One of the several times that my malignancy was misdiagnosed, my gastroenterologist was hovering over my head the minute I woke from the colonoscopy. He said, "I took one look at That mass in your anus and said, 'She's got anal cancer.' But then we biopsied it and it's benign."
It wasn't, but I wouldn't learn that for a couple of months. Those were two insane-making months, after I got a call from the gastro doc's partner, saying, "I know Dr. F told you that your mass was benign, but ..."
It was a pretty big 'but'.
But as soon as Dr. F left my bedside, the nurse was there, talking about Farrah Fawcett, who had just died of anal cancer, a few months before.
“I thought it was so intrusive and rude of the media to speculate on Farrah Fawcett’s sex life when she had anal cancer. Because, you know, most people who get anal cancer have had a lot of anal sex.”
No, I didn’t know. I had never heard that.
I could tell the nurse was fishing for information about my own sexual proclivities. And I was not only going to swallow the bait, but I intended to snap her pole in half, and possibly bite off a few fingers, as well. “Oh, well then I guess I’m lucky, because I’ve never had anal sex. A LOT of sex, but no anal.” It was true. Unless someone got to me at the one or two parties where I passed out, probably from a substance surreptitiously slipped into my soda, I’ve always been and shall forever remain an ass virgin.
The nurse reiterated that it was inexcusable of the media to humiliate Farrah in her last days on earth by probing for information on what, where, and from whom she may have “taken it up the ass”. And I agreed it is nobody’s business what anybody does in the privacy of their own... wherever they do it.
But even though it’s nobody’s business, I will mention a few things about my own sexual past, because like me, you might be a little unclear about the origin of your cancer. So, first, like my very nice doctors, I will reassure you that your sexual history has nothing to do with your cancer, and the fact that a number of people who previously had one kind of sex or another later developed anal cancer is NOT proof that there is any connection between your cancer and anal sex, nor does it mean that you or I have or ever did have HPV.
Nevertheless, because that nurse’s remarks really ticked me off, I have since done a little (did I say a little? I meant obsessive) Internet sleuthing about the link between anal sex and anal cancer. You can find all sorts of drivel out there. On YouTube, there’s a doctor in a lab coat (or could he be an actor in a propaganda film) proclaiming that every person with anal cancer has had anal sex. I can tell you that this is not true of me, as far as I know. There were those drunken parties I mentioned, where I passed out, but I think I might have awakened a bit chafed, afterwards. But you, personally, KNOW whether you’ve had anal sex. And if you have, big deal. Lots of people have. That doesn’t mean they’re going to get cancer, nor does it mean God is punishing you for the “sin” of sodomy, nor should anybody, ever attempt or succeed in making you feel responsible for your illness. Blaming you is absolutely not going to help you feel better. So forget about it.
It is ridiculous for people to blame you or your sexual activity, past or present, for what is frankly a frightening, painful, and potentially deadly disease. Don’t let misguided fanatics tell you God hates you. I believe he absolutely loves you. But I’m not going to talk about him, much. I might mention him now and then, accidentally. Pay it no mind. My connection to the Almighty is either my own reality or my own psychosis, but I’m not about to try to make it yours. What you do with your soul, just like whatever you do or do not with your anus, is entirely up to you. It’s none of my business. I love you just the way you are, and I don’t even want to know. But I have to say, this book is for people who are not at all pleased to be taking this cancer journey. Others are welcome to read and inquire as well, but when I got cancer, I ordered a book called “Now that I Have Cancer, I am Whole” and I have to say that I found the entire premise EXCEEDINGLY annoying. In all honesty, I couldn’t even read the book. Because I am anything but whole. Butthole. Ha. That’s something I no longer have. And I’m mad about that.
It’s actually a bit easier to keep clean with the intestine dropping poop into a bag, but then, there’s always a damnable bag of shit in my pants. That never goes away. I cried about it for a long time before and after it happened to me. And let me tell you, they told me the point of doing chemo and radiation prior to surgery was to make the tumor shrink so that, perchance, colostomy could be avoided, but I don’t think I ever had a ghost of a chance of avoiding a colostomy. And had I known what hell the radiation would cause, I might rather have opted to skip it and go straight to surgery.
According to the Farrah Fawcett Foundation, there does seem to be a sexual history connected to people with anal cancer. The connection, it seems, isn’t so much anal sex as the virus responsible for anal warts, a sexually transmitted strain of HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus. I am not certain that connection applies to every type of anal cancer. My tumor was a malignant neoplasm (adenocarcinoma) of the anal canal. In the case of Farrah Fawcett, the tumor was not an adenocarcinoma but a squamous cell carcinoma. Hers was not supposed to spread to vital organs. Adenocarcinomas are more prone to metastasis than squamous cell cancers. Most squamous cell cancers are cured without surgery. But Farrah’s did metastasize, and though she fought bravely, the disease was just too far advanced.
I have the good fortune of being too poor to travel to Germany for the alternative treatment Farrah sought. I also am not a movie star whose livelihood depended on my keeping my body beautiful. So, after much persuasion by several doctors, I agreed to the surgery that probably spared my life. (It has, so far, at least.) I had a permanent colostomy. I poop in a bag. It sounds horrible, and I did think I’d rather die, but I want to tell you, it’s NOTHING as bad as you think. And it does result in some very pleasant sensations you’ll never experience without one. In fact, you may not be around to experience much of anything at all, without one. If you like farting, and who doesn’t, because of the release it brings, what could be better than farting through a hole in your abdomen, directly into a bag, where you never have to worry that someone else can smell it, as long as the bag is on and the seal is adhering properly. Yes, there is the possibility of a disastrous accident, but they are rare, and generally make for memorable stories you can recount to all your friends and relatives, or write about them in a humorous book, as I plan to do in the second half of this two-part book, called “A Colostomy’s Not a Catastrophe, But it Will Give You Many Opportunities to Have One”