It was 19 years ago today, September 7th, that I was wheeled into surgery to remove the remains of a tumor that had been destroyed by months of chemotherapy. Prior to that chemotherapy, I had been about 195 pounds. By the end I was around 140, and honestly probably more in the 130s. By the end of chemotherapy, most days were enough time awake to eat, maybe watch a single TV show or two, and then sleep, 20-22 hours per day. And then I was told the tumor was dead.
Chemotherapy was over in mid-July of 1996. I was given basically 6 weeks to gain a little strength, then the surgery would ensure that the remains of that tumor were gone.
What was supposed to be a 4 hour surgery became 10. The tumor had apparently been wrapped around my aorta and in dying to the chemo, it had become this rock hard substance. My surgeon visited me later and apologized for the extra time but said he was literally chipping that stuff off my aorta, like flakes of cement.
The tumor had also been wrapped around the nerve to the left vocal cord. That nerve is a bit weird and shows how evolution does things, not always in the most sensible way. That nerve comes from the spine, over to the heart first, then back up to the left vocal cord. There was no way to separate the remains of the tumor from that nerve so it got cut.
This left me unable to speak since the left vocal cord was flaccid and unable to flex to meet the right cord, since no neural signals could now reach it. To correct that, a plastic implant was inserted in that vocal cord in another surgery in early November of 1996. I still have slight numbness in my hands and feet from chemotherapy. My scalp was ravaged by chemotherapy and never really recovered. And my hearing, already a 20 decibel loss in my good right ear, became a 50+ decibel loss and I finally admitted that I needed a hearing aid.
Despite all this, I survived. But this all also made me think very hard about myself, who I was, what I’d done to myself emotionally and psychologically to get to where I was then. I also got to see my children graduate from high school, get married, go to college, have children of their own. It took me another 8 years, to about 2004, to really learn about and understand the words transsexual and transgender but I’d bought into another lie – that if I hadn’t transitioned early, I couldn’t transition at all. It was six more years after that, 2010, that the mother of all dysphoria episodes began that simply would not relent and which drove me to the brink of suicide, before I finally admitted I needed help, and with prodding from Julie Jeznach, I finally sought that help.
The rest, as they say, is “herstory”. People to whom I gave my life, my time, my love, my earnings, have rejected me. That’s their choice and I have to accept that, but it’s still bitter. And knowing what I know today, I can honestly say that I do have regrets. We’re not supposed to have regrets and I know that I can’t change the past so I don’t plan to wallow in these regrets at all. But I do acknowledge them. And if I’d known 30 years ago what I know now, I would have just walked away instead of worrying about other people’s emotions and opinions.
So I write this today with my younger trans friends in mind. Being trans can suck. People can be ugly, cruel, callous, hateful. But we’re trans and we can’t escape that truth. My advice to you, to each of you, is make your decisions for yourself first. Anyone who can’t handle the decisions that you need to make for you neither loved you nor is your friend so is not worthy of your consideration of their opinions.
While I am very happy with where I am in life right now, in one sense, I write this today to my younger trans friends to say “Don’t be me.” Don’t put others ahead of yourself. Don’t defer what you need to be happy to make others happy first. Most of the time they won’t care about you. Not really. And those that do care? They’ll have your back and be there for you.
Have a good September 7th, a good Labor Day, and a good day for yourself first and foremost.