I was diagnosed with an Ovarian Tumor in January 2015.
**warning – extremely honest, authentic, menstrual information follows**
As I was saying, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2015…
The diagnosis wasn’t a complete surprise. I’d been having menstrual issues,particularly extremely heavy bleeding and abnormally large clotting, for a couple of years.
This bleeding and clotting took a dramatic turn in 2014. Instead of just pain and blood, I was loosing seemingly pints of blood each half hour. I had clots the half the size of my fist falling out of me. I was literally unable to leave my house some days due the intense pain and heavy bleeding associated with my menstrual cycle.
I decided after a particularly difficult day – most of it spent in the bathroom cleaning up bloody messes – to stop putting off the doctors appointments and see the specialists. I really hoped the horrible pain and intense periods would pass, but it wasn’t the case. I had to put aside taking care of my family, of everyone else, and focus on attending to my health. I’ve always put my family first. It was difficult to admit, especially to myself, the need to make my health the most important goal for the spring and summer of 2014.
I made doctors appointments with my general practitioner, then my gynecologist. I had ultrasounds, tests, and probing. My gynecologist determined I had a small growth on my right ovary. It wasn’t big and mostly likely, she determined, an ovarian cyst. Ovarian cysts come and go and are generally functional cysts with little impact on overall health – however, they should be monitored by a doctor. I had them monitored.
My symptoms seemed to go away in the fall of 2014. I was relieved. I was thankful. I decided I was finished going to the doctor. No need for more check-ups, I was fine. I wanted to be fine. I felt okay — actually, I felt better than I’d felt in years!
With that, I decided to put off going for a quarterly check-up on the status of my ovarian cysts with my gynecologists. Even though I was having increased bleeding with large clots, back pain, and intense menstrual pains, I got through the summer and was enjoying a relatively normal menstrual cycle by October. Since I’d missed my appointment in the summer, and was actually feeling better, why bother?
With the quarterly appointment close to passing me by, again, I wasn’t worried. Thanksgiving and Christmas were around the corner. I was deep into our homeschooling fall schedule. I didn’t want to coordinate time with my husband so I could go to the gynecologist. Again. We were so busy doing so many other things.
However, my gynecologist office continued to call and leave messages reminding me I needed to come in for a follow-up appointment. I wasn’t worried. I’d gone once, I’d gotten the ‘no news is good news’ speech. I was feeling better. I wasn’t in mortal pain. I wasn’t bleeding like a stuffed pig when my period began. It seemed like an awful lot of trouble to coordinate scheduling with my husbands’ crazy work schedule, so he could keep our boys and I could go for another long wait in the gynecologists office just to suffer through another physically invasive appointment. Especially when I’d just be told, “no news is good news”.
I would have likely never gone back for that follow-up. That was, until, my gynecologist called me. She left a message for me. She personally asked me to return her call. Offhandedly, I called her over Thanksgiving weekend. I planned to leave a message and tell her my symptoms had subsided; No further tests were necessary, but I got a huge surprise. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my gynecologist happened to be on duty and answered the phone. At 7pm. Thanksgiving weekend.
It was divine intervention, I’m sure.
She insisted.She gave me numbers and stats as to why I should come in, if only one last time, to wrap up the case which had caused me so much aggravation, blood, sweat, and tears, finally putting it to rest. She agreed with me, it was likely nothing. The cysts were gone, but to be sure we’d need to do another vaginal probe. Yay. My gynecologist reminded me I’d missed two quarters of follow-up observation, potential treatment, and I really did need to come in before the end of the year as it’d been 6 months since my last appointment.
And what the hell, it would likely be covered under insurance.
I felt it was a sign. Even if it was just to close that chapter of my gynecological file and tie up a loose end, to have the doctor answer her phone on Thanksgiving weekend, personally, seemed like divine intervention and an undeniable reason to make the appointment and end the year without the problem following me into the New Year. At that point, I did take the time to schedule a follow-up. My husband took off a few hours from his hellish corporate job to watch our children so I could go into my doctor and be probed. Again.
I got the promised vaginal probe via ultrasound. The technician and I were happily chatting along. Me, being my typical self-deprecating self, as she plunged the probe around. She leaned in pretty hard, apparently on one of my ovaries, and stopped.
She went to get my gynecologist. The gynecologist came in and looked at what the technician had seen. The cyst was bigger. Much bigger. Incrementally bigger. Really, several times the size it was the last time I had come in. Although the gynecologist adopted a calm overture, and still wasn’t convinced it was anything to be too alarmed about, she strongly recommended we go ahead and remove the cyst. Analyze it. Cut it from my body.
She approached me with calm, yet firm, assurance. “Kelly,” she began, “I don’t want to alarm you, but it does appear your cyst is not only still intact, but it’s enlarged significantly. Much more significant than we would have expected given your symptoms have abated. I think we need to remove the cyst, let me check my schedule to see if I can get you in before the end of the month.”
This was exactly what I wanted to hear! Feeling a little chubby, and thoroughly expecting to not have any more periods, I encouraged her to go on in and take it all out! Remove both the ovaries and I could be done with all the aggravation of the menstruation cycle altogether. I was ready to not have any more periods. I was happy to hear it could be true! And better yet – no more periods! Period. I told her I’d be happy to have it all taken out. Hysterectomy! No more bloody monthlies? Perfect!
Of course, nothing is that easy.
The surgery revealed that the cyst was not a cyst – it was a cancerous tumor. An ovarian tumor. She removed my right ovary with the cyst because it was so entangled in the cyst/tumor matter. My doctor also took samples of the interior of my pelvic cavity — these samples revealed some additional abnormalities in cells. I was sent to a Oncologist who confirmed the finding and gave me 6 weeks to recover from my first surgery before having my second surgery. My Oncologist removed my remaining ovary, Fallopian tubes, uterus, omentum, and a dozen or so lymph nodes.
Thankfully, the cancer had not spread past the tumor. I will be monitored for the next 5 years, every 3 months, with blood tests to confirm that the CA-125 marker (the Ovarian Cancer anitgen marker) is not present in my blood.
In addition, because of my family history and genetic makeup, I am in the high risk category for breast cancer and am on a 6-month rotation of mammograms, alternating with Breast MRI’s (something insurance doesn’t like to cover unless you’re truly in the high risk category, and there is some risk of false positive – I’ll have my first one in early 2017).
This surgery, this inconvenience in menstruation, led to my ultimately finding out that I had cancer. I was blessed to have doctors who helped me rid myself of it.
This experience made me realize how lucky I am. I prayed for guidance. I listened to my body. I am thankful for my family and friends who rallied for me, prayed for me, and helped me in the past year — helped my children, my husband; it was such a blessing.
Who knows what’s around the next turn, I’m just grateful to be here to be with my children. To help them become the best men they can be and send them off in the world to do the work God has given them to do. With any luck, I’ll be able to spend a fair amount of time with them, watching them do their lives work.
As I reflect on 2015, I am one thing: grateful. I am grateful to God for giving me the tools, people, and support I need to get through my diagnosis, surgeries, and healing.