Yesterday I had a thorough ultrasound look at my pancreas, liver, spleen, bile duct, gall bladder, uterus and ovaries. It took about an hour with technician Becky and a lot of slimy goo and probing and “deep breath and hold.” We shared our respective histories with breast cancer—me thirty years out, she five years out.
A call from my doctor’s office came not two hours later. I have a slightly enlarged right ovary. It could be an ovarian cyst. I’ve been referred to a gynecologist.
We’ll see where this leads.
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March 25. I saw gynecologist Dr. Kasper yesterday, the luck of the draw from my doctor’s referral throught the network. Her first name is Kelly and she looks like a Princeton grad—slim and fit, long blond hair. She seems nice.
She said with my history of breast cancer, she recommends removing both my ovaries. They look grainy and calcified. I wondered if that was because chemo fried them when I was 40, but she said no.
The procedure is simple, she says—three small cuts in my abdomen and the insertion of a laproscope to excise the questionable body parts. I was concerned about disruption to my landscaping business. She said I could lift 40 pound bags of manure the next day if I wanted to, but that I might be a little sore.
The surgery sounds like a good idea, and minimally invasive, but if I can postpone it until after garderning season I'd like to. We agreed to order CA125 blood test to see if that provides a clue on how urgent the surgery might be.
The results are supposed to be available today. I’m waiting for the call.
David and I just remembered we have a reason to celebrate. It’s our 48th wedding anniversary.
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March 27. The blood test results are in, and they’re good. 13 in the normal range of 0 to 35. Yay! Dr. Kasper says with such a low reading we could just monitor with an occasional ultrasound. But by now I’m eager to get rid of the offending grainy almond-sized apparatuses. They served me well in their time, but I don’t want them ever again to cause me worry. Sign me up for the surgery. Bye bye ovaries!
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May 28. Pre-op testing and a hundred and one questions about my health history. Weight, vital signs, a baseline EKG. And some instructions.
My surgery is a week hence, at 2:30 in the afternoon. I’m not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before, except I can take my routine pills with a sip of water. Also, I’m to shower with four ounces of chlorhexidine antibacterial solution before bed. I’m to wear clean pajamas and make up the bed with clean bedclothes, then shower again in the morning with the same solution. They want me squeaky clean for my procedure.
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June 3. David and I share a bottle of champagne with our steak dinner and watch a soothing episode of Rosemary & Thyme on Netflix. We change the sheets. I lather up in the shower with the red liquid antiseptic and slip into my clean pajamas for a good night’s sleep. I read the final chapter of Maisy Dobbs. All is ready.
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June 4. It’s surgery day! I try to sleep as late as possible (to keep my stomach from grumbling) and spend the morning in my jammies at my computer, tying up loose ends. At 11:30 a.m. I take the second shower with the delightful red liquid, and try not to think about the possibility of a staph infection, which is no doubt the reason for such precautions, and we’re out the door at noon.
We arrive at the Outpatient Sugery reception desk precisely at 12:30 and hunker down to wait for the nurse to call us back. Yikes, I forgot to order mulch for a landscaping project next Monday. I dial up SoilMakers and ask for 20 yards to be delivered at a specified address in West Lafayette. Their truck holds nine yards max, so we settle on 18 yards. Now what kind of mulch did I want? Oops here comes the nurse to fetch me. Okay AA hardwood mulch. What time do I want the delivery? This as the nurse directs me to step on the scale. I explain to the SoilMaker lady that I’m just going into surgery and promise to call her back. Yikes, I also forgot to tell the wholesale nursery when to deliver the 2-inch caliper trees for a project next Thursday. No time now. Gotta clear my mind for the job at hand.
David and I are ushered into our pre-op waiting chamber and are joined presently by my friend Margaret who just wanted to be there with me today. Nurse Heather gives me a plastic bag to put my clothes in and no fewer than three packets of antiseptic wipes that she wants me to scrub my body with before donning the charming cotton gown they’ve provided for me. I’m counting on all this cleanliness to ward off the dreaded staph germs.
I give up my rings, my earrings, and my eyeglasses. A smiling technician installs an IV line in my left wrist. She’s from the Beijing area and has lived in the States for nine years.
