My Girlfriend Doesn’t Get A Say In My Cancer Treatment (But My Doctors Think She Does)

Doctors are suddenly very interested in my personal life the minute I tell them I am not worried about preserving my fertility.
Publish date:
June 23, 2014
girlfriends, Cancer, treatment, family decisions

Here is some advice about having cancer (though I hope you never need it): Joke about it a lot. I mean a lot. As often as you can, really. It does a lot of good: Other people are shocked, but then they remember you’re still you, not a walking cancer trope, and everybody feels a little bit better.

To be fair, the kind of cancer I have is easy to joke about, because it has a really high survival rate: if you're young and you catch it early (which I am and I did), uterine cancer isn't going to kill you. I'm probably going to have a hysterectomy, but I have a no-babies-growing-in-my-bits policy anyway, so it works out pretty well.

There are other treatment options, but I am not too interested in them. The other ways are complicated and require a lot of long-term management, whereas this way is simplest and by far the most effective. This would not be the right choice for everyone, but it seems like the right choice for me.

At this point, you might be wondering, what does my girlfriend think about all this? I am not sure why you are wondering that, if you are, but it's OK, because everyone else seems to be. They seem to think she's going to leave me, if not over the sheer drama of the cancer diagnosis, because of the possibility that one day we will suddenly decide we want to be a totally domesticated queer lady couple. This will involve homegrown babies and white picket fences and possibly little yappy dogs. When that day comes, she will undoubtedly say to me, "Amanda, you are the one with long hair, so you should probably be having the babies. You can't, so I am leaving you for a long-haired lady with a functioning uterus."

This question comes from loving and well-meaning family and friends who ask, "What does your girlfriend say about all this?" Usually with a barely-concealed note of concern or seriousness that was not there earlier in the conversation. I can't help feeling a little mystified at the question. Why should she have much of anything to say about it other than unconditional support?

It is weirder when the question comes from doctors. Doctors are suddenly very interested in my personal life the minute I tell them I am not worried about preserving my fertility. How long have I been together with my girlfriend, they would like to know? How does she feel about having babies? What if -- well -- sometimes we can't predict what's going to happen in our lives, especially with other people! Am I sure? Do I realize a hysterectomy is irreversible?

Here is the thing: this is a new relationship. If our relationship were a child, it would still be in the gross spit-up phase where we would have to hold up its head while burping it over our shoulders. We are content to make googly eyes at each other in coffee shops at the moment and not so much into talking about The Future. We both have too many other things on our plate to start picking out baby names.

More importantly, my girlfriend respects my bodily autonomy. She wants me to make the decision that is best for me and any personal stake she might one day have in my decision is approximately priority number seven hundred. She is, in fact, angry that anyone would think she has the right to tell me what to do in this situation.

That respect for my decisions is kind of why I’m dating her. I do not want to cede control over my reproductive capacity to anyone, not my doctors, not my parents, and not my girlfriend. Even with the understanding that this is an irreversible decision, I am a little bit miffed at everyone’s reluctance to let me make it.

It makes me feel kind of icky that doctors are consistently asking me for other people's input on my treatment plans. I know that they are just doing their job, and that's how the medical-legal system works, but am I crazy, or is the way the medical-legal system works incredibly sexist?

I don't think mine is an isolated case. Since this has begun, I have been inundated with stories from other women about how they, their sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, friends, etc. have had similar experiences. Based on anecdotal evidence, it doesn’t seem all that unusual for partners or family members to be consulted when it comes to a woman’s fertility. I am not even mad at doctors about it: it is hard to blame them when many such partners and family members do feel entitled to a voice in these decisions. I feel very weird about what it says about our culture, though.

You guys, I am not one to try to make everything about me, but in this case, I really think it is about me! This is my body, my health, and even though it also affects the people who love me, I have to put myself first this time. And honestly, there is a (very sarcastic but not irrational) part of me that suspects that I would not have to defend my decision if it wasn’t about making babies.

Anyway, my girlfriend isn't breaking up with me, my parents are just calling a lot more often, roommate's good, friends are fine -- oh, and I'm okay, too, thank you for asking. Isn’t that kind of supposed to be the main question?