By Alanna Kennedy
A young cancer survivor bargains with her body
By Alanna Kennedy
Alicia Merchant was just 23 when she was diagnosed with stage IIIA ovarian cancer in March 2003. Seeking information and support, she began communicating with other young women diagnosed with ovarian cancer through an online message board (ovariancancer.jhmi.edu
) hosted by Johns Hopkins University.
“We were finding that the experiences we were going through were not really the same as those a lot of the older women were going through,” Merchant says. In February 2005, she created a blog, Bomb in My Belly,
to discuss the issues she and her fellow young ovarian cancer survivors faced. “It was something we thought would be good to have out there for ourselves and for other women coming to this at a young age.”
In this excerpt from her June 21, 2006, post, Merchant discusses one such issue:When talking with a colleague last week about my experience with a cancer which has left me sterile, he said that it must have been very hard for me to face as a young woman, and that I must be very angry about it. I agreed. It was actually one of the more insightful comments I’ve heard from someone who has just learned about that part of my life. Yes, I told him, I do get angry. But I countered that I try not to get angry too often. Because I can only be angry with my body, and that’s an uncomfortable place to live. … Sometimes I’m so frustrated with my body that I literally scream at it. Sometimes when I’m particularly angry, I want to hit myself. Maybe I have a few times, but I try not to get to that place.
I didn’t touch my stomach for at least six months after my surgery. The first time I did, it was lying in bed with my boyfriend. We had just made love, and he was sleeping, and I pushed down on my tummy. All over. And it was so empty—I could feel the emptiness, and I cried and cried and bit my lip and called my stomach stupid as though it were a willing and sentient being which had acted against me. Stupid stupid stupid. I felt sick and wanted to throw up, so I stopped touching that empty area and just cursed it.
Before surgery I would lie in the bathtub with my hands cupped over my abdomen pleading with it to be okay. Alternately, I would bargain. Leave me one ovary. Or if not that, leave me my uterus. At least let me keep my uterus. My pleading was useless, as you all know. But I tried. I really tried. I bargained with my body, and I guess in a sense I won—I am, after all, still alive.
I want to not hate my body, it is tiresome and exhausting, but it’s hard not to. On a good day, I just forget my body exists. On a really good day, I am amazed by it. I wish I had more really good days.
I miss getting my period. I forget what that felt like. I miss feeling my body cycle through hormones, I miss sore breasts and mood swings. All those things you’re told you won’t miss. I miss them. I miss pregnancy scares and PMS and borrowing tampons. I miss the belief that my body could serve as a vessel for a life other than my own. But mostly, I miss not being angry at my body.
Because how do you deal with being angry at yourself for something you have no control over?
To read more of Alicia Merchant’s blog, visit bombinmybelly.typepad.com
If you would like to recommend a blog for CR’s Cancerblog column, please send an e-mail to Kennedy@CRmagazine.org.