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heating mechanisms (how freaking cool is that?!), removed my contacts and replaced them with a pair of few-years-out-of-date glasses.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.