Labor Day weekend I had visions of creating one last day of fun before Dan and I headed back to school and the kids got caught up in all of their fall activities. Instead I woke up in pain—a lot of pain actually. After realizing I really couldn’t walk because I had so much abdominal pain, I decided to head over to the ER. The worst case scenario was that I thought they would send me home with a diagnosis of a tummy ache and in best case scenario they would have something to dull the pain until my doctor was back in the office. I didn’t post anything on Facebook or even call my mom because I figured it would be as quick of a trip as you can get in the emergency room on a Sunday.
Fast forward a few hours after some bloodwork, CTscan, and an ultrasound and Dan and I were sitting listening to the doctors explain that I had a fist-sized mass on my left ovary that they were convinced was cancerous. They were so convinced in fact that no one locally would operate, and they started to talk about chemo and radiation options. Once I was settled into my hospital room, another specialist came in to review the test results with us. By that point, I was getting IV narcotics every hour to control the pain so my mind wasn’t the clearest, but my fear was.
I can say with absolute certainty that my fear was never really about me. I never had a thought over something I wish I had done or still planned to do. My fear was for my children; would they remember me, would they be able to stay together with Dan, how would they handle the mommy moments that are sure to come up in their lives? And to be honest my fear was overwhelming; so overwhelming that I ended up with a dose of happy medicine because I lost the ability to breathe.
The happy medicine did its job, I guess. Before anyone asks, yes I did have a lovely conversation with the friendliest squirrel who was hanging out in my room and said squirrel may or may not have been pink. And yes I had some incredibly stupid drugged-Jennifer moments. I end up with a concussion from falling because I was determined I could go to the bathroom by myself. I got alarms put on my bed because I didn’t particularly like calling for help when I needed to get up, and I did my usual amount of apologizing to any and all staff. But nothing—hourly narcotics, pain pump, or pink squirrels--did anything to quell the fear and absolute sadness for my kids that I felt. I thought about how we would break the news to Ryley and what death fears it would bring up again for Caden.
The next day I was being transferred to Mayo-Rochester because they have a gynecological cancer unit. Transport was backed up so I asked Dan to go home and get the kids so that I could see them before I left. In a stroke of bad luck, transport moved ahead of schedule and instead of having time to talk to the kids and visit with them, they walked in the same time as the paramedics. By this point, the kids knew my mother was flying in, and while Caden was just excited grandma was coming, Ryley knew that this was not just an ordinary stomach surgery. Now I had the guilt of leaving her without a proper conversation on top of the feelings I’ve already told you about.
The first night at Mayo was one of the loneliest times of my life. Geographically I wasn’t all that far from home, but emotionally I was in a strange hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses I didn’t know without anyone with me. Insult to injury, due to an accidental drug overdose on the part of the transport staff I wasn’t able to call Dan nor was he able to get any information about me because I couldn’t give consent for staff to talk to him. Lonely and afraid doesn’t make the best combination in the world, but eventually I thought to ask the nurse to give me my little travel bag that the kids had packed for me and was able to enjoy my pillow pet from Ryley and lovely rocks from Caden.
Tuesday morning my mom and Dan were able to come up to visit with me for a bit before surgery. Pre-op was surreal; for the first time ever I couldn’t answer who my doctor was when they asked because I really and truly didn’t know. I remember trying to plan how I would react to whatever news I received in recovery, and at the same time knew the reaction would just be whatever it was.
I was lucky, very very lucky. Even though the mass was fist sized and they had to remove quite a bit of fluid along with the mass, it wasn’t cancer. What I find odd now, though, is that they stated it wasn’t cancer and then whispered “but you are in surgically induced instant menopause” all in the same breath, and somehow the menopause was made to sound worse. No further information was given, but the next day the doctor told me she would call in a hormone replacement therapy patch, and that if I had an troubles to call her and she would up the dose. A follow-up visit with my own doctor yielded pretty much the same hush-hush information. I’m confused by the taboo over menopause “at my age” but that’s another post for another day.
Now I’m trying to recover, and I have to say my body is doing so much faster than my mind. My mind is still trying to comprehend how we went from a simple ER visit to the possibility of cancer, how a quick trip turned into a medical transport, and how the holiday ended up in the operating room. More than all of that is the disbelief that this huge, ugly, dangerous mass was growing inside of me and I didn’t know. And then there’s the lingering fear and pain; the drama is over and done with, but you don’t get to just forget those mommy thoughts. Mommy fears are the stuff nightmares are made of. They are the kind of thing that makes you re-examine every interaction you have with your children, ever have had, and ever will. It’s the kind of thing that makes you re-prioritize what quality time means and how precious every hug and kiss really is.