“Are the boys in the same room as you,” she whispered into her phone. “I have something to tell you, but just don’t let on that I’m telling you something bad, okay?” I tried not to stare at her. But, there was very little space in the hospital hallway that morning. Seems like everyone had the same idea — avoid the waiting room. “Well, it’s bad,” she continued. “It has moved into her brain. And, well, I just don’t think there’s anything we can do anymore.” Her conversation trailed off as she proceeded down the sun-filled corridor.
It moved to her brain. Those are words you don’t always expect sitting outside of the gynecological oncologist’s office. Unless, you live in a world of cancer that has taken more than its fair share of friends, family and warriors.
Every six months, for the past seven years, I’ve sat in that waiting room. Waiting. I wait across from women who, too, seem like they are just waiting. Every six months, I am grateful for the feel of my uncomfortable chair that smells distinctly like a doctor’s waiting room. I wait across from women in wheelchairs, their bones tired from fighting. Their skin comforted only by soft fleece and vaseline that soothes their radiation burns. They are waiting for good news. Good news that can carry them through until the next day.
“It’s a good day,” says the woman with a smile that outshone the window-filled corridor. Her husband is behind her, his hands steady on the back of her chair, pushing it gently around the corner into the hallway where I have been sitting. “That’s what birthdays are for,” her husband replies and glides his hand from the cushioned handle bar over to her shoulder.
My daughter and son have had their noses buried in the screen of my iPhone since we arrived. “Ooooh, happy birthday!” they both exclaim, excitedly, as if expecting cake to be wheeled out after her. She got to see another birthday, I thought. I put my arms around both of their shoulders, squeezing them so tight that their heads banged into each other.
Over the past few years, I’ve sat in that waiting room feeling anxious, worried that this might be the day when they find ovarian cancer. By the time the visit is over, the oncologist has confirmed that she doesn’t see any tumors or anything unusual. I walk out of the office, casual and confident. But the walk from the door leading to the waiting room to that sun-filled hallway punches me in the gut. I walk by women who do not have the same opportunity as I do, the knowledge to avoid ovarian cancer.
In two weeks, at this time (8pm), I’ll be home recovering. Hopefully in a pain-relief induced haze. I’l add scars #12, #13, and #14 to the small space between my hips and my collar bone. My ovaries will be removed, and within 24 hours of my surgery, I’ll go into surgical menopause. I’ll take a prescription of hormones every single day until I reach age 50 or 55.
Unlike when I had my mastectomy, I had much more time to prepare for all of this. During the 11 months leading up to my mastectomy, I had the time to train my body for the long race towards recovery. I wrote weekly about my experiences — how scared I was, how I knew my life would change, and how I knew that I would never have to face breast cancer. This time around, I can’t even wrap my head around my surgery. I’ve made peace with knowing I was not going to have any more biological children. Embraced the gift of genetic testing that informed me I had a very high risk of cancer. Molded the muscle memory of holding my own child’s hand during chemotherapy, and hearing my sister weeping from the pain of her radiation burns. A year ago, I saw my own father cry, for the first time in my life, as the ushers respectfully guided her coffin down the aisle.
I would be lying if I said this was easy.
“Do you know why we are here,” I asked my 7-year old.
“Because you need to have your ovaries removed. Because your ovaries could get cancer. Kind of like when you had your mastectomy,” she replied. She paused. “Will I have to do this, Mom?” her eyes searching for comfort. “Will I get cancer?”
I kissed her forehead.
The returning sound of her conversation interrupted my thoughts. “There’s nothing left to do but wait,” she continued, returning back down the hallway. “We just have to enjoy whatever time we have left. But, we’ll tell the boys when we get home, okay? Thanks for watching them. We’ll be home soon.”
Peace and love,