I'm the one to the far left not smiling. Can you guess why?
Christmas eve of 2011 began as an ordinary day. No, in fact it began as a great day. I woke up in my apartment in Oakland CA and ate breakfast for the first time in 4 days. I had been mysteriously sick and hadn’t been able to eat anything. For the first time in days I actually felt great.
On my bike ride to work I was a little sad because I would be spending Christmas Eve alone. My family wasn’t coming up to see me until tomorrow and my new boyfriend of the last month and a half had already gone to visit his family. A few solitary tears rolled down my cheek as I pedaled.
At the Jewelry Store I worked for it was all holiday cheer. We had matching light up Rudolph shirts and festive accessories. The customers were out and we were making money. It was an incredibly busy day. Since I was the opener I took my lunch early. At 11:30AM I called my boyfriend Jeremy and discussed some holiday drama that was occurring. At 12:15 I was sitting in the stockroom in the back of the store. “How are you feeling?” my manager Courtney asked. “oh great! Thanks for asking” I replied. Yet literally as the words escaped my lips I felt the beginning of a pulling sensation in my lower abdomen. I attributed it to cramps. After all, I was just a few days out from my period and I knew I wasn’t pregnant because I took a stick test a day before due to the persistent nausea.
At 12:20 I went out to Courtney and let her know that I wasn’t feeling that great again and it was just going to be a minute. Since only one person can go to lunch at a time I was holding up the line with my sickness drama. But as I sat in the bathroom trying to will this pain to go away it only got worse. 5 minutes later I would be writhing in pain on the floor.
I waddled out to the front of the store and told Courtney I needed to leave NOW. I was visibly hunched half way over and very pale. Not wanting to pay for the ambulance ride I asked them to call a cab. “cab will be here in 30 minutes” my coworker Patrice informed me. “Just call the ambulance. I can’t wait that long” I screamed. Since I couldn’t sit down I was resting my knee on a chair. I had tried to sit down and it hurt even more. The ambulance arrived minutes later as well as the owner of the company. She had just finished battling breast cancer just a few weeks before and was herself recovering from surgery. She had come bearing tacos as a holiday treat and was surprised to see me being wheeled out on a gurney.
The ride to the hospital was hellacious. Every bump and pothole had me screaming in pain and clawing the walls. For those who live in Oakland/Berkeley you know there are a lot of potholes. The EMT gave me two shots of morphine by the time I got to the hospital at 1 and the pain was still not all the way gone. I called my mother after I was checked into a room and she offered to come up early. “Nah, I’m sure it’s nothing mom. Don’t waste a trip”. A few minutes later I would recant that statement.
After examining me the doctor was pretty sure I had diverticulitis. She wanted to do a CT scan to make sure but informed me of the cancer risk associated. I almost did not go through with the scan for that reason. The scan yielded the results that I had a grapefruit sized cyst hanging from my right ovary. “Probably nothing” the resident assured me. Probably nothing? NOTHING? I had a huge…thing…growing on my organ and it was probably nothing? I wanted it gone.
They decided to hospitalize me after the ultrasound yielded the result that it was septated and did not look like your average fluid filled cyst. My parents arrived and around 10 pm that night I was checked into the in-patient ward of the hospital. Christmas day I met with the surgeons and it was me who asked them to take it out. I didn’t like the idea that this pain could come back and that I had something massive growing inside me. They wouldn’t know for sure until they were able to remove and biopsy it whether or not it was cancer. Since I was so young they didn’t think it was.
As I was wheeled into the OR I remember visually taking stock of everything I saw – overhead lamp…check. Scary looking scalpels and instruments on table…check. Doctors and nurses running around repeating medical jargon I had no clue what they were saying…check. I was surprised to be lifted onto the operating table under a comfy hydraulically warmed blanket with the image of a teddy bear on it. The anesthesiologist said she was injecting me with some medicine and after that there was nothing.
What felt like minutes later I was being wheeled into the recovery room screaming I was in pain and begging for more morphine. I was begging them not to release me since they said before I would be going home that night. I was in so much pain. I recalled a scene from When Harry Met Sally in which Billy Crystal said he would just sit at home and moan he was in so much emotional pain . That was exactly what I was doing…sitting there helpless and moaning a very guttural soft moan. I was surprised to see my mother and father sitting there. They had told us before that family was not allowed in the recovery room. “Meh, they’re being lax with their rules” I thought. As my mother talked to me everything seemed like it had gone normal, until I looked at the clock. “Is it really 8pm?” I asked. My mother nodded in agreement. Considering I went into the OR at 3:30 and this procedure was supposed to only take about an hour something was amiss.
The surgeon came in as the pain started to subside and delivered the news to me. They found cancer. CANCER. Was I dreaming? How could that be? I was young. I did yoga and was a vegetarian. I didn’t smoke. I biked at least 10 miles a day. I did all the right things and I had cancer. I looked to my mother and she calmly nodded in agreement. The recovery room nurse was looking at me solemnly. Everyone knew before I did and nobody told me. I felt like I was just let in on some cruel joke. As I was being wheeled back into my room I saw Jeremy’s face in the waiting room. He came and sat down on my bed quietly. I asked him what he knew. “Everything” . “Yeah, well do you know I have cancer?” I asked in disbelief myself. He said yes.