On Waiting and Farrah

Not much in the way of updates tonight. I’m scheduled to meet with an oncologist at OSU next Wednesday, which is essentially a second opinion, and then next Friday (8/28) I head up to Cleveland for an MRI of the lymph nodes around my tumor. The following Wednesday (9/2) my tumor board will meet and decide my treatment plan, which I’m assuming will kick off with surgery, though chemo might come first.

I’ve been in a weird holding pattern since my exam last Friday, not having much I’m able to do to advance my progress. As I wait, it’s been a struggle between the one voice in my head saying, Hey, things are looking up! Relax and enjoy a few low-key days with your family before shit gets real and the other voice saying Whoa, don’t get too comfortable, buddy. All kinds of things can still go wrong; you SURE you want to relax?

One thing that has helped fill the space and quiet that second voice is reading and hearing stories about people who faced similar diagnoses and beat their cancer to return to a “normal” life. Because colorectal cancer is so preventable — and so treatable — these are fortunately very common, very uplifting stories. In fact, I decided early on that I would only allow myself to read stories with positive outcomes. This decision came after a night spent reading some truly heartbreaking stories of colorectal cancer cases, particularly in younger folks, that did not end well.

Don’t get me wrong; the incredible strength and resilience of these people (here is a great example) is beyond inspiring. I just happen to know my own mind very well. I know the places it’s capable of going. I know what it needs at this particular moment: laser focus on doing my part to execute on the kind of positive outcome the scans and doctors are all pointing to.

All that said, I’ve made an exception for researching Farrah Fawcett because I’m so inspired by how she used her diagnosis to help others, destigmatize anal cancer, and probably save many lives. I won’t claim to be a Farrah expert, and I certainly stopped short (see above reasoning) of watching any of the documentaries about her three-year battle with cancer. But you don’t have to read far to grasp that by publicly sharing her experience, with brutal honesty, the original Charlie’s Angel created enormous awareness around a form of cancer that is both rare (8,590 estimated new anal cancer cases in the U.S. in 2020, compared to 147,950 for colorectal cancer) and often viewed quite incorrectly as caused only by sexual promiscuity (placing it among what are sadly considered the most “embarrassing” or “shameful” cancers).

Farrah shared her story generously and selflessly — largely, it seems, in hopes that as a society, we could start to get over our general embarrassment about butts and poop, and move on to far more important things like detection, prevention, treatment, and research. After all, you can’t cure what you can’t talk about. The great news is, your strange butt symptom (or any strange symptom, for that matter) is probably nothing to worry about. But why not enjoy the peace of mind of letting your doctor decide that?

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