Friday, November 13, 2009

Born Again

As the night progressed last night, James and I discussed our theories about the pain, and we pondered the purpose of a face-to-face consultation. In the midst of discussion, James insisted time and again that I could not have pancreatic cancer. “You’re not male, you’re not a smoker, you don’t have jaundice,” and on he continued. I still don’t know exactly how it happened — I don’t know if I asked or if he just blurted it out — but at some point in all of his insisting, he mentioned that if I had pancreatic cancer, I’d probably only have three months left to live. (His theory was based on the fact that pancreatic cancer is called “The Silent Killer,” and that by the time a patient typically feels pain, the cancer has moved into other areas of the body.) I suppose the look of shock on my face gave me away. Panicked, he asked, “You didn’t know that?”

I did not know that.

Because of my reproductive history and my ability to learn a little bit about a lot of things, I had been deliberately avoiding Google. I had done just enough research to know my appendix was not located on my left side and that I was probably safe to see a doctor in the office rather than heading into the ER. With the new prospect of three months or less, though, I could do nothing but Google. For every reason James saw that I couldn’t have pancreatic cancer, I saw a reason that I could: the pain was in that certain spot, the pain did increase after I ate or when I laid down, and so on. For every missing risk factor that led him to believe I was safe convinced me otherwise: I am overweight, I do eat a typically high-fat diet, etc. Each click of the mouse was to me the creak of a coffin lid.

After mere moments of diligent research, I was drowning in a sea of tears. Brystol mistook my gulps and sobs for the silly noises I make at her and met me with smiles and coos, and that broke my heart further. Imagining this baby, this baby I longed for, growing up without knowing me broke me into a million pieces. With Bub and Gracie sleeping upstairs, James and I sat with her as I cried. I nursed her to sleep as I cried. James held me as I cried, missing moments and years and love and misery and wonder and the mundane. Life. Before I knew it, a new day dawned and there was neither a time nor a place for tears — business as usual.

All morning I thought of the last things. This is the last time I’ll brush my teeth before I’m handed my death sentence. This is the last time I’ll buckle my baby into her car seat before my death sentence. This is the last time I sit in traffic before my death sentence. My appointment was at 9:15 A.M. I wondered how the world would look at 9:30.

As we drove, James and I talked about non-serious stuff (like the traffic) and about serious stuff (like about how I could fight cancer, how I don’t have to be a statistic, how I beat the bad odds). We arrived at the office and prayed again. Brystol tooted on my leg as I held her, and Gracie, still not fully recovered from her cold, leaned again me, lingered. I found it humorous that the doctor I waited to see hadn’t yet been given space in the grown-up side of the practice — I sat in a pediatric office at what might have been the end of my life as I knew it. Tinkerbell flitted about on the TV screen and a painted puffer fish stared me down from across the room. This is my last time to see a painted puffer fish before my death sentence.

James and I were escorted to an empty exam room in the furthermost corner of the practice while Gracie stayed in the waiting room to watch Tinkerbell. She thought we were doing her a favor by allowing her to stay behind, but in reality, she bestowed the favor. We both tried to play it cool, but I could see the panic in his eyes and he could hear it in my voice. I could hear voices passing back and forth behind the door of the exam room. I listened for the doctor, I hung on every word, in my heart I plead for mercy. For a moment, I was a prisoner, incarcerated, waiting out the walk on death row. Mercy, mercy.

Brystol was nursing as the doctor came in. I wasn’t even sure if she was hungry when I put her to the breast, I only knew I’d probably be more inclined to hold myself together if my crumbling meant dropping her. The doctor greeted me, then asked, “So, are you still having the pain in your side?” Was she joking? “Of course,” I replied, “we haven’t done anything to fix it.”

Without acknowledging that fact, she went on to the test results. “There are no masses in your organs. Your pancreas looks good, your liver, your spleen. Everything looks pretty great.”

Sweet mercy.

She then went on to say, “We did see something on your right ovary, a tissue density of some sort. It could be a cyst, it could be a tumor. You’ll need to have an ultrasound to be sure.” We discussed the rest of the findings and the plans for more testing. The ovarian issue is likely a maturing follicle thanks to my more-frequently sleeping, less-frequently nursing little baby. The pain in my left side is still undefined. The plan at this moment: to have an endoscopy and a colonoscopy to look for ulcers, plaque, blockages. If none of those issues are what ails me, the doctor would like me to stop nursing for a week or more while I take a stab at various muscle relaxants and pain medications, and that’s not a plan I’m at all comfortable with.

At this point, I just have to deal with the pain. Monday, the OB/GYN will check the right ovary to see if my ovulation theory is correct. On Wednesday, I go to the surgery center for two hours of paperwork and waiting for 1/2 hour of poking and prodding. By Thursday, I hope for some answers. Meanwhile, I feel as though I’ve been born again.

No one handed me my death sentence.


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