CW: medical stuff, very personal/TMI, big ol’ bummer




“Man makes plans… and God laughs.”

I was going to wait a bit to post about this, until we had a better idea of what was going on, but it turns out that I need to talk about it and share it in order to process it properly while I wait for more definite answers.  I find it easier to share things publicly than to talk to individuals one by one.

So, there’s a better than even chance I have cancer.  The doctors are concerned enough about it that they are putting STAT all over my charts and I have an oncologist appointment for next Wednesday.  Here’s the weird part.  Data suggest that I either have extremely advanced ovarian cancer or brand-new cervical cancer and we can’t tell which (or neither???) until more tests come back.  What I do have is low appetite, fatigue, and weight loss, elevated CA 125, a complex cystic mass on my ovary approximately the size of a trade paperback, and a 4+ year long HPV infection that can in no way be logically related to the ovarian mass.

In theory if an ovarian mass that size were entirely malignant, my CA 125 would be way higher than even it is.  So the story I’m running with at the moment is that an unrelated massive benign ovarian tumor has been causing all the nausea, weight loss etc. (by its sheer size) and that the symptoms brought attention to nascent asymptomatic cervical cancer that can be easily dealt with (relatively speaking).

In either case I am probably going to have a hysterectomy, because what brought me to the doctor in the first place is that my ute has swelled up like I’m in my 2nd trimester of pregnancy and is making it hard to eat, exercise, and otherwise exist — but okay, fine.  A hysterectomy is fine.  I’ve had abdominal surgery before without major trauma, and my uterus is not a huge part of my self-concept now that it’s done making babies for me.  I’m creeping up on menopause anyway.

What bugs me is, of course, the whole idea of cancer.  Even if it seems to be confined solely to my cervix or ovary, I am way too educated about how cancer works to feel relieved once they yeet the offending organ.  I have an emotional regulation disorder and a great imagination.  Unless some miraculous thing occurs where they say, “Oh, forget Occam’s Razor, even though cancer would explain all these data we have a completely separate non-cancer explanation for each of them!” then I am now a Cancer Person for the rest of my life (6 weeks to ~40 years), just waiting for the Cancer to “return” (i.e., become visible again) and eventually kill me.

I am not a person who is well designed, psychologically speaking, for a thing like cancer.  I mean, is anyone?  But especially not me.

The worst part is this moment, right now.  Once they tell me what exactly I have, give me statistics, tell me my treatment options and give me choices, then I can plan, adjust, Radically Accept, all the stuff my therapy has trained me so well to do.  But right now I don’t even know what I am supposed to be Radically Accepting.  It could be anything from one abdominal surgery that fixes everything to death before the new year.

And I just have to sit here not knowing, for another week at least, and I’m losing my mind a little bit.

What do I need from you?  It’s easier to list what I don’t want:

  • Please do not introduce any “battle” metaphors about “fighting this thing” etc.  I find nothing inspiring or strengthening about conflict and aggression.  I prefer to think in terms of healing, recovering, treatment, management.
  • Please do not tell me I’m going to be okay, especially if you are not a doctor.  A coping strategy that is contingent on things beyond my control going flawlessly is not actually coping; it’s denial.  People die of cancer all the time.  I am not a protagonist with “plot armor;” there is no reason I am exempt from the possibility of death.
  • Please don’t tell me all the stories of your own cancer or people you know who had cancer, even if those stories end happily.  Every case is individual, and all your anecdotes do is fire up my involuntary empathy for other people’s suffering in addition to having to deal with my own (the ovarian mass, whatever it is, is profoundly uncomfortable with no surgery date in sight).

What can you do?  I guess what I need more than anything right now is to feel valuable, to feel seen.  To know that if I need help and support in the near future I’ll have it, and if I do vanish off the face of the earth I’ll be remembered.

So many people I used to be close to have drifted away, because the media keeps us so constantly unhappy about Big World Stuff that we’re constantly running on fumes, at 10% battery, pick your metaphor, neglecting those people around us whose lives we could actually make a little bit brighter, more fun, more meaningful.

I’m asking you, if you can, to stop obsessing over things beyond your reach and look to those people to whom you actually matter.  Not just me, but everyone else in your life who cares about you who might be terminal and not know it yet, those to whom you might wish you’d said and done certain things to make them a little happier while you had the chance.

What can you do to make someone in your life feel loved today?  Do that.  If it’s me, great.  If not, there’s probably someone whose life you could improve at least a little.  Let’s please, please, try to be here for each other, try to do something other than keep our mental cameras turned toward the latest large-scale catastrophe.  Things are happening off the edge of that frame that could be improved by even a paltry amount of your attention.

I beg you to marshal your mental resources wisely.  Appreciate everything you’d miss if it were taken away (your partner, your dishwasher, me, your dominant hand, your internet connection).  Learn from the moments that have passed, fully live the moment you’re in, and do what you can to make the next moment better.

I’ll update you when I can.

2 Responses to “Welp.”

  1. Mariana

    I’m a mostly quiet lurker, but I met you at SirensCon in 2019 and have greatly enjoyed being a spectator on your gaming twitter/discord since. I just wanted to say you’ve had a positive impact on my life. Your outlook and additude never ceases to amaze me, and I am very glad I’ve had the chance to learn so much from your example. I recently turned 27 and know I have so much yet to learn, and I feel blessed to see you exist and consider you a role model on how to handle the difficult things in life.

    • Mishell Baker

      I remember you vividly. I found you to be an incredibly wise and endearing person, and I feel sure that whatever life throws at you, you’ll handle it with grace.

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