All my life I’ve wondered what it’s like to get “the news.” The bad news. The scary news. The news that changes your life forever. The news you hope you’ll never have to hear.
I’ve seen it on the Lifetime channel and in plenty of films. The moment where a terrified person sits across from a doctor and his fate is sealed with one sentence.
“You have cancer.”
And I always carefully watched the face of the poor sap who’s getting the news, thinking, “How would I react if that happened to me? What would it feel like?”
Well, now I know.
I’ve been keeping a diary to chronicle my cancer journey and I wanted to share the entries from the week surrounding my diagnosis. I find solace in sharing my experience and hope that it may help someone going through the same ordeal.
Thursday April 6, 2017
PANICKING. Was getting into the shower this morning, and something is very very very wrong. I’ve lost a little weight recently because I gave up dairy and was mostly eating a plant-based diet, but I looked at myself as I got into the shower and noticed that my abdomen had swelled up. Like, HUGE. Like, I looked 8 months pregnant. If I’ve lost weight and my pants are looser, why is my stomach this size? I’m worried.
Friday April 7, 2017
So I showed Jon my stomach, and he agrees that it’s not normal. He made some chicken noodle soup for dinner since I’m repulsed by most foods. But the soup tasted like dirt to me. He swore that it tasted fine, which I think means something in my body is seriously messed up, since my taste buds are now malfunctioning. We agreed that we’ll go to the emergency room tomorrow. Mom and Dad think it’s my gallbladder, so I hope they’re right.
Saturday April 8, 2017
Went into Cedars around 11am this morning. Didn’t have to wait long before I was in a comfy bed and watching infomercials. Bunch of tests during the day – blood, ultrasound, CT scan. The doctor on duty said it seemed like I passed a gallbladder stone, but they needed to make sure. After several hours, a nurse came in and said they needed to admit me into the hospital and I needed to go upstairs and put on a gown. But why? We were still waiting for the results of my CT scan. I didn’t understand and started to get anxious.
After I was admitted as a patient, I settled into my new room and sent Jon home to feed the cats. They hooked me up to an IV, which screeched a horrible alarm every time my arm bent. Ugh. I tried to get some sleep, but every time I drifted off, the alarm screeched me awake. I didn’t get more than 20 minutes of sleep at a time. And I STILL didn’t know why they were keeping me overnight. This sucks and I just want to go home.
Sunday April 9. 2017
At 8 in the morning, a woman came into my room and woke me up.
She quietly said, “We have the results of your CT scan, and you have ovarian cancer.”
Sorry, what? Wasn’t this supposed to be a gallbladder problem? I saw spots. Everything went white, and I saw black spots. The air was thick and wet. I don’t have cancer.
She was still staring at me and continued, “I know this is a lot of tough news…” but I couldn’t pay attention. I only saw her mouth move. It didn’t make any sense. I had no idea what to say, and eventually she left, probably to go drop this bomb on someone else.
I called Jon in tears, and he started crying on the phone, and said he would be by my side in 15 minutes. I then called my parents, sobbing. Alone. Terrified. How the F*** did this happen? How could I get the best news of my life a couple weeks ago (landing my book agent) followed by the worst?
Would I have 6 months to live? Would I die before my 50th birthday? My 40th? Jesus Christ, I’d never even been to Hawaii, gone skydiving, or owned a rescue dog!
Mom and Dad said they would come out next weekend to be with me. Between crying and hiccuping and panicking, I said they didn’t have to, but they insisted. Jon showed up and we sat together, scared and weeping.
That afternoon was a haze, but then the clouds parted and a magical man walked in. His name was Dr. Li. He was an ovarian cancer specialist, and he was my new doctor. His bedside manner was calm and confident. His voice washed over us like a soothing balm that we SO desperately needed. He said that yes, my CT scan did indicate that I could have ovarian cancer, but he was suspicious because I’m young and healthy, and there’s no history of cancer in my family, so it didn’t make sense.
Thankfully, the tumors had not spread to my lymph nodes, nor were they inside my organs. But those nasty little growths were on my ovaries, uterus, liver and spleen (that explains those nagging pains in my upper abdomen), and scattered throughout my belly wall.
