One Year Reflections (Part 2, in which shit got real)

Pardon my French above, monsieur.

One of our first discussions in my Creative Writing class about what defines ‘good’ writing inevitably finds its way to a tangent about swearing in writing. My answer is always some version of the same. “If every fiber of that character you created screams that he or she would drop an F-bomb at the moment, by all means, you better drop that F-bomb. You must be true to your characters, after all.”

So yes, every fiber of my being pronounces this moment as The One in Which Shit Got Real. Capitalized. A la the titles of Friends episodes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I had been home from the hospital for a couple days. My fiance began vying for the Greatest Person Ever award as he gave me daily blood thinner shots to my abdomen. At that point I had probably taken two showers since the morning before surgery. Those were the days where the shower took most of my energy and was my achievement for the day. Both of those required sitting in a shower chair and holding onto my drain. Ew. Drain is not a word that should have a personal pronoun in front of it. It collected you know, stuff, from my… wound. It was nasty. It was sewn into my insides and hung from me. Barf. Barf. Barf. Barf. I am fighting nausea typing this as I so cruelly make you nauseous, too.

The worst moment with that damn thing was in the hospital. Once, as I waddled to the restroom, pulled up my gown, and proceeded to use the restroom, the most excruciating pain took over. My nurse (who I LOVED– it was a simple mistake is all) had forgotten to attach my drain back to my gown, as I stood straight, the weight of the drain plummeted to the ground, only to bounce back as a result of the piece that was sewn into me. I screamed bloody murder and my mom and James saw me, gown up, white as a ghost. I was fine. Just scarred for life. 🙂 Someone did a darn good job sewing that thing into me.

If you continued past that point, my god do I love you and feel so grateful for you. Thanks for reading.

Anywho, today was to be a great day– the drain would be removed!!!! I waited for James to get home from school and we made our way to the office of the oncologist who did my surgery. The appointment had the basic check-up elements, which is probably why I was so unprepared for what came next.

When I thought we were on our way out, the nurse mentioned Dr. T would see us before we go. His bedside manner was somewhat non-existent, so we assumed this was the obligatory, ‘Nice to see you, see you in a week, we’ll keep you posted on the results’ conversation.

This moment is about as clear in my brain as my car accident. There was some cutting to the chase. Results? We have them? No one mentioned…Then the word. Malignant. Is that the bad one? No, that’s benign. Who’s in that old photo with Dr. T? Is that a famous person? This office needs an update. This wood paneling’s gotta go. No. No, wait. This is the bad one. Malignant is bad. Ewing’s sarcoma. What’s that? I’ve heard that. That’s bad. That’s bad, right? I have cancer? You have cancer.

And just like that, we were leaving the office. News delivered and doctor out. I think we actually sat in there alone for a couple stunned minutes. We managed to make our way to the car, drive home, order pizza, and eat it, tasting nothing, and feeling nothing and everything.

And that was February 23, 2012– the day cancer was added to my regular vocabulary.

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That day, it was Ewing’s sarcoma. There was talk of delaying or canceling the wedding. Chemo seemed to be the next step. God bless a very persistent pathologist at Alexian Brothers who felt everything didn’t quite add up and wanted additional analysis. It would be weeks of phone calls to doctors, trips to the hospital to authorize shipment of tissue samples, conversations with the insurance company to check coverage of these additional pathology reports. My tumors would travel to University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins and have chromosomal analysis done at the Mayo Clinic.

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(These, my friends, are writings from the ancient Minoan civilization. Ah, just kidding. They’re pathology reports. They may as well be ancient writings, though, for how much I understood them. Commence a crash course in oncology via Google. )

The diagnosis would eventually change. It was rare. Very rare. But treatable. Chemo no longer considered necessary. Endometrial stromal sarcoma, nice to meet you. The name’s Jaclyn.

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One Year Reflections (part 1)

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This is my husband’s favorite photo of me. Not that one where I just so happened to get my hair cut earlier that day. Or that one where the angle of my face helps me look a few pounds thinner. And not those pictures we spent a few grand on for our wedding, either. This one. A little blurry, it was snapped as I was being wheeled into surgery on Friday, February 17, 2012.

Very early that morning, I dressed in my favorite oversized sweatshirt only to immediately change into a paper gown that had internal heating mechanisms (how freaking cool is that?!), removed my contacts and replaced them with a pair of few-years-out-of-date glasses. A blue mesh whadacallit covered my freshly washed hair. Oh, boy, did I savor that last shower at home. I handed a bag packed with some clothes, a copy of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and some guilty pleasure magazines (Us Weekly and People) to my fiance. I remember his eyes never leaving mine for a second. Suddenly, he grabbed his phone, snapped this picture, said “I love you,” and I was wheeled away.

There wasn’t much we knew about how that day would proceed. After a few months of feeling a strange, heavy fullness in my abdomen while working out, I feared I had large ovarian cysts. After having one that ruptured a few years prior, I wasn’t going to risk my health or fertility by waiting until the pain became unbearable.

When an ultrasound to explore my symptoms lasted nearly two hours, I knew something was different. I remember saying to my technician, “Please, give me something here” as I watched the expression on her face change throughout the procedure.

She replied, “It is large. There is a lot of it,” in a thick Polish accent.

Series of doctors appointments followed, with no certainty or leads except one: surgery would be necessary. Diagnosis would have to follow.

The C-word was mentioned, but considered high unlikely. Sure, I had a slightly elevated CA125 blood test, but many variables could account for that. I was a healthy 28 year old girl.

That morning, my gynecologist, a gynecological oncologist, and a urologist operated on me.  I recall going in and out of sleep in a recovery room following. Not at all aware of much, I recall seeing my mother, mother-in-law to-be, and fiance pacing nervously in the waiting room on my floor. Apparently, I was taking longer than expected to recover and be moved into my hospital room.

The substances removed from me were different than expected, as one doctor stated about the other surgeon, “He’s been doing this for close to 50 years. I’ve never seen him scrub out of a surgery before to take a closer look.” What he meant was: a veteran surgeon has never seen what was just taken out of you. Oh boy, talk about a time you don’t at all want to be special or unique.

I later found out this surprised veteran surgeon mentioned mesothelioma as a possibility to my mother and to my fiance, who recalled this ugly word from those TV commercials and needed to leave to take a walk. Not surprisingly, I stopped seeing this doctor a few months later. After all, who would attempt to diagnose something he’d never seen before and put such a scary label on it?

There would a number of unknowns that continued for quite some time following that day, but I, like my fiance, have decided this picture captures that time in our lives best. When you are surrounded with love, a little drugged (after all, I was being prepped for surgery in that moment), and not much else is known or can be done, just smile. It’s a hell of a better image to leave with your loved ones. And when you’re lucky to have a support system like James, there’s a whole lot to smile about.