How I Stayed Sane Through My Medical Drama
Two weeks prior to my surgery, Larry and I sat before my doctor, David Fishman, M.D., as he outlined a plan of action. He drew a diagram of my vulva and carefully explained each step of a simple vulvectomy. Simple? Hmmm, who made up that term? I knew, having sat up for nights surfing medical texts, that a radical vulvectomy is the removal of tissue down to the pubic bone. Simple means, simply, the removal of the vulva. Which procedure you have is determined by how invasive your cancer is. Given that my cancer had been excised along with my right inner labia lip, Fishman believed that a simple vulvectomy would remove all remaining abnormal tissue (some of which tested pre-cancerous) and prevent any future trouble, including an occult malignancy. He was right, as a future pathology report would prove (micro-invasive stage-one cancer on the left outer labia). But at the time, my focus was not on what could happen but on what was happening; a surgery that required my attention. I listened to Fishman’s steady voice, a calming tonic to my inner turbulence.
“A day before the operation you will need to do a bowel cleanse…nothing to eat or drink after noon….after the operation, you will be in the hospital for a few days. Since a small piece of your urethra will be removed, you will have a catheter. Once you prove you can pee on your own, you will be sent home. You may be peeing on an angle for a while but that can be corrected. No cardio exercise till you are healed.”
WHAT? No exercise? My heart raced with dread. Worse than the surgery, the hospital stay, and the slanted peeing was the thought of no exercise. It is my head therapy, which, after the surgery would be a necessity. I swallowed hard and asked (maybe it was a whine), “Can I please walk?” My voice trembled with anticipation, an addict in need of an easy fix. Fishman looked at me, then Larry. “Don’t go overboard, or I’ll call the police.” I promised to be good.
Two days after I got home from the hospital, I walked around the block. The next day, two blocks. Within a week, I managed oh so slowly five blocks. I came home, exhausted, as if I ran a five-mile race. The next week I vowed to get up to 10 blocks. And so I did. I went to the park and walked with headphones on, jealous of the sound of joggers beside me then ahead of me. It’s okay, I thought. You will be back with them in no time. Just walk. A half mile slowly yielded itself to a mile. It took me an hour but I didn’t care. I did it. My brain needed that knowledge as did my new vulva, stitches and all.
What I knew is that without exercise I would become flabby in the thought department. My spiritual muscle would weaken along with my determination to get stronger. I would lose that essential flexibility and tone, which gets me through the toughest of times. Though it took me hours to walk what I normally could run in 30 minutes, I celebrated each step with another mile. And with that, a quicker recovery.
When I visited Fishman for my two-month post-operative checkup, he smiled. “Whatever you’re doing is working. You look great.” I slid out of the stirrups, put on my sneakers, and walked through the park, en route to the subway.
For news on what has happened in the bedroom — and in her heart — since the surgery, read Darci’s other online updates.