A Bit About My Illness

Jerry and Lucy at Arnold Park

Good Morning!  It’s a beautiful fall day.

Post of fall, 2012.  When I began this blog, it was in response to my need to share what I know about writing — in a different media from teaching in the classroom.  Here I am with all these files full of exercises, notes from books about writing, teaching plans, prompts, visual aids.

Without teaching, I feared my life might lose vitality.  Teaching energized me and made me feel useful.  

Blogging about my cancer is low on the list of what to write about, even though this illness shapes my every thought.  However, some of you have asked me to share a bit about how having cancer affects my writing life — and my whole life.


Ovarian Cancer walked on stage for me in April of 2010.  As many women do, I chalked up my symptoms to getting older.  Also, I had started lifting weights at the gym and figured the pain in my gut was due to strained muscles.  As it is for most women when first diagnosed, my cancer was late stage, IIIc.   Here are the symptoms:  bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly when eating, urinary symptoms of urgency or frequency.  These are subtle, all of them, but if they persist over time, please pay attention.  Have a blood test done.  Get a vaginal scan.  One in every 70 women get this disease.  Because it’s usually diagnosed so late, even after surgeries and many sessions of chemo, chances are still 80% that it will re-occur within a year.

And so, for me, it did.

This time, I have learned, cure is no longer an option.  All that is left is to manage any symptoms (with chemo) and try to live a wonderful life.  Apparently, each remission tends to be half as long as the prior one.  I ask myself how many years will I have.  Everyone is different, but I’ve heard a norm of three years.  At the same time, I expect to live much longer than that because I’m not the norm.  Also, I’m corresponding with women who have survived 8, 10, and even 17 years.   If you are interested, take a look at this listserve   that goes back to 1995 with anecdotal and research information for and by patients, family, friends, researchers, and physicians.  These women call themselves the sorority that no one wanted to join.  They are wise, wise women, generous with information and emotional support.

What’s Next?

The temptation is to find the nearest supply of apricot pits and do whatever it is you’re supposed to do with them, but I guess I’m just not into apricot pits.  However, I am drinking lots of green tea, taking circumin capsules (turmeric), eating things that are good for me, and avoiding sugars, except, of course,  for the sugar in chocolate.

My wonderful doctors sometimes disagree about what’s best.  For example, my local oncologist desperately wanted me to begin chemo last April.  My gynecological oncologist (OHSU) gave me the choice of waiting until my symptoms were worse.  Since I felt fine in April, I chose to put off chemo, which naturally would have made me feel lousy.  A hard decision but a good decision for me.   Besides that, I had a book to revise and a class to teach.  Too busy living.

The next blood test and CT scan are in mid-October.  The blood test measures the CA 125 (cancer marker) and we’ll see if my numbers have gone up since July.  The CT scan will show whether the tumors in my liver have grown.

Bottom Line

Jerry and I are living with uncertainty.    It’s hard to know if we can plan a trip to Europe.  Hard to decide whether to buy season tickets to anything.  Whether to get the expensive dental work done.  Whether to propose a class or workshop.  Whether to begin another novel.  Whether to keep bothering to floss.  (So far, I’m still flossing.)

This affects my daughters, as well.  One has already moved to the Pacific Northwest to be closer.  The other is fitting “time with Mom” into almost every week.   As for Jerry, we can only imagine what plans he has put on hold, and how great his disappointment may be that he may not have years with me as his life companion.    We are both very good at denial, however, so try not to dwell.

Decisions I’ve Made

  • I’ll write no more novels.  They require too much commitment, too many daily hours at the computer by myself.
  • No more teaching classes.  They require that I propose a class six months in advance.  That’s too iffy.
  • Lots more live music will fill my ears.   I hope I have at least one Arizona Opera in my future, and I’m still tapping toes from a weekend of folk music in Sisters.  I’ve picked up my old guitar and will soon be able to play “You are My Sunshine” as well as I did in the Sixties.  I listen to the sweet sounds of my harp and think, who cares?  It’s okay that I can’t really play it yet.
  • I’m spending more time with friends — knitting, writing, eating, talking, hiking — and going to family reunions.
  • I’m taking care of things that used to bother me — we hired out the yardwork and the housework.  Lucky me.  But when I rake up pine needles or pull weeds or wash windows, I kinda like it now.  Go figure.
  • I notice how lovely everything is.  Everything really IS lovely, you know.
  • Big insight:  I now understand how many of us there are.  So many people have poor health or big troubles.  They are carrying on with their lives, hurting from something from inside or outside.  I am not alone in facing illness and a shorter life.  What an inspiration those people are.
  • A lot of things that used to be important are no longer so.  I’m letting go of micro-managing.  Well, trying to. 
  • Questions?  I’ll try to answer them.   Go ahead and ask.

6 Responses to “A Bit About My Illness”

  1. Cheryl Creel September 21, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    I wandered into your blog looking for a way to get back to writing after finishing treatment for breast cancer three years ago…only to learn cancer has touched your life, too! so there it is…again. But instead of making me want to turn away in despair, your reflections inspire me and uplift me. Everything really IS lovely…thank you for the reminder.

    • annewarrensmith September 21, 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Cheryl, Thanks so much for writing. Please tell me what it is you’re writing. and how it’s going. I taught a Saturday workshop a few years ago that addressed writer’s block, where it comes from and ways to overcome it. It was different for every student, but for many of them, it was fear of failure (rejection) or fear of not writing a piece that met their high standards. For those of us who have been sick, it may simply be depression because of the ways our bodies are letting us down. Do you have any insights on this? In future posts, I want to share some ways that will help us get back to writing. I don’t know about you, but when I’m writing, I feel more “whole.”

      • Cheryl Creel October 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm #


        Thank you so much for the reply! I just read it today. I am writing a middle grade/YA novel. In the past, I’ve written shorter works…poetry, short stories, picture books, but find it hard to stay focused long enough to complete a novel. Now I am trying to think of it one chapter at a time. Yes…the cancer has changed me. I continue to take a hormone blocking drug (Arimidex) that makes my brain fuzzy. That doesn’t help. But you are an inspiration to me! Let’s keep plugging along! –Cheryl

      • annewarrensmith October 14, 2012 at 10:36 am #

        So glad you wrote back. Let’s keep checking in.
        Want to tell a bit about your main character? His/her problem or life’s complication or what he desperately desires?

  2. Lynn October 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    I posted on the writing side that I admire folks who can write honestly about their grief. Then I read this. Oh my. Tearfully I realize you, Anne, are actually living the grief process. I can’t begin to imagine how it feels for you…the thoughts you entertain. What I DO know is that you have always been, and continue to be, a role model of optimism and of “living each day”, appreciating each moment. Any time I spend with you, Friend, gladdens my heart — you do that for people.
    I appreciate you, Anne – and your courage and honesty is sharing this process with all of us.


  1. OVERCOMING FUNK AND STARTING YOUR MEMOIR « Anne Warren Smith - September 20, 2012

    […] A Bit About My Illness […]

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