Tuesday, January 26, 2016
It’s Not a Baby, It’s a Tumor
In the fall of 2014 I finally worked up the nerve to talk to a gynecologist about fertility treatments. I went in knowing that my weight and my age would be working against me. But with my 42nd birthday quickly approaching I knew I was running out of time. We discussed these two things and she told me to not waste any time calling the fertility clinic. With her advice fresh in my mind, I looked up the number for the clinic while sitting in my car outside the gynecologist’s office. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a way to request an appointment online. (There just isn’t any good way to explain the relief that comes with knowing that one can delay actual interaction with another human being. When I tell people that I’m an introvert, I don’t say it because it seems to be the “it” thing to be nowadays.) I filled out the form, started my car and pulled out of the parking space.
Before I even left the parking lot, I had received a call back and had set an appointment for the following week. “Holy shit,” I remember thinking, “this is happening.”
The visit with the fertility doctor was as intimidating as I had expected it to be. He was unhappy about my weight and my age. The former I was told needed to be dealt with before any actual treatment could be done and the latter, well, not much to be done there except not waste a lot of time.
“Do you drink,” he asked. “No,” I replied. “Smoke? Do drugs? Sexually active?” “No, no, and no.” “You’re no fun,” was his official diagnosis. I ruefully considered that I hardly needed to shell out the copay to be told that. I get that told to me on a nearly weekly basis, at least every time I join friends for drinks. After that brief conversation with the fertility doctor I was sent along to speak with a nurse and the financial advisor. It was all a strange mix of hopeful, clinical, sad, and demoralizing. Despite not being able to start with treatments until I’d lost some weight, there were still tests that could be done, I was told. The timing, however, was a bit of an issue as I was leaving for my annual December trip in a few weeks. I decided then to take the rest of the year to focus on the weight loss and to start the new year with the tests and other matters.
I spent November and December thinking about the possibility that, if things went well (“please let things go well”), I could maybe, possibly, hopefully be pregnant at some point in 2015. That thought exhilarated and frightened me. I also spent November and December trying to not think those things. “We’ll just see,” I thought. “Stop. We’ll see how things go.”
I’ve spent my life, it sometimes feels like, doing risk assessments. If A, then B. If this, then that. Something could go wrong. Think positively, plan for the worst, etc etc. While I certainly considered the idea that I’d have trouble conceiving, or I’d run out of money, it was an idea, one of a million that ran through my head. That’s just the way that my brain works so I’m used to it and, because not every result has always been a bad one, the idea that things would work out just fine also lived in a parallel track.
Even when the doctor ordered extra tests because he didn’t like the results of some of the routine tests I still thought, “Maybe, possibly, hopefully.”
Until the morning of Friday, January 23rd rolled around and I finally was able to connect with the doctor after several days of playing phone tag.
“Patricia,” he said, “you have endometiral cancer.”
It’s telling, I think, that my first and only question was, “What does this mean for my ability to have a baby?”
He must have known, of course. Thinking back I think he must have known the answer to that but he demurred and simply said that the oncologist would be better able to answer that. He reassured me that I would come out of this just fine.
But that’s the sort of thing that is subjective, isn’t it? One person’s fine is another person’s shattered world. What does a person do when the one thing you’ve wanted for as long as you can remember is taken away? (Of course I know there are other options and we’ll touch on them at a later point but in that moment, those words, that truth was devastating.)
The worst of it is, this was preventable. Had I gone to the doctor more often. Had I tried getting pregnant earlier. Had I just -
done life better.
Maybe, possibly, hopefully, I wouldn’t be so angry with myself. For allowing something that I have wanted for so long to slip away. I know there are no guarantees but through my inactions I let even the possibility slip away and I haven’t yet forgiven myself for that.
So here I am, a year and three days since my world changed and the tears come just as easily and freely as if I’d gotten the call today.
Truth be told, I think that’s why I was so ready to come back to the blog. While I’ve shared some of the above (and more) with a few friends, the words are still just living in my head and I have this hope that if I put them out here that the grief will lessen. Though maybe it’s just more time that’s needed. Perhaps both. So, fair warning, it won’t be the topic of every post or every day, but the events of the last year and the repercussions (as they’re still being felt) will come up. Those of you who remember reading me know things can get uncomfortably TMI-ish. Knowing is half the battle, as they say.