Three weeks and two days have passed since I was given a life-altering diagnosis.
Since June of 2013, my body had been sending constant red flags that something is seriously wrong. But being a single mother with two children, and incredibly–foolishly–stubborn, I kept telling myself that I didn’t have the time to battle illness. I would be fine and whatever it was would just go away on it’s own. Maybe it was stress or something in my diet? I continued to make excuse after excuse even though my higher self knew I had manifested something abnormal within.
Four months later, in early October, the symptoms became severe enough to get my full attention. After spending nine hours waiting in the emergency room, never to be seen by a doctor, I decided to go home. The next morning, my primary care physician referred me–per my request–to the only female gastroenterologist in Western Mass., for a consultation. (I’m not sure how appropriate it is to use her actual name without consent, so I’m omitting that from this blog post)
For three weeks I waited patiently to see her. Then, the day of my appointment came, along with a morning full of anxiety over what could possibly be happening to me. After checking in at the front desk with a heavy heart, I waited patiently until I was called into my appointment.
When the GI doctor walked into the room, my mind was completely put at ease. Between her beaming, bubbly personality and comical bedside manner–I felt I was in good hands. Something about her eyes; there was great compassion behind them. She informed me that the results from my blood work had come back completely normal and she was hopeful that it was something minor and treatable. How could she possibly think otherwise? Aside from the symptoms of extreme fatigue and irregular bleeding, I felt fine. I hadn’t lost any weight. I wasn’t in pain. But something still didn’t feel right to me. I knew my body, something was off.
Weeks passed after that appointment with the GI doctor on Halloween of 2013. It would be nearly two months before my colonoscopy was performed. I tried to push what was happening to the back burner. My focus was directed toward my children and my journalism studies at UMass, Amherst. When the severity of my symptoms came back mid-November, much worse this time, I ignorantly acted as though it was nothing. My mother panicked and somehow persuaded the GI office to move up my procedure to the following Tuesday instead of the date in December.
In my arrogance, I became upset with my mother for changing my appointment without forewarning me. When my mother told what she had done, I gave her a look of extreme irritation, followed by: “I have two papers and a photo assignment due this week. I feel fine, there’s no reason why I need to go so soon.” I immediately called the office, chewed out the receptionist who changed the appointment–only because she did so without my consent, then moved my procedure back to the date of December 20.
One thing I’ve learned is that mothers and daughters will tend to bump heads on a variety of issues throughout the stages and phases of life. I learned something invaluable in December. I should have listened to her. Mother’s intuition is rarely ever off when it comes to the health and well being of their children. Sorry mom, you were right.
About a week later I was overcome by excruciating abdominal pain, just above the navel. The last thing I wanted to do was sit in the emergency room again. Luckily the pain started early on in the day. The GI office was able to schedule me the same day for an appointment and the physician’s assistant ordered blood work and a cat scan using IV contrast. The test results, once again, came back unremarkable. My appendix was slightly inflamed but the doctor didn’t believe it was cause for concern. Just weeks before a procedure that would lead to a cancer diagnosis yet he CT Scan showed nothing.
Finally, December 20th rolled around and it was time for my procedure. I trusted my doctor and was relatively relaxed the morning of. Check in went fine, my vitals were normal. After changing into a hospital gown, I was escorted to a hospital bed where my IV would be hooked up. Both of the anesthesiologists there came to speak with me prior to my procedure. We went over basic information such as past history of surgeries, over all health, medications; they were sure to address any concerns that I had about the procedure, putting me slightly at ease.
After I was all connected and ready to go, two nurses wheeled me down a short hallway transporting me to Greece through the stunning photos hanging on the wall. Cobalt roofs of island side, sun-blanched homes conjured up fond memories from a spiritual reading I had in my late teens. She told me; “The one you will marry for life is very dark. He’s Greek, Italian, or both–Mediterranean.” It was almost a year and a half since my divorce, and this elusive mystery man was still nowhere to be seen, physically.
Seeing the pictures had, however, put me even more at ease before my procedure. It left me thinking about this enigmatic man who exists somewhere out “there” in the world. The man who was spiritually present at my daughter’s birth through the people who surrounded me during her delivery. My nurse spoke affectionately of her Greek husband after getting me settled in my recovery room. The delivering OBGYN spoke what little Greek she knew with a nurse who came from a Greek family. They laughed and joked and sang to my daughter as she was delivered. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I can remember up to this point in my life. Here was again, this mystery man. Spiritually present in the images of those beautiful coastal, stucco homes. Momentarily it had taken my breath away. The focus was finally off of what was happening internally to my body; I smiled with joy. I was ready for the procedure now, bring it!
My spiritual body was transported back to the hospital bed once the nurses wheeled me into the procedure room. After proposal had been injected into my IV line, I was down for the count. The worst part about having a colonoscopy wasn’t the procedure itself. For me, it was a combination of the gallon of muck I had to drink the night before along with the phlebotomist needing two tries to get the IV line right. I’m pretty sure he scraped my bone on the first attempt. But honestly, the procedure itself was painless and over relatively quick.
Barely coming to from the anesthesia, I remember being on my left side in the recovery area. Looking up from my hospital bed, eyes still foggy, I could see the GI doctor with a pained look on her face. She was always carefree and lighthearted anytime we had spoken on the phone or had an office visit. But now, she looked deeply saddened, “It’s not good news,” she placed her icy hand on mine, as it held onto the bed rail.
My mother had accompanied me for the appointment. She was standing behind me but before the doctor could finish speaking, my mother began to cry. The doctor told her that she had found a malignant tumor, about 3 cm in diameter. She wouldn’t know until the biopsy came back but she was certain of the diagnosis. A week or so passed before the results came in, this time, showing abnormal results. The tumor was indeed malignant, a low-grade adenocarcinoma. Colon cancer.