponsible and perilous. But the choice was not mine to make. I was now under the surgeon’s care, and his agenda required the chemo before the surgery.

Welcome to the life of the cancer patient, where your life is really no longer your own, and your care is in the hands of a bunch of very nice strangers.

Trust me, you really don’t want to think too deeply about all that might go wrong.

It all seemed so surreal. I mean I was really, really healthy!

Really healthy and not sick at all.

Hey … Listen up, I AM HEALTHY, goddamit!


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