Lucky

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“Oh my God! It’s hot in this house. Sweat is dripping down my back.” I would voice this grievance loudly seemingly at no one in particular.

Without fail, my husband would respond with something like: “What’s wrong with you? It’s cold. It’s already 73 degrees. You want the kids to freeze to death?”

For many years, I dismissed it as banter and laughed it off. However this time, a pang led me to the discovery of the pendulum of guilt and self-blame oscillating within me. I stood up, planted my feet wide apart, narrowed my eyes, and without a thought, I shouted:

“Stop! I didn’t ask for cancer. I didn’t ask for this chemo-induced menopause in my 20s. Just stop!”

***

My age at menarche was 12. I was considered one of the lucky ones: every 30 days, minimal PMS, low flow and each time it lasted 3-5 days. Sixteen years later, a blood cancer set in motion a plan to vanquish the Selene Moon Goddess thriving within me.

Acute myeloid leukemia invaded my body, not once but twice. It seems like the first time did not suffice. She wanted to make sure I learned the hard lessons of mortality and uncertainty. The divine timing of this intrusion came into fruition at the age of 26. 

Bulldozed with the atomic bomb of chemos, I underwent a stem cell transplant which led me to the premature end of menses. Processing the demise of my menstruation was not a priority. My entire immune system was uprooted and this left me immuno-compromised. I was in survival mode and I remained hyper-focused on more pressing things like not dying.

As I recovered and reached remission, the positive-only approach that plagues cancer survivors echoed from my well-meaning friends and family. Painting a rosy picture to uplift me, they would say: “You’re free! No more periods, cramps, bloating! No need for birth control! You are so lucky.”  They tried to spin this as a win. I’m grateful for their attempts.

However, no one prepared me for the moratorium of libido and orgasms, the bleeding and pain of intercourse, the genesis of osteopenia, and the emotional turmoil provoked by the absence of specific hormones. I no longer felt like a woman — the collateral damage of the war waged by cancer.

My husband and I patiently navigated this unknown realm with sex therapy, prayer, marriage counseling, hormone therapy, topical solutions, and anything else that was recommended. 

Every time we tried and failed, I would hide in shame and cry.  My husband would sit in silence with the distress bubbling inside of him. Eventually, we would pick each other up and try again. We surrendered completely to the ebbs and flows of this process.

The path towards radical acceptance of my chemo-induced menopause took eight long years. Yet, the management over this unexpected and abrupt life change is still a work in progress. I have mustered a dialectical approach towards my period story — recognizing all the losses and all the gains.

***

After my outburst, my husband apologized immediately. He summoned the children for a group hug. Slowly, the pendulum rested into the equilibrium position. I mindfully basked in their love and support. “I am lucky,” I whispered.

By Ariane Ambriz

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