Thursday, August 28, 2014

If Anything, I Thought It Would Be Skin Cancer

(This is my 1000th post since starting my blog in December of 2011, shortly after moving to Japan.)

I’ve always been pretty healthy, which is good because I don’t really trust doctors and medical things.  I don’t like medicine and don’t get flu shots. I don’t eat meat and for the most part eat well (although more than I should, it seems). I’ve been healthy enough to run 16 full marathons and many shorter races.  I never thought I’d have anything major wrong with me, although I thought skin cancer might be a possibility after so many years in the sun. 

I thought wrong.  Two weeks before leaving on my trip to the UK, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer.  Besides trying to get ready for the trip, those two weeks were full of medical tests and consultations with doctors – two ultrasounds, a biopsy, a CT scan, an MRI, blood and urine tests, chest and abdominal x-rays, an ekg, ..... maybe that’s all.  This would be difficult if it were all in English, but can you imagine trying to fill out forms written in kanji and communicating with people who speak Japanese? On top of the language difficulties, things are just different here.  I’ve opted for treatment at the university hospital in the big city (Sapporo), rather than the local hospital, but I’m still very skeptical of all things medical.

Fortunately, I was able to leave on my trip as planned and the surgery to remove all of my insides was scheduled for shortly after my return.  One of the things that’s different here is that they expect you to stay in the hospital a long time. Except for when I was born (and don’t remember), I’ve never spent the night in a hospital.  The doctor told me I needed to check in to the hospital two days before the surgery and stay a minimum of two weeks after! Oh, no, that’s just impossible, I told him.  What do you do for two days before, can’t I just arrive the morning of the surgery?  He told me I needed two days to get ready. After all of the tests and procedures, I was pretty sure I was as ready as I could be.  We compromised on checking in the day before.  I told him I couldn’t possibly stay two weeks, let alone longer. I told him I thought maybe overnight would be long enough.  In the first place, sick people with bad germs are in the hospital and I don’t want to catch anything.  In addition, I can’t communicate with the hospital staff, I won’t be able to eat in the hospital (I don’t eat meat and don’t like anything with oil and like my vegetables raw), and my hair is very long and I won’t be able to wash it in the hospital. He just kind of laughed and said there would be pain, so I needed to be in the hospital.  I pretty much expected that, but if there’s going to be pain where ever I am, I prefer to be at home.  Besides, I told him, I have a high pain threshold and have had a root canal and several crowns done without novacaine. I told him I am also a very fast healer.  He said if there were complications, I’d have to stay, but he’d let me go as soon as possible.  having to stay in the hospital is really making me crazy.

So anyway, I’m checking into the hospital today and surgery is scheduled for tomorrow. I'm feeling very anxious and uneasy. I don’t know what happens after the surgery and won’t find out what the options are until after the surgery.  Maybe the surgery will be enough. After living in Japan this long, I’ve learned that I never really know what is going on until it’s over, and then I still don’t always know.

The hospital doesn’t have wifi so I can’t post anything after I leave today until I come home.  I’ve scheduled a few posts for the days ahead and hopefully will be back home before they run out.

Normally I am a very private person.  If I were in the US with this diagnosis, no one would ever hear about it.  In Japan, nothing I do is private. Everyone seems to know where I go and what I do here.  The mother of one of my English students works in the doctor’s office across the hall from the local gynecologist. I think she knew before I did.  Since everyone here knows, I’ve decided to tell everyone everywhere about my experience with cancer in Japan, via my blog. It'll be more about being a foreigner in the Japanese medical system.  If you have questions about it, I may or may not answer, depending on how much I'm comfortable with.  I’m not here feeling sorry for myself and I don’t want anyone else to be feeling sorry for me. I’ve gotten through difficult things before and this is just one more challenge in life.  I’ll write more when I can.

17 comments:

  1. Oh Pamela, what bad news! I am especially praying for you at this time and will write via postal service. All the very best.

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  2. Pamela, I will hold you in my thoughts. Having people know can be a blessing, even more so if in a foreign country. Wishing you strength xx

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  3. Pamela, I admire your courage while dealing with the cancer in a foreign country...you are in my thoughts and prayers during this trying time for you...may you have a speedy and full recovery...I too hope your stay in the hospital is not long and that you will be home soon...I do believe people heal better when they are at home surrounded by what is familiar to them...know that you are being thought of and prayed for here in the states...sending prayers and well wishes across the miles to you....hugs, wendy

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  4. Lots of love and hugs coming your way, Pamela! You can have your hubby bring in food for you and you should have the right to check out of the hospital just as soon as you like. Having said that, it's actually better that they still do it the old fashioned, longer-term care procedure over there. Gambatte kudasai!=)
    xxx

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  5. Pamela,
    Praying for you as you navigate a foreign medical system. Hope you are able to return home quickly.

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  6. I wish you a speedy recovery and will keep you in my prayers! Good luck getting out of the hospital in a timely manner. :)

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  7. Pamela: you are in my thoughts also.

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  8. After meeting you at class in London, I came home and read all of your entries on the blog. I have enjoyed them all. Sorry to hear about your diagnosis and surgery. I will be stitching here and thinking good thoughts for you.

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  9. I hope everything goes well for you and that you get better soon.

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  10. wish you good recovery and not too much pain so you can come soon home to your hubby. You are in my prayers. Jaana

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  11. Pamela, you are the strongest, most courageous person I know. When I think of all of the adventures you have taken in your life, I guess I imagine this to be another. I think someone once said "Sometimes we choose the adventure and sometimes the adventure chooses us" - right? Anyone who can run 16 full marathons, well, you will beat this. I'll be looking forward to your next blog post -from home, till then love and hugs -Karen

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  12. Pamela, you are the strongest, most courageous person I know. When I think of all of the adventures you have taken in your life, I guess I imagine this to be another. I think someone once said "Sometimes we choose the adventure and sometimes the adventure chooses us" - right? Anyone who can run 16 full marathons, well, you will beat this. I'll be looking forward to your next blog post -from home, till then love and hugs -Karen

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  13. I once sprained my ankle while teaching English in Poland and the differences in medical treatment bewildered me. I do hope everything goes well for you. And as it turned out, my American doctors told me that they would have done the same as the Polish ones. Remember, it's not the doctors that kick you out of American hospitals, it's the insurance companies. Try to rest; you'll need all your energy to fight the good fight.

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  14. Pamela, I'm so sorry to hear this. I know there's nothing I can do, but remember this is a safe place for you to vent if you need to, to just talk about what's happening, and of course there are many shoulders to cry on if you wish. xx

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  15. I was so sorry to hear you bad news. However, as soon as I met you I felt this is a STRONG person and I am sure you will ride this out. Writing about your experience will help to take some of the stress away as well as be very interesting and informative for the rest of us.
    Thinking of you!

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