My First Descents rock-climbing group discussed female sexual organs at a rate 5,000,000 times higher than during my usual conversations. That’s what happens when females outnumber males 2:1, the party consists of young cancer survivors who are used to divulging all aspects of bodily functioning, and the most gregarious is an HPV-possessing cervical cancer survivor.
If “cancer survivor” had a prototypical appearance, 31-year-old Sunny lacked it. Sunny was super fit with a background in trapeze, and had inner strength that glowed brighter than her build. Sunny’s superesteem led to stories about her sex drive, first period, ovary-saving experimental operation, and the location of her cervix.
Sunny’s superesteem was contagious. I showed her (and Hooooolz) my OkCupid profile for review. Their comments led to me believing my profile was Gosling-esque, though they did not lead to an improvement to my 9% response rate. If only I were gay because I’m certain my male response rate would be at least 11%.
At three months post-treatment, Sunny was a new survivor, especially compared to Gnomers or KMac. She also hid from us (and maybe herself) a sense that her cancer remained, “the same way I know my feet are big,” she later described to me.
First Descents has its own social network called the “HUB,” which encourages us to maintain our tight group without concern for how outsiders will perceive our comments, because most others can’t relate. Fudge, the non-survivor adventure-writer who joined our group for an upcoming story, couldn’t handle these updates and turned off her HUB notifications. Some group mates reach out for words of encouragement. I, of course, write goofy and pointless notes. But I think we most look forward to updates from those still in treatment.
Snippets of these updates include:
“Scans came back showing growth in two small (~5mm) probable tumors in my lung…Not anything really serious, more inconvenient.”
"The doctors took out my ovaries…which were the size of softballs. They also took my appendix, which had a pea-sized tumor. Finally, they went after several very small tumors that were between the stomach and the colon.”
“I go under the knife today to get two more lumps removed from my lung. Should be pretty short and only stuck there for maybe four days.”
“I would be on [chemo] sort of indefinitely—doing scans every two months or so to see how things go. There are still some very small tumors in my abdomen that weren't prudent to go after in surgery (the surgeon got some, but not all, in addition to removing my 11cm ovaries and my apparently tumored appendix).”
“I had an xray of my hip…At least it doesn't look like Swiss cheese! (I'm being serious on that one)…I start radiation on my hip for sure and depending what is found on the MRI possibly my back and if necessary my cranium.”
“The other tumor has grown. So I dropped out of the clinical trial I was in and got crackin' on Plan C (I figure since plans A & B were a bust, Plan C will definitely work…you know, 3rd time's a charm!)…Surgery involves a radical hysterectomy, intraoperative radiation therapy, vaginal reconstruction, and probable bladder removal…They say it'll probably take about eight weeks until I'm back to normal everyday things and about a year before I'm fully recovered. Somebody is going to have put a harness on me to keep me tethered to the ground for an entire year! Yikes.”
I’m sure Fudge wants to know about her friends like Sunny—she just lacks the desensitization (and quasi-sociopathy) cancer provides in order to handle it. I don’t feel like I’m supposed to, and I’ll never apologize for it, but Lings and Sunny measure up to my Superman Complex. They also continue to refresh my perspective.
Sunny could use some mi sheberach for her upcoming trials, and fortunately she has plenty of it: she is a recurring guest on the The Jeff Probst Show (tune in tomorrow for her next appearance). The talk show website even has a tab for her. I told Sunny that I would ride her coattails to fame, and that she’d now need a bodyguard: I offered protection for negative $45.95 per hour.
Despite her fame, feel free to send your thoughts of healing because she could always use more. No way will this star be held down for a year.
Update March 5, 2014: Sunny passed away a month ago, on February 4, 2014, as a result of cancer.