A Placenta & Circumcision Story

You might find parts of this amusing, if you can consider ocular lymphoma (eye cancer) amusing, too.

Finding Joy in Tragedy

My former partner Zack was finally diagnosed with ocular lymphoma. We’d fought for the doctors not to ignore him or give flippant answers to why his sclera was oozing out of his eye socket. Dr. Google was right on this one and we knew it was. They eventually listened after lots of testing and said, “Yes, it is cancer.”

It’s good to know that Zack is a hilarious person, extremely vulgar with a penchant for shocking people with his sexual humor. He is a font of laughter and joy.

I adore him.


During the pre-op discussion of the surgery, one of the docs talked about using a “covering” as a scaffold for the eye cells to grow along to cover the hole that will be left after melon-balling the cancer out. (We call any kind of scooping surgery “melon-balling.”)

Hmmm… what might that scaffolding be made out of?

Doctor: Well, it will be one of two things. It will either be the foreskin of a circumcised penis… 

Me: Of a baby?!

Doctor (without acknowledging my presence): Yes.

Zack (without skipping a beat): Well, I can’t have that because then I will be cock-eyed.

Me: laughing my head off

2 Doctors: acted like they didn’t hear anything and moved on

Scaffolding 2

Zack: What’s the other choice?

Doctor: Amnion.

Me perking up: Amnion? Like amnion and chorion?

Doctor seems to hear me: Yes.

(Note: The amnion and chorion together make the amniotic sac part of the placenta.)

Me: Oh, my god! I have placentas in my freezer! I could bring swatches and see what matches Zack’s eye best!

Doctor (monotone): No. It has to come from pathology.

Zack and I: laughing and shaking our heads at how obtuse these doctors are

Zack: I choose the amnion, please.

Doctor: Noted.

As Zack and I walked out of the doctors’ office, we continued laughing and I reminded Zack that we weren’t choosing a surgeon because they laugh at our jokes, but at their skill with a scalpel.

The surgery went great and here we are 20 years later and no reoccurrence of ocular lymphoma.


I know because I know, women are never asked if they want to donate their placentas so someone with cancer might benefit from a part of it. I have scoured the consent papers and, at that time, never saw anything consenting to a donation. I doubt parents knew their son’s foreskin could also be used elsewhere in medicine. Consent, anyone?

The morning of Zack’s surgery, he and I felt it was important to take a moment and thank the mother and baby for their donation, wherever they were. We were very thankful for their gift. We have thought of them often over the years, hoping they were repaid somehow for their unknowing kindness.

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