Dr. Li said that I would need to stay another night so that we could do a biopsy tomorrow, then we’ll know for sure what we’re dealing with. And that no matter what it is, he will help me get through this. What a relief to hear. I knew at that moment that Dr. Li is a precious gem and I started thinking about what to get him for Christmas. A framed photo of my ovaries, perhaps?
Monday April 10, 2017
Slept like garbage again. Every couple hours nurses were coming in and out, and I kept setting off the screechy IV alarm. Plus, I felt sick with nerves. And the worst part is that I couldn’t eat or drink after midnight. And anyone who knows me knows that I drink liters upon liters of water every day. I’m always kinda thirsty and water is my jam. But not being able to have any water was a new form of torture. My biopsy was supposed to be around 11am. So I watched the morning hours slowly tick by. Then it became noon. Then 1pm. Then 2pm. Then I was told that my biopsy wouldn’t be until 5pm. Ugh. My mouth was like sandpaper and not having water for 17 hours was (almost) worse than finding out you have cancer.
The biopsy itself was easy and quick. They told me to come back on Friday to meet with Dr. Li for the results. After I got dressed, I could FINALLY go home after two and a half days. What a freakin’ disaster.
It felt amazing to be home and smother my cats with love, but my mind was racing. Do I seriously have cancer?!
Tuesday April 11, 2017
I keep vacillating between, “There’s NO way I have cancer” and “Oh my God, I can’t believe I have cancer.” Work today was surreal. There’s a small bandage on my stomach where they took the biopsy, but the weird part is telling everyone what’s going on. I missed work yesterday, so they knew something was up, but reliving the past few days kinda sucked. I couldn’t even bring myself to say “ovarian cancer.” All I could muster was, “I’m hoping it’s not the big, scary thing.” But being at my desk is sort of helping me cope. Everyone is warm and sympathetic and we even cracked a few jokes. But my knees won’t stop shaking and I can’t eat anything and a thick omnipresent rope of fear has wrapped itself around my neck.
These tumors better be benign.
One good thing is that Mom, Dad, Rob, and Brian are all coming out this week! Thank God for my family. I’m beyond lucky to have them. And I’m so touched that they are all dropping everything to come be with me.
Friday April 14th, 2017
Armed with Jon and my family, we went to see Dr. Li for the results of my biopsy. While we were waiting, I kept praying that I had some strange new disease that made me grow benign tumors which could be cured with a lifetime of chocolate and whiskey. But alas, no such luck. Dr. Li came in and introduced himself to my family. He sat down and said that unfortunately, I did have ovarian cancer. Stage 3. I immediately broke down into tears, as did everyone else. No, no, NO!
Dr. Li’s adorable face was arranged into an expression of true empathy. He assured me that I WOULD beat this. I have age on my side. I’m active and healthy. My cancer will respond amazingly to chemotherapy and I will be cancer-free after this is done.
OH CRAP. It hadn’t really hit me that I would need chemo. My hair will fall out. My teeth will turn yellow. I’ll have purple bags under my eyes and I’ll look frail and sad and bald and old and crackly like the people you see on those cheesy Lifetime movies.
Dr. Li recommended an aggressive treatment plan, with 9 consecutive weeks of chemo, then surgery (farewell, ovaries and uterus and possibly spleen), then 9 more consecutive weeks of chemo. So….basically the rest of this year is gonna suck. I don’t want to be bald.
Hmmm…with no ovaries or uterus, it will be difficult to conceive a child. Well, impossible, actually. Huh. So having children is officially off the table. I guess this’ll just be yet another crappy piece of information to accept and eventually make peace with. I suppose I could adopt, but I heard that’s super expensive. Wonder if I can put a baby on my Visa Rewards card?
The nurse practitioner, Corinna, gave me about 10,000 pieces of paperwork on everything from the side effects of chemo (yikes) to info on their psychology services (maybe necessary) to a list of Los Angeles wig-makers (definitely necessary) to a marijuana prescription (YEAH BABY).
After the meeting, we zipped back to the hotel because Rob had arrived. We all had a cocktail at the hotel bar, then went to dinner. It felt great to have the whole family together now and we shared the news with Rob. My food smelled good but tasted like dust. I just couldn’t believe it. It was real now. I have cancer in my body.