A New Mess
On Monday, the day after I returned from BlogHer, I went to my doctor’s office for what was (for me) a routine ultrasound. She looked at the image and shook her head.
“You have a new mess on your ovary,” she said.
I have a history of really large uterine fibroids, and it seemed perfectly natural to me to refer to them as a “mess,” because really, that’s what they are. It took me a few minutes before I realized the word my doctor used was “mass.”
A mass near or on my ovary.
That didn’t sound good.
I am really good at doling out health advice to others, but when it comes to my own well-being, I kind of suck.
I was pretty responsible up until I quit my full time job and the comprehensive healthcare plan that came with it. We went from two full-time incomes to one, and decided to give the HMO option a try. That meant giving up the beloved Beverly Hills-based OB/GYN who got me through infertility and delivered my daughter.
I hated the HMO. When the following year’s Open Enrollment came around, we switched back to a PPO. But my old doctor was not on this plan either — and so in my mid-40’s, I stopped getting wellness visits altogether. You see, I felt pretty good. OK, I was slowing down a bit and my knees had starting creaking a little. But I figured, if it ain’t broke I didn’t have to fix it.
Besides, as long as I felt healthy and I didn’t have any doctors telling me otherwise, why upset the apple cart?
That lasted until about five years ago, when I developed a pain in my shoulder. I lived with it for several months before I finally sucked it up and got someone to examine it. And the first thing she did was tell me I had a large mass in my abdomen.
After I finished freaking out over that news, I guessed that what she had discovered were my uterine fibroids, which my husband had assured me were HUGE (the lucky man witnessed their gargantuosity in the OR during my c-section). And a subsequent ultrasound confirmed that’s what they were (the two largest were the size of grapefruits).
I was referred to a new OB/GYN. My fears about getting routine medical help were confirmed: The fibroids did not bother me in the least, but they did concern my new doctors, who were alarmed at how anemic I was (the fibroids caused heavy periods which depleted my iron to frightening low levels). I told them I felt fine. They told me that probably would not continue.
At my age — 52 then — it was just a matter of time before menopause kicked in and I would stop producing the estrogen that nourished the fibroids. But that anemia was a problem… My two doctors sparred a little bit over how to treat them before settling on one procedure that resulted in an overnight stay at Holy Cross. It was deemed successful — until six months passed and I experienced the Period From Hell, which used up a half box of Super Plus Tampax EVERY DAY FOR A WEEK. I was afraid to leave the house lest I could not get to a bathroom in time to change every hour. It ruined my enjoyment of my daughter’s graduation from middle school, because I was terrified of a leak — and caused me to leave our group’s graduation party early to see one of those doctors so I could get some medication to MAKE IT STOP.
My doctor wanted to perform a hysterectomy, and she had a point. I didn’t actually need my reproductive organs any longer, and without them, I could live my life without fear of uterine or ovarian cancer. But I get emotional about losing my hair or getting root canals — I’m not real keen on losing an organ, if I can help it. And it’s abdominal surgery. Recovery takes several weeks, during which I would be unable to drive (and then how would my kid get to and from school?)
We agreed to just monitor the situation with regular ultrasounds. My last blood tests showed that I am indeed in the throes of menopause (as if I could not tell from the hot flashes!) I’m no longer producing estrogen and the growths on my uterus had been shrinking… which is why this new “mess” was so disturbing.
“Overall, your uterus has shrunk. But this new mass is unexpected.”
She ordered a blood test to detect the presence of tumors. “This test is not 100%,” she warned. “So if it turns up normal, I still want to do another ultrasound in a couple of months.”
I left her office and called my husband from the parking lot to let him know what was going on. “People in my family die of strokes and heart disease, not cancer,” I told him.
The routine doctor’s appointment had taken two hours. It was time for lunch, but I wasn’t hungry just then — and when I did get my appetite back, I decided I didn’t feel like sticking to my diet. Hell, if it did turn out to be cancer why bother with depriving myself of food I like? I was going to eat every single thing I loved that was bad for me.
And that’s why I was at Islands yesterday, scarfing up a basket of fries when the call came from my doctor’s office.
“Your test came back normal,” she said.
My next ultrasound is in October. Even if we see some shrinkage, I feel like the writing is on the wall and there’s some surgery in my future, and I’m OK with that. For most of last summer, I was unable to drive thanks to a broken right toe, so my kid was my chauffeur. She ended her driver’s training period feeling really practiced and confident and aced her driving test. And now that she has her own license, I can spend six weeks in bed without worrying about how my daughter will get to and from school.
And I will resume my diet… on Monday.