My cancer doesn't get a fun run. It doesn't get a t-shirt or a fundraiser. My cancer doesn't get a magnetic ribbon for the car.
In fact, you'd better stop reading this blog if you can't handle the word vagina. I have vulvar melanoma. Yup. Right there on my vagina. (Oh good gracious. Dear me. Can you believe she said vagina?) If you are horrified, you aren't alone.
During my most recent hospital visit, my husband and I made a game of how many different words the medical professionals used instead of vagina or vulva. Here are my favorites:
"It" as in, "How is 'it' feeling?"
"There" as in "How are you feeling 'there?'"
I have cancer on my vulva. I'll spare you the exact coordinates, as that's getting a little too intimate for even a person as open as I am, but I'm writing this blog for all the people out there who survive cancers that are not easy to talk about.
No, I wasn't lying out in the sun with my legs spread wide open. Although, in retrospect, if I knew I would end up with a melanoma between my legs, I'm wondering why the hell I wasn't. (Ah, dreaming of Majorca.)
No, you don't need to mark the left or right side of my body, it's pretty much the south pole.
Yes, I'm going to die. So are you. None of us get out of this alive, but I'm pretty sure I'm not leaving this crazy world due to cancer of the hoo-hah.
Yes, right now, it's not enjoyable to sit.
Yes, it does hurt.
Yes, indeed, I am still a woman. You betcha.
I sit here and I write this blog because in my heart, as I was going through this, I was thinking about all the people in the world who are too afraid or shamed to even be tested for cancers like mine. I was thinking about the men in the world who are too scared to be tested for testicular cancer or prostate cancer because they are embarrassed to talk about their private areas. I was thinking about the women who are ashamed to put their feet up in stirrups because of the fear of being judged by others. We all have colons, let's get 'em checked. I was thinking about how unnecessary it is to feel shame about the fact that our bodies have different areas and they all need attention.
There is no need to be ashamed of our bodies at all. There is no need to hide from the parts of us that get sick. Our bodies come with parts. Big parts, little parts. Bumpy parts, slippery parts. Sexy parts, icky parts. The are all part of the divine vessel that makes us who we are.
I think sometimes people, especially the empathic people in the medical field, try to make us comfortable and ease our tension by using words that seem less scary or direct. I think that it is not done to create shame or embarrassment. I just want people to know that when you are told that a part of you is sick, and needs to get well, it's ok to call a vagina a vagina. A vulva is just a vulva. Let's all say it together.
We are all out here surviving our stuff. My friends, don't be afraid of your bodies. Don't be afraid to get your feet in those stirrups, those breasts examined, those cervixes scraped. Men, don't be afraid to bend and cough, to get the digital rectal exam, to get the blood tests.
Because I embrace my body, because I love myself, I found ALL the un-parade-worthy cancers early enough to be a survivor. I have lost a ovary, part of my cervix and uterus and now a huge part of my vulva to mutant cells because I was brave enough to come face to face with the truth. Knowledge is power. Fear keeps us in the dark and silently kills us. Please encourage your friends and family to get preventative care.
I am a survivor today. I want you to survive too. Please get your check ups. If, god forbid, you get cancer in a sensitive area, I will hold your hand. I will cry with you and get angry with you and bleed with you and fight with you.
And then we'll organize a fun run.