March 18, 2007

Yeah, I've Got Cancer. Lighten Up, Francis. It's Not Like I'm Going to Die or Anything: Part One

Well, my neglected-yet-still-uber-devoted Cake Eater Readers, I've got news.

As you might have gathered from the title of this here post, it's rather momentous news.

And not "momentous" in what most people would associate with the phrase "good way," either.

Yes. I have cancer. Not really any more, though. It's kind of confusing, so if you would like to read about trips to the ER, vaginal ultrasounds (which are not nearly as sexy as they sound), cat scans, a doctor who is a grown-up version of Cindy Lou Who (with a few doses of collagen in the lips), another doctor whose last name is, quite literally, synonymous with the word "pain", an oncologist who wears fuzzy sweaters, and a diagnosis of ovarian cancer on an operating table followed by a full blown hysterectomy, well, take the jump.

To be clear about this, first off, I have to get something off my chest. I wasn't going to tell you, my devoted Cake Eater readers, about this. This is pretty personal stuff. When I was writing this blog daily, there was a lot I told you about me. But no matter how much I told you, you didn't get to see all of my dirty laundry, ya dig? Because I wasn't going to let that happen. You saw a thong here, or a pair of granny panties there, but you never did see the particularly ratty underwear that's stayed hidden in the bottom of the undie drawer for years. That was a conscious choice, and I had no hassles with not sharing it with you: I'm not an exhibitionist after all. There is a line between the private and the public.

But now there's this.

I've thought long and hard about throwing this particularly soiled peignoir out into the vastness of the world wide web, for the consumption of the masses. I mean, for Chrissakes, I don't have a reproductive system anymore---I don't know how it could get more personal than that. You could see why I'd be hesitant, eh, my devoted Cake Eater readers, to share the details of my journey here?

Here's the thing, though: I'm having a lot of trouble sleeping lately. I've been having funky dreams. And the other night's version was the last straw. The husband and I have been seriously behind the times with our Battlestar Galactica viewing. Ever since they moved it to Sunday night, we've been fucked. We can never seem to remember they moved it (Damn you, Sci Fi Channel!). So, the husband, genius that he is, went on a bittorrent frenzy and downloaded and burned to DVD the episodes we've missed. The other night, we watched the episode where Chief becomes the big union boss all over again and while it didn't mean more to me at the time than just an hour's worth of entertainment, it apparently got into my psyche and I dreamed about it. In my dream, Chief told me, in a very sympathetic way, that he was really sorry, but I was now obsolete and that it simply wasn't worth it to the fleet to fix me. He walked away, shaking his head, and rejoined Callie (who annoys me to no end) who was shooting me sympathetic glances. I laid there, on a gurney, in the middle of the hanger, the funky lighting doing absolutely nothing for my already pale complexion, and I was stunned. I thought I was worth repairing. I thought Chief would think so, too, as he's generally a pretty sympathetic guy when it comes to broken stuff. Alas, this was not the case. Then I woke up. In a sweat, but that's another story entirely.

You could perhaps see where I would draw the conclusion that confession is good for the soul from that, eh? I need to be able to rest, undisturbed, right now. I HAVE to be able to do this, or I WILL NOT GET WELL. And I have to get well because I ain't done with all of this yet. So, if I have to dump some of this baggage to be able to rest, well, here seems as good a place to do it as any other. Privacy be damned, I guess.

So, sit right back and let me tell you a tale that, I can assure you, does not include a three hour cruise.

The Saturday after Valentine's Day, we were scheduled to have our bathroom light fixture replaced. I was pretty stoked about this because it'd been on the fritz for over a month, which meant, in our postage stamp sized bathroom, we had to have a freakin' floor lamp in there to see what we were doing. And it didn't really give off enough light so I didn't slice my legs to ribbons when I shaved. Our landlord recently moved to Ohio, so it had taken some time to get this organized, and of course there had been some setbacks, this being the Cake Eater pad, as longtime readers will be able to confirm for the n00bs. But, finally, the electrician was there to replace the thing. And it was fortunate for me that, for once in my long lifetime of watching , the guy knew exactly what he was doing and was quick about it, because about fifteen minutes into the installation, I began having some serious pain in my abdomen and I just wanted him to be gone from my house so I could suffer in privacy.

I knew what the pain was. Or at least I thought I did. I thought it was a gallbladder attack. I'd had two in the month of January and they were not pleasant little things to endure. They basically consisted of seriously sharp pain on my right hand side that I couldn't sleep through, couldn't get comfortable enough to be able to ignore, and just had to wait, in abject misery, until they had run their course.

