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By River Stillwood
How are you? Has life been treating you generously? Does happiness abound like late summer flowers blooming across the landscape of your days? I sure hope so!
Here, everything is changed. Different. Incredibly wonderful. After one year, nine months, and twelve days, my cancer journey is over! Done with! Finito!
I am so lucky. So blessed. My cancer journey was a relatively short one — just under two years. And the outcome couldn’t have been better: I am alive. I am healthy. In fact, my prognosis is so good that the chemotherapy port pocketed just under the skin in my chest was removed a couple of weeks ago. There will be no more surgeries for me. No more chemo or radiation treatments. Hallelujah, I am cancer-free!
I couldn’t be happier. More relieved. More thankful.
I owe so many people so much! Doctors James Boscher, Helen Kim, Jay Carlson and their extraordinary medical teams. Nurse and friend, Amy Dykman. Erin Mahan at the Lymphedema Clinic, and the fine folks in surgery, recovery, and the Imaging Center at St. John’s hospital in Springfield and the St. John’s Women’s Oncology Center. My family — intimate, extended, and adopted. Sherry Hartwell. Sue and Keith Jones. Kay, Jody, Mindy, Judy, Keith and the entire outstanding Douglas County Herald staff. Bert and Dean Scherer. Faye, Aaron and Alan Costar. Mick and Brenda Plummer and family. Jennifer Moore and her beloved daughter and family. Susan Wiseheart. Patsy Grossman. Sam Johnston. John Weber. Whistler Clark. Jack Boyer. Laura Crandal. Nancy Reduto. Mary Winter and Steve Arberth. Margaret Rosseau, Violet Morris and their entire clan. Dorothy and Wilfred Gleason. Peg Williams. My Anonymous Friend, who so brightened my heart by sending get well cards every week throughout my cancer journey. And all the amazingly supportive, caring, thoughtful people who prayed for me, wrote letters, sent cards, called and stopped in to visit while I was fighting the good fight.
Until going through the cancer journey, I believed that with life and God, all things are possible. Now, I know that it takes life, God, and a whole bunch of caring people. I am eternally grateful to all of you.
Still, if I could ask for one more thing of you: Talk to the women in your life — moms, sisters, daughters, aunts, even neighbors — about the female reproductive system and reproductive cancers. These may not be easy subjects to broach, at least at first. But, if we can see television commercials about erectile dysfunction and the importance of having annual breast exams and routine colonoscopies, can’t we discuss vaginal, vulvar, cervical, uterine (endometrial), and ovarian cancers? Can’t we do as much to inform and prevent those diseases as we do breast and colon cancer?
In our society, we don’t talk much about women’s bodies, much less our medical issues. In fact, while menstruation had been explained to me by my mother at home and by teachers during sex education at school and by adolescent friends who were maturing faster than I was, no one told me a thing about menopause until I started to have hot flashes. Whoa! What a whole new world of physiological delights the cessation of menstruation created! Holy cow! I sure would have liked to have known beforehand that one day wiry hairs on my chin would begin sprouting like weeds, my head hair would begin thinning, I’d suddenly become an insomniac, my bladder would hold the contents of a nutshell, and I’d break out into red hot sweats every time my heart took a beat (or so it seems). Of course, discovering an unknown satisfaction with my body, a sudden comfort with myself was a nice surprise. But, still… It would have been great if someone had told me all of these things, (and more!), would one day show up on my life’s daily planner.
The same is true for knowing about medical issues. My cancer charged full bore into Stage III because I was hesitant to talk about my excessive uterine bleeding and those I talked to about it didn’t realize it was The Major Symptom of uterine cancer. Even the three doctors I saw as the bleeding worsened didn’t realize it. “You don’t have uterine cancer,” they told me, “Uterine cancer is a post-menopausal disease. You’re too young.”
Yet, I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. Thankfully, several of the women in my life knew it, too. They encouraged me to keep searching for a doctor who could diagnose what it was. They saved my life.
Now, I’m asking you to save others’ lives by breaking the silence. Discuss “women’s issues.” Maybe not with your waitress or dentist or veterinarian, but with the women you hold dear in your life, your mom, wife, sister, daughter, friends. Go online, learn about women’s reproductive cancers and other medical issues. Then, share what you know. Talk about it. I promise, it will become easier each time you do.
When it comes to women’s health issues, silence kills.
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Thanks to the many columnists and friends for your encouragement for me to resume this column. I’m touched by your enthusiasm and warmth. Writing this column has always been a joy for me. I’ll look forward to sharing with you all the new joys life offers.