I hadn’t planned to have surgery when we moved to the Chicago area. Unfortunately, my body decided NOW was the time to resolve an issue that I didn’t even know that I had.
A couple of weeks after arriving at my sister-in-law’s, I began having unbearable pain on the left side of my abdomen. At first the pain was just annoying, so I didn’t think much of it. Slowly it became bad enough that I spent most of my time on the couch with a heating pad wrapped around my belly. I began feeling like so much pressure was building up that my body would explode like a macabre pressure cooker. I finally gave in and told my husband that I needed to go to the emergency room (I grew up “learning” that you only seek medical attention if it’s absolutely necessary because healthcare is expensive, yo!).
After almost four hours of blood tests and a CT scan, I returned home with the cryptic knowledge that I had a mass around my left ovary that was three inches in diameter – according to the doctor, “about the size of a clementine orange.” Part of the mass was cystic, with which is unfortunately something I am familiar. The other part of the mass was solid – no telling exactly what it was with only a CT scan. Cue panic. My family has a long history of female cancers, so not knowing what was growing inside of me caused me a great deal of mental discomfort. However, I kept reminding myself of something important – the women in my family are unbelievably strong and always beat cancer. I took a great deal of comfort in thinking of my 11-year-old niece Megan who has beat AML leukemia twice. Yes, we come from strong stuff – if it’s cancer, I’ll beat it!
I had many follow-up appointments, two ultrasounds, and an appointment with an OB-GYN surgeon. All during this time, the pain was so intense that I stayed medicated on pain pills most of the time. Even when I was “numb,” I would lie in bed, roll over onto my left side and feel a hard ball pressing against my insides. To add to this discomfort, the ultrasounds showed that the mass was pushing against my uterus in such a way that my uterus was in an “S” shape, to which I spastically thought, “Hey, maybe I’m turning into Super Girl.” Yeah, not so much.
Thankfully my blood tests showed no markers for cancer which was a shining beacon of relief in my fog of pain and hydrocodone. Still the surgeon laid it out straight – the mass was solid, meaning my body wouldn’t absorb it. I needed to have it surgically removed. Originally my surgery was scheduled three weeks out, but after hearing my pleas about the pain – and having to have an increase in pain medicine – my surgeon arranged his schedule so I could have the surgery as soon as possible.
I was eerily calm about the surgery, much more so than my husband. I’ve had abdominal surgery before, and aside from general anesthesia nauseating me, I had no fears about the procedure itself. As life would have it, what we learned after the surgery was the scary part.
In my surgeon’s words, internally the surgery was “very traumatic.” Before the surgery all we knew was that I had a mass. We didn’t really know what the mass was until he got in there poking around in my guts. Internally very traumatic meant that the surgeon had a lot of work to do. The mass was endometrial tissue that had been growing outside of my uterus, along with scar tissue that my body had developed in an attempt to protect the surrounding organs. The tissue had amassed so much that it fused with my colon. With the intent of removing all of the bad tissue and preserving my colon, my left ovary and fallopian tube were destroyed. I was interestingly okay with this. In my head I was thinking, “I still have my right ovary and uterus, so all is well.” Maybe not so much.
A week after the surgery I had my follow-up appointment with the surgeon to discuss in depth what it all means. The good news, no cancer. The bad news, I have Stage IV endometriosis. Given that my husband and I had been talking about the possibility of having another child, the prognosis is horrible. The surgeon gave me options, none of which are ideal. For temporary relief I can either get pregnant or begin medication that will throw me into menopause. The pregnancy part is risky because given the extent of the endometriosis, I need to get pregnant within six months, and I have only a 10% chance of doing so without medical assistance (such as IVF). The medication that would put me into menopause comes with all of the delightful side effects that “the change” has to offer – hot flashes, mood swings, depression (hello! I’m already mentally ill, don’t need more, m’kay?). These options are considered temporary treatments because after the theoretical baby is born or if I would stop the medication, the endometrial tissue would start growing again every month when Aunt Flo visits.
The last option is permanent and irreversible in that I would no longer suffer from endometriosis pain again, but I would also never have kids – a full hysterectomy. When he told me this, I cried uncontrollably. So many different thoughts crashed through me, all revolving around one main theme – if I have a hysterectomy, I no longer have a choice about getting pregnant. Something about not having a choice in the matter made me feel like I was being psychologically and physically violated by my own body. Unlike other instances, I can’t get away from my abuser because my abuser is ME…well, at least a part of me.
The surgeon wrapped things up by telling me that if I did nothing and just managed the pain, I would likely require surgery again within five years. Not exactly something to look forward to for the future.
Dealing with this has been beyond challenging. I went to the ER on July 21 and had my surgery on August 31 – over a month in pain before I got some relief. I’m still recovering, but the post-op discomfort is a randy party compared to the pre-op anguish. I’m still processing all of it. I foresee more blog posts focused on issues such as this that affect women, and how we deal with them socially and psychologically (because hey, that’s how I psychologically deal with it…I write about it).
For readers of my work, I have been slowing working on projects during all of this, but obviously not as much. I’m also editing and proofreading novels for Booktrope Publishing – an exciting addition to my artistic inclinations. I will post more about those as novels get published. Until then, check out Booktrope’s website for more info on lots of great books.
Blessings and healing to all.