You are, of course, wondering why, if they were so bad, I didn't run to the ER then. Well, because I had already run to the ER the first time I'd suffered through the first of these, last spring, and they'd told me nothing because, of course, the pain stopped the moment I stepped foot into the ER waiting room. They said it was probably either a kidney stone or a particularly hard piece of bowel that was passing through my intestines that caused the pain. Then they let me go, none the wiser. I didn't have another attack until January, and after that, I researched and it looked like it was a gallbladder problem. The pieces of the puzzle fit. I fully realize I should have gone to a doctor then, but alas, when you live in Entrepreneurial Hell (TM), there is no such thing as "health insurance." You are "self-pay" and if I could avoid another $500 visit to the ER to learn absolutely NOTHING, well, I was going to do so. I got better after the attack and was able to go about my daily business once I'd recovered. If it got really serious, well, then I'd go to the doctor.

It turns out this was the equivalent of waiting for the already lit low-oil light on your car to start flashing, to tell you to hot-foot it to the mechanic, when it was never designed to do that in the first place.

After one more attack in January, I was fine until that weekend in February. Then I'd had enough. After writhing around on the bed for a half hour, waiting for the pain to lessen, the husband asked me if I wanted to go to a doctor and this time I said "yes." I'd had it. No more suffering simply to keep the bills down. We got down to the hospital (fortunately, we live very near to a very good one), I was put into a wheelchair, and was able to leapfrog over all the other people (geriatrics mostly) waiting to get into a room. They poked, they prodded, they gave me an IV (my first ever) and some lovely, lovely morphine to quell the pain. They then Cat Scanned me (no House MRI of Dooooom here) and they found a mass in my lower left abdomen that needed to be looked at with the ultrasound, for greater specificity. So, after wheeling me in my bed from the ER to the Cat Scan and then back again, I was wheeled back down to the ultrasound room. Where I endured a normal ultrasound, with the gel across the belly, and the vaginal ultrasound, which is exactly what it sounds like, but I'm not going to get into that with you people. Suffice it to say, there was lots and lots of K-Y in attendance. Bleech.

So, I'd been wheeled the length and breadth of the hospital twice, and when you're in bed, it's really not that bad of a deal. But for the most part, like the rest of the day, the husband and I were left alone in our little room. I was able to rest a little bit and the husband was even able to check his email a few times on the hospital's computer in my ER room. That's when the consulting OB-GYN was called in to explain to me that what was causing all the problems was a ten centimeter mass on my left ovary. What was happening, in essence, was that every now and again, the mass would cause my ovary to twist over on itself, or what they call ovarian torsion. This was the cause of the pain.

The consulting OB-GYN was a pretty nice guy, who was very enthusiastic about his work (you could tell he enjoyed what he did for a living, but not in a creepy way) and he said I was going to have to have surgery to remove the cyst. He didn't think it was cancerous, but just in case he wanted to have a gynecological oncologist on hand when he did remove it because the minute he didn't, well, Murphy's Law would kick in and it would be cancerous and he'd have to close me up and we'd have to start all over again.

I have great respect for a doctor who, in turn, has respect for Murphy's Law.

You see, the thing with ovarian cysts is, if they do turn out to be cancerous, you have to have a gynecologic oncologist present at the surgery because, well, it's dangerous not to. If the cyst turns out to be cancerous, and it explodes, or leaks fluid or whatever during removal, the cancer will spread to whatever it leaks on. It's a given. And that's why you want a gynecologic oncologist on call---because if it looks dodgy, well, they're the people to deal with it. But the surgery looked like it could wait, because I wasn't in too much pain anymore, which was a good thing because the gynecologic oncologist wasn't available. So, they sent me home with a prescription for some vicodin and instructions to call this doctor's office on Monday to schedule the surgery. It was going to be fine, he assured me. It didn't "feel like cancer" to him, and to be honest, he was more worried about the fact it was going to have to be a vertical incision, rather than a horizontal one and he seemed concerned that I might be concerned about that. Pshaw. As if I wear bikinis in the first place. If I was lucky, it would be a simple cystectomy and that would be that. At worst, well, he thought I might lose my left ovary (what they call an oopherectomy) but even so, it didn't really matter all that much because, according to the doctor, one ovary is really and truly all you need. I'd still be able to have children and all would be well. The worst case scenario, the one he really didn't talk about all that much because he didn't think it was going to happen, was that if they got in there and they found cancer, they might have to give me a full hysterectomy. He didn't think that would happen, because, again, "it didn't feel like cancer" to him. He was sure I'd be fine and that my fertility would be saved.

