Cancer at 34 Part 5: Intimate Devastations

In a little less than a month, I’ve gone from being a healthy person who does Cross Fit three times a week to having stage four lung cancer. Initially, it was a whirlwind of bad news that has been replaced by a more optimistic outlook. However, the cancer is still finding new and painful ways to attack me. This blog post will focus on some of the unexpected legal and medical consequences my diagnosis has sparked. It will be very personal, and I will try to be honest without being profane, but as Leah wrote “reality is not tactful.” (Between her and Rev. Mitra I will hardly have to write an original thought from here on out).

First, I’ll address the legal ramifications I’m facing. At 34, I never expected that I would have to consider drafting and signing a Healthcare Power of Attorney or Durable Power of Attorney. Until these brain tumors are destroyed, there’s a chance I could have a seizure, although I am on a steroid to reduce brain swelling and an anti-seizure medication. In addition, some other entirely unexpected event could happen along the way, so it’s better to have these documents ready and not need them than vice versa.

The durable power of attorney would basically allow my parents to manage my financial affairs, including taxes, banking and investments, if I am incapacitated for any reason. The Healthcare Power of Attorney would enable my parents to make medical decisions for me if I am unable to do so. It includes making choices about whether or not I want to be left in a permanently unconscious state or if I want to make an anatomical gift. These are never things I thought I would have to address at age 34, but this is what my life has become. Again, to quote Leah – “Devastation is a situation to which one quickly acclimates.” However, it still feels surreal at times and I am not sure I fully comprehend it all, since my treatment is still not yet underway.

Now I’ll address one of the newest and most painful assaults cancer has made against me. First, it took my voice (partially), then it stole my ability to drive (if only temporarily). But it also threatened my ability to have children. The data was unclear, but my oncologist said my medication could make me infertile. In addition, simply being diagnosed with cancer may have meant I had already become “sub fertile” for reasons that weren’t clear. The oncologist mentioned this during our first meeting, but the good news overwhelmed everything else and it didn’t really sink in until a few days later. Having children has not been particularly important to me up until this point, but I always assumed it was a possibility. I have thought about it in an abstract way and always wondered if I might make a good parent. I would like to think I would, but until now I’ve had a hard enough time running my own life, let alone caring for a tiny helpless person. Anyways, having kids isn’t exactly a priority at the moment.

I took it for granted that I had more time to sort out my feelings on the matter, but after my diagnosis I didn’t have that luxury any more. So on January 13, 2017, I went to the University of Cincinnati’s Oncofertility Clinic to try and preserve my sperm. It may be a moot point at this stage in life, because most potential partners probably already have all the children they want, and I’m sure I would love them as my own. If she doesn’t, then this would at least give us a chance to start a family. Again, I think it would be better to have it and not need it than the opposite. Even if it doesn’t work, there’s always the option of adopting or fostering children, of which I was already a proponent. On the other hand – children aren’t a necessity either, and it’s entirely possible I could find happiness without offspring at all.

However, this new attack has left me feeling angry and vulnerable. It was something I never even considered when this ordeal began. Although I never felt particularly manly or virile, I felt like something very private was being taken from me.

The whole thing made me feel very anxious and self-conscious for days before the appointment. Everyone at the fertility clinic was very friendly and supportive, but really it was the last place I wanted to be. I was even more uncomfortable because my dad took me to the appointment and waited for me in the lobby, because I can’t drive anywhere. The entire situation was sterile and unpleasant. I know there wasn’t really any reason to feel ashamed – this was all beyond my control. However, I couldn’t help feeling hurt and scared.

Thankfully, I only had to wait a few anxious hours to find out that I was in fact still fertile. It was a huge relief, and I was thrilled to know that the cancer wouldn’t take this very private thing from me. The rest of the day of was full of other appointments that occupied my time. I had an initial appointment for radiation therapy where I had to be custom-fitted for a mask that would immobilize me during the treatment next week and ensure that the radiation only hits the tumors. The process was a little unsettling and creepy. It felt like I was being fitted for a death mask, and it was tight enough that I could feel the blood pumping through my face.

In the end, I have some peace of mind, although I might not ever need it. Although I want to celebrate another small victory, I also hope this blog post helps raise awareness about this issue, sparks a conservation, or provides comfort to anyone dealing with the unexpected intimate devastations of cancer.

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