On Parenting: Cherishing Motherhood Pt. 2
"You have a lot going on," my doctor said, pulling up a seat so she was facing me. I knew from her expression this wasn't going to be the easy fix for which I had hoped. "The ultrasound shows some concerns, including a growth on your left ovary."
I stared at her, not quite knowing what to make of this information. She glanced down at my chart. After a moment, she continued.
"This could mean any number of things. Unfortunately, we are going to have to run some more tests, and this will most likely mean surgery, perhaps a full hysterectomy. I'm going to refer you to a gynecological oncologist."
At that moment, my brain shut down. An oncologist? Cancer? My hands twisted in my lap.
"Are you ok?" My doctored asked, reaching for my hand.
I nodded and swallowed, wishing my husband was by my side.
"I'm going to do a uterine biopsy now, and we're going to draw blood to check for any cancer markers. I'd like you to follow up with a CT-scan of your ovary so we can see what's going on there."
The rest of the appointment was a blur. I lay on the table as my doctor scraped cells from my uterus. I felt a deep contraction across my abdomen, but the pain was nothing compared to the thoughts that raced through my head. I barely talked as they drew my blood, and my doctor promised to be in touch the minute the results came in.
"We'll meet together at the end of my day," she said. "Bring your husband with you to the appointment. We can take all the time you need." She reached out then to hug me, a gesture that, in the midst of CoVid, spoke volumes to me.
What followed was the longest week of my life. During my darkest moments, I was sure I was dying. It made sense. My children were mostly grown. My oldest was headed to college in the fall, and my youngest was involved in her own activities most of the time. They didn't need me like they once had. I had raised them to be loving, caring, strong, and independent individuals. I had published my first novel, a dream I'd had since the 7th-grade. I was fortunate and had achieved most of what I wanted to in life. How many people could say they had accomplished their dreams?
My husband tried to calm me as we waited for the test results, but my mind kept returning to the same bleak thoughts: that my time was limited, that I wouldn't be there to see my daughters marry or have children, that my husband should remarry, that my parents were going to have to take care of me like they had when I was younger.
The day the doctor's office called, I held my phone to my ear with trembling hands. "Melissa, this is Dr. G's office. She received your biopsy results and bloodwork. Are you able to come in this afternoon?"
"Yes," I said, analyzing the tone and timbre of the nurse's voice on the other end of the line. "Did she say anything about the results?" I asked, trying to keep my own voice steady.
"She said they're not too bad," the nurse said, and for the first time in nearly seven days, I let out a breath. Not too bad . . . surely cancer, my biggest fear, would fall under the category of bad. "She can answer all your questions this afternoon."
This time when I entered the office, my husband was by my side. He held my hand as we sat and waited. Despite his reassuring presence and the conversation he made to distract me, I watched the hands on the clock tick slowly by, nervously shaking my leg. Not too bad . . . Not too bad . . . I silently repeated to myself. But did "not too bad" also mean "not too good?"
When my doctor joined us, she seemed more upbeat than at my last appointment. Another reassuring sign. She wasted no time in telling me the good news.
"So, your bloodwork came back. First of all, you are very, very anemic. But there are no markers that would indicate cancer. Everything came back normal."
My husband put his arm around me as I leaned into him, relief washing over me.
"The CT-scan confirmed that you have a benign dermoid cyst on your ovary. While the cyst is benign, it is large and continuing to grow and could eventually cause harm to the ovary, so our best course of action is to remove the left ovary.
"You also have a condition called hyperplasia. When we go in to remove the ovary, we will do a full D&C and treat the hyperplasia with an IUD. Call the office tomorrow to get on my schedule. I perform all my surgeries on Fridays, so we'll try to get you in as soon as possible."
"So I won't need a full hysterectomy?" I asked.
"No. We will remove the ovary and both fallopian tubes laparoscopically, and at the same time do the D&C. It's an outpatient procedure. You'll be home resting by that evening."
No oncologist. No overnight stay in the hospital. No early onset menopause. The fact that I needed outpatient surgery was the best news I could have received. I felt giddy as we left the office. Stepping into the afternoon sunlight, I felt like I had been given a new lease on life.