Well, it didn't really turn out that way. It went worst case scenario and it did so in a hurry.

Fast forward to the following Thursday. This is when the surgery has been scheduled for, and, because of scheduling reasons, I now have a new surgical OB-GYN, who is actually younger than I am and is an adult version of Cindy Lou Who, from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas---all blonde hair, big blue eyes and a big ol' pout. We have a consultative meeting the day before the surgery and she's not as optimistic as the first doctor. She's fairly certain I'm going to lose my left ovary, just because she doesn't want to mess around with the cyst, because of the attendant risks listed above. She explains what will happen: I will be put under, and she will start with the taking of samples from the cyst and the left ovary: frozen sections will be done on these samples when I'm under and if they come back as being negative for cancer, she will proceed with the oopherectomy, and that will be that---it shouldn't take more than forty-five minutes. If, however, they find cancer in the frozen sections, that's when the oncologist will show up to start removing my ovaries, my fallopian tubes, my uterus, my omentum...and a cyst in a pear tree. She assures me it probably won't be all that bad, that I'll just lose an ovary and things will be fine. But she wants me to take the CA-125 screening test for ovarian cancer just so she has a pre-surgery measurement, and then I'm done and she'll see me tomorrow.

So, I go home and prepare to deal with the first surgery of my life and my first hospital stay ever. I also clean out my intestines by chugging two bottles of magnesium citrate (available over the counter at your local pharmacy!) or "Colon Blow" as the husband dubbed it. Two words: not recommended. The husband is optimistic and sleeps like a baby. Worn out from my exertions in the lavatory, I manage to get a bit of sleep as well. The next morning, we arrive and the hospital and get checked in. The husband is handed a beeper and a list of instructions on where to go and who to call should it go off. He's shown the nifty computerized monitoring system which will be how he finds out when I'm out of surgery and in my room. They do one more pregnancy test on me, because, even though I tell them I haven't had sex since the last one, "they can't take my word for it." Sheesh. They type and cross my blood in case I need to be transfused during surgery. I tell them I'm A+, that what's the point of giving blood if not to learn that crucial bit of information, but they can't take my word for that, either. And, when it's all said and done, and my clothes have been bagged, I'm led to the pre-op station in my hospital issued gown, circulation tights, booties and bathrobe. I'm led to a small curtained off alcove, told to climb into the bed, and now it's just a matter of waiting to get this show on the road. Then I'm informed by my surgeon: our operating room has been hijacked by someone with a gallbladder on the rampage. Great. The anxiety level ramps up a wee bit. Fortunately, the husband is there to keep me sane. He jokes, he chats, he holds my hand and tells me it'll all be over with sooner than I realize. The pre-op nurse goofs my IV and someone else has to make a second attempt. I'm not really happy about all this, but I'm trying not to panic. Panic, I know, won't do anyone any good. I just wanted to get the thing over with, that's all.

Then the surgeon comes over again and tells me she got the CA-125 test results back. I'm at 1245. Which is not a good number when it comes right down to it. You'd rather be at 400 rather than at 1245.

That's when I allow myself a moment of brief, abject panic. I freak right out. Hands go to the mouth. Shivers run up the spine. Dread breaks out all over, like an instant allergic reaction. The doctor reassures me that all is not lost, that while it's not ideal, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm one big hunk of cancerous material. They just won't know until they get in there. The husband does his best to back up the doctor. They flank me with their reassurances and I know I don't have any other option right now but to surrender to their good will.

They manage to get me calmed down and a few minutes after the doctor walks away, my anesthesia nurse shows up and starts asking me the same questions that the anesthesiologist asked a few moments before. And the next thing I know, the process that was taking way entirely too long is now moving, and it's going way too fast. We're ready to go. I kiss the husband goodbye and he tells me he loves me and that I'll see him soon. I tell him to make sure he calls my mother and tells her that the surgery has been delayed. He promises to do so.

I look at the clock and it's close to ten after one. Forty-five minutes and this will all be over with. Just forty-five minutes and I'll be cyst-free!

Then I'm wheeled away and I'm out like a light.

