My mom and I were walking to a small park down the street from my house with red wine “discreetly” hidden in tumblers to talk about my CT results from the prior week. I had a feeling the results weren’t going to be what we hoped for. The look on everyone’s face when I got home from the airport said it all.
The silence was killing me so before we got to the park I asked her to tell me just how bad it was. She replied, “Bad. Really bad.”
A month earlier in August 2019, I made an appointment with a fertility specialist to find out if I was a candidate for freezing my eggs. It was something I had thought about on and off throughout my twenties, and now that I had finally turned 30 I was ready to start the process. I went to the appointment on my lunch break thinking it would be a lengthy sales pitch.
During the ultrasound to check my egg count, the doctor noticed a cyst on my ovary and read off the measurements to the nurse. Then she noticed another cyst on my other ovary. And another behind my uterus, and another. I couldn’t picture a millimeter in the moment, but the measurements she was saying sounded big, 48 millimeters, 37 millimeters, and I thought I noticed a look of concern on her face.
The doctor asked if I had ever been diagnosed with endometriosis. I hadn’t but it made sense. I’ve had long, painful periods for as long as I could remember which is why I had been on birth control most of my adult life. Given the size and number of cysts in my pelvis, my doctor believed I had endometriosis and the cysts could be endometriomas. Because my cycle could impact the size of the cysts, she instructed me to come back a week later for another ultrasound.
When I returned the following week, the cysts were even larger. Now it was time for an MRI to get a better look at my pelvis. I was already scheduled to have an MRI of my spine from a ski accident earlier that year (a story for another day) so I tacked this on for the following week.
The day after my MRI, the fertility doctor called me and told me I might have cancer. She said the cysts had features that were consistent with malignancy and it was time for me to go to a gynecologic oncological surgeon. She offered to call my gynecologist and the surgeon to tell them about my scan, all I had to do was schedule the appointment.
A couple weeks later, after the surgeon had her radiologists review my MRI, I was told I needed a CT scan. The surgeon explained now that she understands what is going on in my pelvis, now she needs to know what is happening in the rest of my abdomen. At this point, she believed we were looking at borderline or low-grade ovarian cancer that may have spread. We scheduled my surgery for September 30, scheduled my CT for the next day, and I left for a baby shower in South Carolina a day later (with permission, of course).
When I got back from the baby shower on Sunday, there was a free concert in the park while my mom and I sat in the gazebo to talk about what my surgery, now two days later on Tuesday, September 17, was going to entail. Until they opened me up nothing was certain but there was a long list of possible procedures. In the end, I was incredibly lucky. Early pathology confirmed my disease had progressed to low-grade carcinoma, prompting my surgeons to take an aggressive route. While my surgery was extensive, my team produced an amazing outcome. I came through the surgery without spending any time in the ICU, I did not need any drains or bags, and I avoided a blood transfusion while on the table.
During my nine-hour surgery, I think the doctors took more out than they left behind. Here’s the high-level list:
- Pelvic mass
- Liver segment
- Right diaphragm resection
- Left diaphragm resection
- Right mediastinal lymph node
- Bladder nodule
- Uterus, cervix, bilateral tubes, and ovaries
- Bladder peritoneum
- Transverse colon
- Multiple sections of small and large intestines
When I woke up from surgery, I was told my doctors got it all! Their exact words were anything they could see, feel, or imagine to have disease was out and I could now consider myself cancer-free.