Then commences a veritable parade of doctors, nurses, and technicians politely introducing themselves and each asking me questions. First question is always what procedure I’m here for, and they’re satisfied when I say “having my ovaries out” because that agrees with the oophorectomy specified on their paperwork. The remaining questions are largely the same: When did you last eat or drink? 11:30 last night. Do you have any stents or implants (no), skin issues (just a little poison ivy on my wrist), allergies (penicillin, it makes my face break out in a rash), diabetes (no), heart problems (no), can I walk up two lights of stairs without shortness of breath (well, sort of).
Dr. Kasper comes in to review the procedure with me and explain the risks (death, among others). I barely recognize her in her surgical garb, her blond ponytail covered by a blue mesh cap. I ask her if while she’s in my abdomen she could do a little liposuction. No can do, she says (well, she could, but that would cost extra). I tell her I’d like to look at my ovaries, especially the one with the cyst. No can do either, but she does agree to take photos for me. Good, I say, so I can share them on Facebook.
This prompts a story from Dr. Kasper about her son being badly injured while playing lacrosse. She carries a suture kit in her car, so she proceeded to stitch up the gash in his leg right there on the field with the team clustered about. How cool was that!! Her son of course shared pictures of the repairs on Instagram. We had a good laugh over what an impressive mom she was.
Between visits from hospital staff, I’m hugely entertained by my friend Margaret who tells of her recent travels to visit family in North Carolina and the circuitous route she used to avoid the scary mountain roads in West Virginia on her return trip. Margaret was my jazz and tap dance teacher for years, and we’ve become fast friends. She offers a foot massage, which I willingly accept. Her own feet have taken a beating from all the years of dance, and she knows how to make feet feel good. We talk on, and the subject of food keeps coming up, one of our standard topics of conversation—my stomach is grumbling hugely by now, and Margaret keeps apologizing for bringing up the subject. David, meanwhile, is silent, absorbed in learning how to use his new iPhone. Good that we had entertainment, because our wait ends up being three hours long.
At long last, they come to take me into surgery. Someone pulls up the rails of my hospital bed and wheels me down the long hall into the operating theater. There I meet another cast of characters who have been preparing the room for me. The room looks squeaky clean, and I marvel at the huge lamps hanging from the ceiling to illuminate the sugical action. There’s no time to linger over details, however. I crawl over onto the narrow sugical bed and a seat belt snaps over my hips to keep me from rolling off. A nice man bends over me so I’m seeing him upside down and introduces himself, “Hi, I’m Dr. Reddy.” How appropriate, I think, because I’m READY too, to get this over with!
Dr. Reddy injects a little something into my IV line to make me relax. I’m not nervous, really. This is an adventure. And next comes the little something that will put me out. I can feel it beginning to work, like a magical glow in my brain….
…and I realize I’ve come awake. Must be in the recovery room. Behind curtained partitions I can hear the person to my left groaning, and the guy on my right asking over and over to see his wife and son. I don’t feel any pain or discomfort, wrapped in warm blankets and nodding in and out of consciousness.
It’s over. My ovaries are out. They served me well, helping to produce two beautiful sons more than forty years ago. These once fecund egg-bearers are on their way to Pathology. Dr. Kasper will call in a couple of day with the results.
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June 9. These few days since my procedure have been a trip! My abdomen is achy as you’d expect, and I have glorious bruises to the right and left, but other aches and pains have come out of nowhere—my shoulders, the deltoids, are killing me! The nurse says it may be because they had to inject air into my abdomen to be able to see what they were doing, and that trapped air migrated to the top of my body, causing the shoulder pain. Whatever the cause, that pain was worse than the pain in my surgical site.
I amused myself the other day by watching the procedure done on YouTube (not mine, somebody else’s). First they fried the tissue with a heat clamp—you could see it bubbling! Then they severed the tissue with clippers. Fascinating! Today I’m feeling more like myself again, with little pain and finally a regular bowel movement. I just have to be careful not to lift anything over 10 pounds. Life is returning to normal.
And oh yeah, the pathology report came back negative for cancer cells. Which means this was not a life-changer, but just a bump in the road. I can’t complain about that!