I awake and it's obvious that something is off. I hurt. A lot. My vision is blurry and I can tell I'm not going to come out of the fog I've found myself in any time soon. My hand goes to my face. It's leaden, but it moves. That's good, at least. My glasses aren't there, but there is something there. Something rubbery that I'm not strong enough to move away; I simply don't have the strength. It is an oxygen mask. I cry out, feebly, asking for my glasses. The same nurse who goofed my IV earlier comes over, finds them and puts them on my face. I see a clock on the wall opposite me and while I'm incapable of comprehending the exact time, I know it's somewhere around seven. I can only assume that it's p.m. and not a.m.

I know without having to be told that this is not good. And the nurse confirms it when I ask. The words that come out of his mouth are fuzzy, blurry, like the world looks like when my glasses aren't on. But I latch onto one that I understand: hysterectomy.

That I had a positive diagnosis for ovarian cancer the same time I had my reproductive system cut out of me, oddly enough, doesn't need to be mentioned. It's just there, whether I want it to be or not. It won't be until days later, when the pathology report comes back, that, even though I will be feeling the worst I've ever felt in my thirty-six years on this planet, I will realize that I am actually now cancer-free for the first time in a while, even though I'd had no idea I had it in the first place.

Next up in Part Two: Why a week in the hospital is really not that dream vacation you've been hoping for. Even if you've got a morphine machine, percoset and all the jell-o you can eat. Illustrated!

Topics that will be covered in later installments: Why menopause is not your friend; Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I haven't been doing a damn thing, why am I so freakin' tired!; the ultimate weight loss plan!; and, everyone's favorite, casserole hell.

Posted by Kathy at March 18, 2007 11:53 PM | TrackBack


You are a brave, strong, and wonderful woman. Please dump away. Jettison that negative baggage and give yourself room to heal.

My thoughts and prayers are with you. I send you my strength and offer you everything I can.

Bless you, lady.

Posted by: Chrissy at March 19, 2007 06:25 AM

You, ma'am, are a trooper. Quite frankly, I'm certain that I would not manage to write of such things with grace and humor. You astound me yet again, Kathy. I don't know what else to say except that you're in my thoughts and that if you ever need to vent offline, please let me know!

Get better soon!

Posted by: zonker at March 19, 2007 07:01 AM

if only the rest of us could be as strong as you. you are and always will be an inspiration, aunt Kathy.

my thoughts and prayers and hugs and fishes,
da blogniece

Posted by: amelie at March 19, 2007 07:22 AM

You are probably the most amazing person I've ever had the privilege of knowing. Quite frankly, your strength and ability to laugh and joke at this humbles me. I, too, will offer up a shoulder to cry on or someone to scream at.

I am so very glad that you are on the mend. It just sucks that it happened. Not that I need to tell you.

I'll be thinking positive recuperative thoughts for you and sending my own strength as well.

Posted by: Phoenix at March 19, 2007 08:39 AM

I heart you, Kathy.

Posted by: agent bedhead at March 19, 2007 08:51 AM

I haven't been over here near as often as I should. My thoughts and prayers are with you and I hope you have a speedy recovery.

Posted by: oddybobo at March 19, 2007 09:29 AM

Kathy, I'm so sorry about your news. I am sending postive thoughts your way and hope that your recuperation passes quickly.

Lots of love!


Posted by: rp at March 19, 2007 09:34 AM

Best wishes for a speedy recovery - both physical and emotional!

Posted by: beth at March 19, 2007 10:40 AM

Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery Kathy.

Posted by: chad the elder at March 19, 2007 11:37 AM

Kathy, I just don't know what to say. I'm glad you're still with us, but I'm sorry for your losses. You and the Hubby will need to be strong, and I'll be prayin' for the both of you.

Posted by: Russ from Winterset at March 19, 2007 12:16 PM

I'm glad you're coming through this. I heart you too.

Posted by: caltechgirl at March 19, 2007 01:43 PM

What Oddybobo said... And prayers for healing headed your way.

Posted by: Richmond at March 19, 2007 03:05 PM

Sending you all my love [HUGS]

Posted by: Ith at March 19, 2007 07:27 PM

well obviously they didnt take away your snarkiness

hugs, prayers and respect

Posted by: Jane at March 19, 2007 07:29 PM

Well, THAT'S a good reason to blow off blogging! :-)

Kathy, this just takes my breath away.

I'll bet you never realized how strong you are, did you? It's certainly a life-altering event, and I'm SURE you'll look back on it as a blessing in disguise in due time, if you haven't already. We all do. Contemplating the real worst-case scenario (not having found it when they did, and the consequences) kind of puts everything in the world in perspective.

