How it all began.

Well, apparently I have cancer. The delivery of this news felt as bizarrely unexpected and unfair as having a piano fall on one’s head while walking down the street, cartoon-style: Where the heck did THAT come from?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Life can change so quickly. On a Wednesday I was sitting at my desk, devouring a salad, but by that Friday I was sitting in the waiting room of a radiology lab, struggling to swallow a disgustingly sweet and viscous solution that would reveal my inner workings to the glowing red eye of the CT scan machine. At that point, my biggest fear was that it might be appendicitis that required surgery; it didn’t even occur to me to dread anything worse.

They sent me home that afternoon without much explanation, other than the words “ruptured ovarian cyst” and “should resolve itself soon.” By Sunday  I was in such agony–after 4 days of intense abdominal cramps that had left me unable to sleep or eat, I was now getting a fever too–that we took a family trip to the emergency room. (I insisted that we wait until our toddler had woken from her afternoon nap. Fellow parents will understand: There are some terrors worse than physical pain.)

I told the intake nurse about the ovarian cyst diagnosis, not realizing I was basically waving a big red herring in front of my real problem. After declaring my vitals “ugly” (heart rate too high, blood pressure too low, white blood cell count skyrocketing, etc), the ER doctor went searching for the gynecologist on duty, who I was extremely relieved to discover was in fact my own doctor. She explained, as gently as possible, that the ultrasound showed a very large cyst or mass on my ovaries, and that she would need to operate as soon as possible.

By this point, my husband had been in the waiting room with our two-year-old daughter for about five hours. Amazingly, she was still in a great mood when he brought her back to see me and say goodnight (given a choice, I think she would have stayed in the hospital all night). When she saw the gurney I was lying on, with railings along the sides, she giggled: “Mama in crib!”

I spent the next six or seven hours just waiting, alone but fairly peaceful and grateful for a bit of privacy in the little closet of a room they had rolled me into on the periphery of the ER. Finally, around 2 AM, the operating room became available. I had to sign a consent form agreeing to have my ovaries removed if the surgeon deemed it necessary, which horrified me. I’d been planning to use those again.

When I woke up, the pain medicine was still fogging my mind enough that I couldn’t catch most of what my doctor told me. But she was smiling, and saying “Your ovaries are perfect.” And the pain was gone.

I thought the crisis had passed, but it was only beginning.

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