February 2017: Ten Years Ovarian Cancer Free
Ten years ago I was preparing to enter the Catholic Church. In RCIA, we read about a saint who lived and died in the twentieth century, Gianna Beretta Molla. While her entire life is the story of a saint, the part that stuck out to me the most was the beginning of the end of her life.
Gianna was pregnant with her fourth child. I was pregnant with our second child. Early on in St. Gianna’s pregnancy she was diagnosed with a fibroid—a benign tumor of the uterus. In my nineteenth week of pregnancy, I was diagnosed with a borderline tumor of the ovary.
I thought a lot about St. Gianna in the days leading up to my surgery. We had found out that we were going to have a girl. Naturally, we named her Gianna.
The doctor who treated me was excellent. He was going to perform the surgery laparoscopically with a robot that enabled the process to be as non-invasive as possible. He was confident that things should turn out well for myself and for our Gianna. "However, in the event that there is a problem with the pregnancy, because you are not yet twenty weeks, there are no interventions available to save the baby."
He was adamant that the surgery happen as soon as possible. The tumor was already larger than the baby; the presence of growth hormones in pregnancy accelerate the growth of tumors; the potential for torsion, the growing and twisting of the tumor and all the surrounding organs and the baby in my abdomen, would only further complicate things. We knew that we were able to proceed with the surgery within the moral prescriptions of the Catholic Church. We moved forward with my treatment in a matter of days.
I was scheduled to have surgery the evening of Ash Wednesday. Dr. Janicek would perform the surgery at the end of a full day of other surgeries. I lay in the pre-op room in silence as I was the only patient. It was eery and only served to aggravate my nerves. But soon the anesthesiologist showed up, administered some drugs and I was wheeled to the operating room in a peaceful cloud of narcotics.
I remember waking up in the recovery room. Two young nurses arrived with a portable doppler machine to check on the status of our Gianna. Thankfully, any anxiety I might've felt was numbed due to the lingering anesthesia.
I do remember how quickly they found a strong heartbeat and I was relieved. Shortly after, I was wheeled to my room to spend the night at the hospital.
Thanks be to God, I had no bleeding and no complications. My journey as a patient, however, had just begun.
The first part of treatment required few decisions from me. The following seven months would offer me many opportunities to think about what I wanted for my future versus what "most patients" choose for themselves in similar situations.