Gratitude, Come Hither

Post-cancer gratitude can be elusive.

Many gratitude books and sites populate the world, but I believe gratitude forced is not gratitude, but rather an I’m-eating-my-broccoli exercise, often followed by acute indigestion.

Like most writers, I put a high premium on honesty. But one man’s honesty is another man’s lack of social graces.

You can’t just blunder around telling the truth. If you do, you’ll walk a lonely road.

Because cancer is so traumatic — the experience would qualify as torture under normal circumstances — real gratitude can be rare.

Still, I think it’s worth the effort. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer the day after 9/11, but a few years ago I arbitrarily moved my cancer anniversary to Thanksgiving.

Dr. Steve Buie, my family-practice doctor since 1988, found my cancer within two days of the appearance of symptoms (for me, abdominal pain and bloating). The average for ovarian cancer is three months. Some women go as long as two years with doctors telling them it’s all in their heads, it’s menopause, here are some pain pills, maybe it’s time for a routine hysterectomy.

Within hours of my entrance to the emergency room, Dr. Buie ordered all the right tests. Two days later he came to the hospital to tell me in person that all the doctors, including him, thought I had ovarian cancer.

I remember screaming, “But that’s fatal!”

Dr. Buie replied, “Only in late stages. We tested your liver and kidney function, and we think we caught this early.”

“You can’t let me die,” I pleaded. “It will kill Robert.” I babbled on like that for a while. Finally Dr. Buie walked over, grabbed my hands and said, “Donna, you’re getting way ahead of yourself.”

He came back the next morning to check on me. It was a Sunday, and he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. He’s a little younger than me. “Dr. Buie,” I said, “we were supposed to grow old together.”

“That’s still the plan,” he said.

He insisted I see a gynecologic oncologist. Her name was Dr. Verda Hunter, and she did the surgery. I remember waking up and hearing her say, “It’s mostly good.”

I asked the recovery nurse how long my surgery lasted. At first she wouldn’t tell me. She said I would forget. I said, “You don’t know me. I won’t forget.”

“An hour and a half,” she said. That was encouraging, I knew. The surgery of some ovarian cancer patients lasted six hours, nine hours, 14 hours.

Two days later the pathology report arrived. My cancer had spread. I was stage III.

But despite my abysmal survival statistics, my oncologist was optimistic.

She no doubt studied long and hard to become a doctor. One day a radiologist asked me who my oncologist was. “Verda Hunter,” I said. He knew who she was. He’d been in the operating room with her. “She’s not just the best gynecologic oncologist I’ve watched operate,” he said. “She’s the most skilled surgeon I’ve seen, period.” [Ed. note: Patricia Fontaine’s poem Dragonfly Rescue is a valentine to oncologists.]

Dr. Hunter and Dr. Buie: Since my cancer diagnosis, I have seen six summers come and go. I’ve seen six seasons of magnolias and tulips. I expect to see a seventh.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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6 Responses to Gratitude, Come Hither

  1. Cindy says:

    Academy Award Winning Actress Kathy Bates Opens Up to OCNA about her Experience with Ovarian Cancer

    A few weeks ago, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA) had the opportunity to sit down with Academy Award winning actress Kathy Bates to listen as she told the tale — for the first time publicly — of her personal fight with ovarian cancer. The interview was very personal and in-depth and shares insights about how she was diagnosed with the disease. Additionally, Ms. Bates filmed a 30-second TV Public Service Announcement (PSA) about ovarian cancer and its symptoms, which launched in NYC Taxi Cabs during September, National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, and is running on TV networks nationwide.

    “OCNA recognizes the personal strength it took Kathy to talk publicly about her run-in with cancer,” says Karen Orloff Kaplan, Chief Executive Officer of OCNA. “We appreciate her willingness to share her story and be an advocate for the organization in its mission to educate women across the country about ovarian cancer.”

    To view the OCNA Kathy Bates 5-minute interview clip and 30-second TV PSA, visit

    “As an ovarian cancer survivor, I have decided to join forces with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance by sharing my story and helping educate women about one of the deadliest cancers affecting women today.” — Kathy Bates

    Raising awareness about ovarian cancer on a national and local level is essential because diagnosing the disease is difficult. The number of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in its early stages is so small that the survival rates continue to be low. In more than 30 years since the War on Cancer was declared, ovarian cancer mortality rates have not significantly improved. About 22,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008 and about 15,000 women will die from the disease.

    If interested in learning more about the Kathy Bates interview and PSA or would like copies to share with your community, please contact Faryl Greller, Director of Communications & Marketing, at OCNA by phone at 202.331.1332, ext. 307 or email at

  2. Sheri swaner says:

    Dear Donna,

    A heartbreaking, truth telling, amazing bit of writing that
    reflects a part of your journey with
    “… the sticky threads of cancer.” (Dragonfly Rescue)
    So much hits so close to home.

    I have been more silent than usual, at least in response.
    This time of year I find myself more in my head and heart.
    Many reflective and grateful thoughts of you;
    Then of you and cancer, Scott, Scott and cancer…

    “In the quiet hours
    in the spaces not yet here,
    when empty
    only spilling
    ’round a lonely strand of fear-

    you start to grope.

    And the ache,
    through pains, to know, to begging pass,
    you do have one untangled rope
    with no misleading slack;
    One certain hidden hope
    to hold you fast.”

    You had, and have YOU! This incredible force of light
    and life, that trails behind and beyond you.
    I find you remarkable;
    Remarkably kind, remarkably gracious, remarkably bright
    and completely aware, honest and intuitive.

    Yes, thanks giving to you!


  3. Thank you for your kind words, Sheri. :)

    I know the anniversary of your brother’s death is approaching, and I hope memories of Scott bring you more joy than pain in the coming days and weeks.

  4. Thank you Cindy for all that helpful information about ovarian cancer. The consequences of inadequate research funding are tragic.

    Ovarian cancer in the news: It’s not just one disease, and that misperception is causing treatments to be ineffective. (My doctor and many patients and advocates have for years suspected this very thing.)

  5. Tabbie says:

    I have no gratitude right now :(

    Well…I should qualify that statement…I have gratitude for the kindness, honesty and tolerance I receive from other people who touch my life. It surprises me (but it should not) just how rare those qualities are in today’s society. I have gratitude for the beauty I find in nature and in the world at large. I always enjoy reading what you write Donna.

  6. Thank you Tabbie. I can’t wait to see what your backyard will yield come spring. Someone wise once told me: “Whenever you lose your way, look to nature.”

    I never understood the allure of nature till I became an adult and saw the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park. Before that, nature was just a weed-choked empty lot in Dallas where I chased balsa-wood model airplanes for my dad. I was like: What’s with the nature worship?

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