While making my boys a follow-up appointment at Children’s this morning, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the date made me nervous. Then I remembered, “Oh crap, it was that day 2 years ago when ‘the mass’ was found.” I love that term, “the mass.” It makes my cancer sound like some sort of nebulous blob that could be just about anything when it was really a “malignant neoplasm of the left ovary” (the technical term for my ovarian cancer tumor). I’m really not sure which term is worse since I have an intense dislike of both. Being a writer, I suppose, makes me prefer the “malignant neoplasm of the left ovary” since it is simple and completely explains what it was.
I have said that I knew my NMLO (my shorthand for the mass) was cancer as soon as it was found. I was never in denial about my cancer. I was, however, in denial about needing surgery. Funny how the hysterectomy and oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) scared me worse than having cancer. I was TERRIFIED of general anesthesia. I was sure I was going to die from it. Now I realize I should have been much more scared of the pulmonary embolism that nearly killed me after surgery and the chemotherapy that was to follow. I suppose that I had accepted the fact I had cancer, but dealing with a total loss of control while under anesthesia was more than my little brain could handle. In fact, the Monday before my surgery, I practically begged my friend Kelley to agree to homeschool my boys if I died. Fortunately, Kelley is levelheaded and, at that point at least, was not as close a friend as she’s become now. Her levelheadedness, prayers and constant texts of Bible verses kept me sane. Sanity now tends to come and go.
While some people have asked why I thought I got cancer, I’ve realized the question is “Why didn’t I get it sooner?” With all the fertility drugs, stress, lack of exercise, lousy diet and later in life use of birth control pills (to regulate my cycles), I should have been sick a lot earlier than I was. Actually I was sick before I got diagnosed, but no one listened. Now, I have this insane need to be constantly reassured that how my body feels is, in fact, normal after having had cancer.
Normal, however, is a relative term. Aside from my oft referenced neuropathy in my hands and feet, I have intermittent bone pain (thanks to the carboplatin which caused heavy metal damage to the bones), lymphedema that causes swelling in my legs and ankles (thanks to the removal of 36 lymph nodes during my debulking surgery), hydronephrosis which is a fancy way of saying that my kidney doesn’t drain completely into the ureter (thank you chemo), clotting issues (from the pulmonary embolism), eye problems (again thank you chemo) and a whole host of other things that are too minimal or insignificant to mention. Oh, and let’s not forget the ever present chemo brain.
I really thought that I wouldn’t be writing a laundry list like this until I was at least 75. Who’d of thought I’d be writing it 25 years early (okay a bit more than 25 years. The big 5-0 doesn’t come until next month). I forget that this is due to the fact that I was a “young” cancer patient in terms of ovarian cancer. Most ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed in their 60’s. Such are the joys and trials of being an overachiever.
Actually, I’ve spent a great deal of the last two years beating myself up for falling victim to cancer. If only I’d stayed at a healthy weight. What if I hadn’t been so bent on getting pregnant? What did my husband and sons do to deserve a wife and mom who is no longer all together? The last one weighs heavy because cancer tears you completely apart. You stop being who you were and become this person who wears the mask of living happily in remission while living in your own private hell of what ifs. Personally I’d rather be the blissfully unaware as I was two years ago than the teeth on edge, acutely aware individual I am now.
And I’m not saying this for sympathy. Please don’t remark how good I look or how strong I am. This is my reality. Some people dislike this reality and just want to think that once you’re done with treatment you’re done. You’re not. You’re NEVER DONE. If I’m blessed to be able to be 25 years cancer free, I still won’t be done. And I’m smart enough to know that ovarian cancer is definitely a numbers game. It’s one of those cancers that your survival percentage doesn’t continue to climb as you continue. It kind of levels off at 10 years with a 35-40% chance of lasting another 5 years without an incident, then it hangs at 25% for another 5 years and declines from there. I’m not a gambler, but I realize that the odds are not in my favor.
Being a realist has nothing to do with my faith. My faith carried and continues to carry me through life. I truly believed God would heal me from my cancer and He did. He just didn’t do it the way I wanted Him to, but He was faithful. He will continue to be faithful to me. I just don’t harbor any illusions. Cancer’s part of our world and I live in it. I know that my next life will be cancer free and that’s enough.
So with yet another CT looming in the future, another 3 month lab test and pelvic exam, and my 50th birthday looming on the horizon, I’ve come to terms with what ovarian cancer is. It’s an invasion. It invades your life, turns it upside down and leaves destruction and confusion in its wake. It also lets you know who really loves you, who’s there for you, who loves your children like you do and who will just hold you and let you cry. The invasion is terrifying, the war is brutal and the aftermath is traumatic. But I’m still standing and that’s a good thing.