* * *
Because the surgery was not considered urgent and my condition wasn't life-threatening, I wasn't able to schedule my procedure for almost a month. Yet I was still bleeding and very anemic. My doctor prescribed different progesterone pills and scheduled two rounds of iron infusions to help build up my iron count.
I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the infusion center for my first treatment. The nurse who greeted me smiled and told me to take a seat in any of the open chairs. There was only one other patient sitting on the far side of the room. With the implications of CoVid fresh on my mind, I chose a seat some distance away. The chair was surprisingly comfortable and reclined, which was good since my treatment lasted almost two hours. Another nurse introduced herself and explained the infusion process. Even though I couldn’t see her expression behind her mask, I could tell she was smiling as she spoke to me. Her voice was gently reassuring. Once she took my blood pressure and started the IV, she asked if I wanted a pillow or blanket or anything to eat or drink. “We can dim the lights, too, if you want to close your eyes.”
“This is just like being on an airplane,” I commented.
“Only you don’t get poked and prodded on a plane,” the nurse joked. “But there’s a lot more leg room here!”
As I settled in and turned to my magazine, I was still aware of the activity in the room. Other patients arrived, and the medical staff greeted them with the familiarity of friends catching up after time apart.
“How was your weekend, Jill? Did you get to see your family?”
“How’s the new puppy? Any new pictures?"
"Did you see that movie I was telling you about? What did you think?"
I realized as I listened to the conversation around me that many of these patients were "regulars." I could tell that some of them were chronically ill, yet they were full of an appreciation for life. There was a feeling of comradery and mutual respect between the staff and the patients. While my visits to the infusion center were not necessarily "fun," they instilled in me a sense of humanity and hope that resonated in a time of so much fear and uncertainty.
As the date of my surgery approached, I started to get nervous. I kept reminding myself that it was a routine procedure and I would feel much better when it was over. The morning of the surgery, my husband drove me to the medical office. “I wish I could come in with you,” he said as we pulled into the parking lot. I wanted nothing more than for him to be by my side as well, but with the recent surge in CoVid cases, that wasn’t possible. I would be facing this alone. “I’m a big girl,” I said, leaning over to kiss him as he pulled to a stop in front of the doors. “I’ll text you with updates, and they said they’d call you when I’m in recovery.” Taking a deep breath, I entered the hospital on my own.
Just like at the infusion center, the hospital staff that greeted and helped me was warm, affectionate, and reassuring. The two female nurses who prepared me for surgery bantered like best friends as they worked on either side of my bed, instantly putting me at ease. Despite my nerves, I laughed along with them. My heart filled with such gratitude for those who work daily with patients, especially during the current pandemic when loved ones aren't able to be there for support.
In the moments I was alone, I thought about the fact that I would soon be losing a part of me that had made it possible for me to become a mother. Although my husband and I weren't planning on having any more children, it dawned on me that we couldn't now even if we wanted to. I folded my hands over my stomach, remembering the first time I saw a plus sign on a pregnancy test. I remembered feeling the first flutter of movement and realizing it was my child. I remembered lying in bed with my husband as we both watched in amazement as my stomach rolled from one side to the other. I remembered the breathless feeling of the little kicks and the pressure of my baby's fist pressing into me. My body had given me the ultimate gift, and I hadn't fully appreciated that fact until now. I mourned the loss of not only my female anatomy, but my younger self.
A week has now passed since my surgery. As I recover, my older daughter and I shop online for her college dorm. My younger daughter is gone most of the day practicing color guard for the upcoming school year (I continue to hope and pray both my girls get to have some sense of normalcy this academic year). I am aware more than ever that they are no longer the little girls that needed my help and guidance daily. They have grown into young women discovering their unique place in this world. When I first thought about writing this post, it was with the idea of warning new parents how fast childhood flies. However, my own health scare and the current state of our world has made me aware of so much more, . . . of how fast life goes, how unpredictable and uncertain it is, and how we should appreciate every moment we are given. As I face my future, I hope to never lose site of this lesson and enjoy the gift of motherhood as it continues to evolve every day.