(Writing from February 19, 2011.)
I’ve been up since 3 a.m. Yesterday it was 4 a.m. My brain has been extra thinky since I got the news at my doctor’s appointment on Thursday.
I have been having some yucky symptoms for over two years, and have been getting what I call the Little Lady Treatment about them from assorted doctors. As in, “Don’t worry, Little Lady, it’s all in your head.” Condescending tone. Pat pat, there there, you’re just a tired neurotic new mother. Try to get more sleep and stop worrying.
(Both genders do this, but it is more often the men in my experience. Yet I was surprised to be told I was “just tired” by a female doctor I tried, before I switched to my male doctor, who is the best listener I’ve ever encountered in the medical field. He’s run blood work on me multiple times, however, and we can’t find anything wrong. Not only have my blood numbers been within the acceptable ranges, they’ve been excellent. I should be feeling great.)
But despite my proclivity for rising too early, like today, I do get plenty of sleep. If I get up ridiculously early, my husband almost always gets me a nap in the afternoon, or I go to bed at 8 p.m. like your grandma, no big deal. My son is five now, and except for the rare nightmare or bed pissing, he sleeps through the night. I am not well-rested, but I get enough sleep. And still, I always feel weak and tired.
I have not felt like myself for the last two years, and nobody has believed me. I’m sure they encounter hypochondriac and drama queen patients aplenty, but I have been without health insurance most of my life, and before my pregnancy, could count the number of times I’d seen a doctor in my adult life on less than two hands. I try to take good care of myself, have been blessed to not have major health issues in my life, and do not like to go to the doctor. So believe me, I don’t go unless something is truly wrong. But these people don’t know me, and I’d look like a freak if I recited the above paragraph of my history to them.
The first weird symptom has been excessive sweating. Throughout my life, I’ve had dry skin. Lotion was my friend. I would sweat during exercise, and that’s about it. I could usually not bathe for a few days, and could hang a shirt back in my closet at the end of a day without worry. Now, I sweat through three T-shirts a day. It’s freaky, and pretty gross. In the last few years, I’ve gone from never stinking, to smelling like an end-of-the-day construction worker by noon. I’ve been telling myself that pregnancy changes our body chemistry, so I just have to get used to it. But this is so anomalous for me that I’ve had a hard time believing it.
The second symptom is constant constipation. I am a vegetable loving chick who eats a leafy green salad every single day. I exercise 45 minutes, 4-5 days a week. I take Metamucil. I drink twelve glasses of water a day. I eat Activia with fiber, even though I hate yogurt. Sometimes I even mix it with high fiber cereal. I eat a handful of prunes a day. I avoid cheese, bread, dairy (except for the nasty probiotic yogurt) and meat. I do everything I’ve ever heard will help keep a person regular, and I am still constipated. The doctor told me it’s irritable bowel syndrome and caused by stress. Which is not out of the realm of possibility. But still. Not normal for me.
The next major symptom is nausea, especially in the morning. It usually wanes by midday. But every morning, I struggle to eat something for my blood sugar, so I’m not shaky and light-headed, but I don’t want to eat at all. Eating when you are nauseated is, like, the worst thing ever. Often, I break saltines into four pieces and eat them slowly, one little piece at a time. I also nibble crystallized pieces of ginger my mom sends me from Trader Joe’s. Even though I try to avoid HFCS and have never been a soda pop drinker, I keep Coca-Cola around for desperate mornings, because when it’s really bad and I can’t handle crackers, little sips of flat, room-temperature cola are the only thing that helps. It is exactly like the first three months of pregnancy were for me. Except I’m not pregnant.
The weirdest thing about the nausea is that I have always had an iron stomach. I’m not a puker, and rarely throw up, even when I want to because I know it would make me feel better. I have always been able to eat anything: spicy food, alcohol, coffee; all of the things that people with tricky stomachs can’t handle. So once again, like the sweating, this is so not me.
I’ve also had the first migraines of my life, complete with scintillating scotomas, which is the name for the flashing lights that serve as a precursor to the thunderclap headache that follows.
But lately, I’ve had weird, somewhat sharp pains on my left side, pains that wake me out of deep sleep. And a seemingly never-ending heavy period that has been happening for 50 days at this writing. So my gynecologist ordered an ultrasound for last Thursday.
And… bingo! The ultrasound technician found a really big cyst on my left ovary, where I’ve been hurting. I mentioned all of the above symptoms to her, the nausea, sweating, constipation, lower back pain, migraines, mood swings, crazy-long periods, sporadic bleeding, and the constant exhaustion, despite what should be plenty of sleep, and she said that it could all be explained by this cyst. “As it presses on the ovary, it can cause it to release excessive levels of different hormones,” she said.
It was a huge light bulb moment for me. “It’s not in your head,” she actually said to me without any prompting. Despite the lousy news, part of me wanted to cry in relief. I’m not crazy! I’m not imagining this stuff! Hormones are chaos-making and powerful, and a part of me that controls them has been shooting out randomly high levels, possibly causing all of this weird crap I’ve been dealing with for the last two years.
