“These Are Incredible Women.” Lesbian’s Bout With Cancer Opens Mother’s Eyes.

by Simone Federman

I’m Simone Federman and I’m from Buffalo, New York.

My father was a professor, experimental fiction writer, and he was very comfortable with the fact that we were incredibly close and that I was a tomboy, and I was extremely athletic and I did all sorts of sports with him. My mom was always trying to help me fit in. She loved me a lot but she didn’t really understand me at all.

I went to college and all of a sudden I was very popular, because I went to Oberlin and then it was okay however you were. When I came home with my first girlfriend, she was very political and my parents pretended that it was because she was political that they didn’t like her, but they really didn’t like her and they kind of weren’t very nice to her. My mother just thought that I would grow out of it and that it was as a stage and that I just wouldn’t be happy gay. Like that I would be, you know, that it would be a lonely life. There was no part of me that was going to listen to my mother and I had grown accustomed to not listening to my mother.

Then when I was 25, I was going out with someone that I was really in love with and she was a photographer. We had fights and stuff sometimes. And I met someone at a party that I just thought was great and I decided to leave her. You know, I was young. We decided we’d drive to California and live on the beach. My brother had a little cabin on the beach in Santa Monica. When we were living in LA, we were living on the beach, you know, we were running around, hiking around, with the dog and everything. And we were once rolling on this lawn and I had this horrible nosebleed. I kept getting nosebleeds and I never had a nosebleed before in my life. I was very healthy, you know, because I was like, whatever, I was just a healthy kid.

And we went back to New York as we just were sort of – whatever – I felt like I missed being home. One day, she was at work – she worked at Cafe Vivaldi in the West Village – and I got a really bad nosebleed. I called her. She was like, “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s crowded here. It’s, like, nothing I can do.” She’s like, “Call my friend,” who I didn’t really, you know, whoever – a friend of hers. And she came over and she opened the door and she said it was like a Vietnam War movie. She said not only was I covered in blood, our dog, who was a big dog, was covered in blood, too.

We put ice on it. We got it to stop bleeding. Her friend left and she came home from work and by this point it was 4 in the morning. I was like, “Well, let’s just wait till morning and we’ll go to the hospital.” And we called her dad, he knew about hospitals. He said, “Go to New York Eye and Ear. It’s like, you know, the best hospital for nose things.” And so we went there and the guy there said – you know, looked at me and said it’s a polyp.

Then when I came out of the surgery they said, “It was actually larger than we thought. We couldn’t get it all out.”

I said, “Really?”

And they said, “Yeah, it was a growth.” It was a growth and it became a da-da-da and it became a tumor. And they were sending me to Sloan Kettering, like, right away. But it all happened in a few hours. When I got to Sloan Kettering, they said that I had a brain tumor and that it was cancer. They did more tests. They sent me home and then had more tests. I had to wait for the phone calls and find out, but eventually found out that it was a cancer that was inoperable. So Sloan Kettering said they couldn’t operate on it and that I had 6 months to live.

My ex-girlfriend and my girlfriend started researching. Eventually, that girlfriend had – in college, had gone out with a guy who was Czechoslovakian. She spoke just a little bit of Czech. And she found out about a guy in Czechoslovakian, a young guy named Ivo Janica. And she called him and he said, “Well I’d be willing to do the surgery as an experiment.”

So we found that Pittsburgh Eye & Ear Hospital could do this – would host this guy coming. And so he came. And everybody, well not , several of my girlfriends came to Pittsburgh.

And one of the people that they set me up with was somebody who is a psychic. She asked me, she said, “Why do you think” – because my tumor started in my sinuses, in my nose, and “Why do you think that the cancer started there? Like, what is it about your nose?”

And I said, “Well, it’s not my nose.” Right before college in – so I was 17 – I had broken my nose 4 times already, I had football, basketball – I think maybe basketball twice, and then once I walked into the bathroom door in the middle of the night. My mother came out. She started laughing.

She said, “Well, we gotta go to the doctor.” So I went to the doctor and the doctor said – showed me this picture – before computers really. This is 1980. And he shows – he said, “This is what your nose could look like.”

I said, “Well, why would I want my nose to look like that?”

“Oh, well it’s paid for under homeowners’ insurance.”

My mother’s like, “Oh, you should – you could change your nose. Then you can get a boyfriend.”

I’m like, “Mom, I don’t have anything wrong with my nose.” She was very, very convincing that somehow this was going to change my life, so I did it.

So then when this psychic woman said to me and I said, “Well, it’s not my nose,” she said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Why do you think you got cancer in your nose? Like, why do you – why would you hold resentment there?”

I said, “Well, because my mother made me have this nose job.” But I knew that I had to forgive my mother and that had to do with the only way I was going to heal this part of my body was to love this part of my body.

The night before the surgery, I had my ex-girlfriend and my girlfriend, who – I was really still in love with my ex-girlfriend but I was really in love with my new girlfriend, too. And at this time in my life, with the 6-months-to-live thing, you know, I couldn’t give up the love that I had gotten because it seemed really essential. I also had my best friend. she was also there and some other friends and they were – ex-girlfriends – and they all fell asleep on top of each other and it was so sweet.

The one that could drive, the ex then stayed with me in the hospital that night, which that, you knowm considering how much my new girlfriend loved me, was really quite mean of me, but it just it happened because I was scared. They were to come and get me at six in the morning.

I mean the thing was that everybody else was scared and I was worried about them.
My poor mother also, you know, was suffering and she actually got very close to my my girlfriend at that time because they were driving back and forth to the hospital. And I didn’t know this but my mom was crying all the time.

And she said, “You know what I realized is actually you have so much love in your life. I’ve never seen anything like this. Like, these people love you so much. You have such such a community.”

And I said, “Yeah, that’s what being gay and living in New York is like, Mom. I have – and it’s also just who I am.”

And she’s like, “You know, these are incredible women.”

I’m like, “Yeah, they’re really incredible.”

Surgery’s supposed must be like 25 hours long. And in the middle of the surgery, my friends were at the Eye and Ear eatery, at the Pittsburgh Eye and Ear Hospital, and they looked over. My friends saw this guy – doctor – sitting in the cafeteria with the little bowtie and they said to my girlfriend, “Isn’t that Doctor Janica?”

And she turned around and she said, Yeah!”

And they’re like, “What’s he doing here? It’s only been 10 or 11 hours. Go! Go ask him. Go ask him.”

And she goes up to Doctor Janica and in her broken Czech, she says, you know, “What’re you doing here?

And he said, “Oh, I was just about to come out and speak to you.”

And she’s like, Oh my God, she died!” And you know, he was going to come out to tell us but he wanted to have something to eat first because he had been in surgery for ten hours.

And he said, “No, no, no, it went really well. There was very little bleeding and her flesh cut like butter. It was like a small child. And now the risk is whether it is – there was gonna be meningitis and whether fluid was going to leak. But he said, it was so easy.

In the hospital, I just, you know, kept being. They would give me a different wrapping every day. I had, like, different bandages in different photographs. And that was 32 years ago.

Why do I want to tell this story to other people? I guess it had something to do with both having a mom and having a mom who struggles a lot with your sexuality and gender identity. And I think that we both learned a lot through my cancer. I learned to forgive her, to, sort of accept her and for her to accept how important my friends were to me and how much love I had in my life.

It’s a story of miracles and I believe in miracles and I think if you see the miracles in life than they’re all around you all the time.

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