Wear that scar proudly, Kathy--it's your battle scar, and you won! Know that you're in my thoughts and prayers for you to not feel sleepless, but empowered by this. The worst is behind you!


Posted by: Beth at March 19, 2007 08:24 PM


Reading through your post, I felt afraid and I felt pain for you. You are not alone as evidenced by the comments here already. You are in my prayers - it's evident someone is watching over you and sounds like hubby is a great support. Take care and as Beth said "you've won!" God bless!

Posted by: Merri at March 19, 2007 10:05 PM

Kiddo, I've sort of been where you are, but not really -- they merely cut out p/o heart and lung, not my balls. So I haven't been where you're at, at all. All I can really offer is this: give it time. Take it, literally, one day at a time. One hour. One minute, if that's all your mind and body will allow for the moment. While all of this came down fast & furious, it will take a good long while for the psyche to catch up. And that dream you described up there? Sounds like lots of my waking moments in the CCU while on morphine and all the other crap they were giving me (and you). Once again, time may be the key to recovering from the shock. Once the stitches are more stable, do a Norman Cousins and start watching old comedies. Makes all the difference in the world...

Posted by: wil at March 20, 2007 04:45 AM

Wow. Kathy, what a nightmare to go through. If you have xm radio, start listening to the comedy channel - 150 - the dirty one, not the clean one.

Hugs and prayers for you, Kathy.

Oh, and the menopause thing is really not that evil, just have two or three fresh pj's next to the bed, because chances are, you will soak through at least one a night. Remember, they are not hot flashes, they are power surges!

Posted by: Beth Donovan at March 20, 2007 06:11 AM

Thinking of you and wishing you well here in Alabama.

Posted by: c.a. Marks at March 20, 2007 06:40 AM

Sooooooo proud of You!


Posted by: Mom at March 20, 2007 06:53 AM

Kathy - Wow! What everybody else said with knobs on. (Well, except about the menopause thingy, on which I really am unqualified to opine.)

Prayers and good karma and a heapin' helpin of Llama yips! to you!!

Posted by: Robbo the Llama Butcher at March 20, 2007 07:35 AM


Everything Robbo said, but turned to 11. Because that's one more than ten.

And what Beth said. One of my favorite college professors came down with a very critical melanoma - the nasty dangerous kind, not the trendy fun kind. He had his wife bring him a steady stream of the funniest VHS tapes she could find. He vouches for it.

Anyway, prayers and wishes and all the best. Hang in there.

Posted by: Mitch Berg at March 20, 2007 09:07 AM

In actuality your post had a calm clarity about it possibly not seen in many of us. Jane and I send you are prayers and an optimistic outlook for the future.

Posted by: Ed at March 20, 2007 09:26 AM

Christina sent me over. I just wanted to let you know even those you don't know are thinking of you.

"It didn't "feel like cancer" to him..."

That's the dermatologist said to me before he found out it was a malignant melanoma. Of course that was 20 years ago and with the skin surgery (way less invasive than yours) I haven't had any other problems with it.

I wish I'd had a blog back then :-) it's good to know other people are pulling for you. As for menopause, I'm working on that right now. I know exactly what you mean.

Hang in there, you're gonna be great!

Posted by: Teresa at March 20, 2007 10:48 PM

You're in my prayers. A heartfelt hug,

Posted by: Fausta at March 21, 2007 05:08 AM

Thinking of you and praying for you. Odds are that you will beat this, because it's clear you haven't lost your sense of humor.

Very, very awkward, this is, but since you are in entrepeneurial insurance hell, could you let us know if you need a bloggo bake sale?

Posted by: MaxedOutMama at March 21, 2007 06:43 AM

I just wanted to add that I'm sorry about the sterilization aspect as well. It's a lot for any woman to absorb psychologically, much less the other.

Posted by: MaxedOutMama at March 21, 2007 06:45 AM

That noise you hear, dear lady, is the doffing of a large number of hats by friends known and not.

Posted by: Bleepless at March 21, 2007 08:29 PM

You are a strong woman. I can only concur with what everyone else has written. If it isn't too awkward to say... I look forward to reading further installments...

I hope that you are recovering well and you are in my thoughts.

Posted by: The Maximum Leader at March 23, 2007 08:19 PM

Kathy - Your spirit is astonishing. You're in my prayers.

Posted by: The Anchoress at March 26, 2007 12:42 PM

Kathy, you are in our prayers.

Posted by: LMC at April 11, 2007 10:15 PM