Oh, shit. This means surgery, immediately popped into my head too, but at least I might have an answer. And a solution. Oh, please, let this be a solution. I am so tired of feeling awful. I want my life back. I don’t even ask that I feel great again, I just want to feel not bad all of the time. It’s breaking my spirit. I have a beautiful life view, and am usually just pretty happy to be here; I can easily Pollyanna my way back into optimism. But damn, it’s hard to cheer yourself up all of the time when you feel like ass. All these health issues have been a slow, drawn-out chipping away at the sunny side of my soul.
So I went from there to the waiting room, then back into the rabbit warren of offices to talk to my doctor, where I was informed that I would be having a biopsy procedure to take a chunk of the uterine lining to check for cancer, because my excessive bleeding could also be caused by this. Surprise!
Relieved that I’d groomed and shaved the appropriate parts in case of an impromptu pelvic exam, I tried not to look at the wicked and extremely long uterus grabbing tool the nurse had left for the doctor after informing me of the biopsy. Deep breaths, deep breaths, out through the nose, you can handle it, you have tattoos after all, right? Come on, girl. Get it together.
When the doctor came in, we discussed my options. I could have the Novasure procedure to stop the excessive bleeding, which is basically the cauterization of the uterine lining, plus minor surgery to remove the left ovary. Two week recovery. Or, we could just take out the uterus and ovary in one fell swoop, with a six to eight week recovery, just like my C-section.
My doctor mentioned that my uterus is enlarged (which prompted my husband later to make me giggle when he described me as “well-hung”). He said that this would make the Novasure procedure less likely to work, diminishing my chances of having lighter periods afterward.
I groaned, because I know how much a C-section sucks firsthand. A C-section is major abdominal surgery. I had no idea how debilitating they were until I had one when my nine pound, five ounce, twenty-three inch long son wouldn’t fit through my hips. So the idea of going through that again, without the awesome reward of a healthy baby at the end of it all just really super sucks.
But what is the point of going through the stress of having my uterus burned out (Will I smell it roasting? I grotesquely wondered to myself) and then being put to sleep in the hospital for the lesser surgery, when my enlarged uterus might make it so that the Novasure procedure doesn’t even work? Then I have a two week recovery from the ovary removal, a Novasure procedure with recovery, and then the six to eight week post-hysterectomy recovery anyhow. I have a five year old who needs his mom. I can’t draw this ordeal out over the next six months.
So with all of that in mind, after discussions with my husband, my mom, and internet pals who’ve gone through similar surgeries, I have decided to get the uterus and left ovary removed in one surgery. This is pending the results of the uterine lining biopsy and blood test they are also running to check for cancer markers. If cancer is detected, I will be sent to an oncologist who specializes in gynecological matters, and we’ll go from there. Big sigh. If you’re reading this, please send me some good thoughts, prayers, positive vibes, anti-cancer mojo, or whatever you’ve got to spare, because I really don’t want to go from there.
My mom offered to fly out to Oklahoma from Phoenix to help out with my five-year-old and post-surgery recovery, which is so awesome. I am so grateful and happy to have such a wonderful momma. My husband’s family is also amazing, and will help keep my son busy and distracted while I am in the hospital.
I’m trying to be brave, even though I know I’m in for a world of pain. It was a year after my C-section before I could do my entire ab workout DVD again. But I know I can get back there again. I did it before, after all. And the doctor said my C-section scar looks great, so he won’t have to make a seven inch incision like they had to to get my son out, just a five inch one. I’ll also be heading into the surgery with a normal amount of sleep under my belt, instead of exhausted from thirty-six hours of labor, which is very good. And I get to be unconscious this time, instead of awake and horrifically aware that on the other side of the sheet of paper, I’m being cut open.
I’m trying not to think about the petty stuff, like my poor twice-scarred stomach, and how bad I’m going to look in a bathing suit next summer after not being able to work out for months again. Vanity is boring and pointless, and in the end, it doesn’t mean a damned thing. Being alive for my son is all that ultimately matters to me. I’ve gone to the Dark Place a few times, and begged the universe, Buddha, God, Baby Jesus, the aliens, the Fates, Ghost Elvis, my guardian angels, and anyone else I can think of who might be out there listening, to please let me survive this and be strong and healthy again for my kid. He needs a mommy like me to look out for him in this world. In the meantime, the shower makes a really private place for a good ugly cry.
I’m also trying to remember that there is always something worse. Perspective, perspective, perspective. I’m still alive and this is treatable, so I have options. I have health insurance, a wonderful, supportive husband and family, and I can do this. I will get through this, and I will come out on the other side of post-surgical recovery, hopefully feeling better than I have for the last two years.
Other positives: If there is no cancer right now, then after this surgery, I will have 50% less of a chance for ovarian cancer, and a 100% less chance for uterine cancer. And no more periods ever again. Bright side, right?
This morning, the sound of a loud voice in my head was what woke me up. I don’t know if it was my subconscious comforting me, or a sign, but I’m going to look at it as a good thing either way. It said, calmly and confidently, Everything is going to be okay.
I’m going to trust that voice. It is going to be okay.