I decided to write this paper to describe what I remember about my surgery day. But I’d actually like to go back further – back to when ovarian cancer was only a “possibility.” First, we must go back to 1995. That’s the year by sister discovered she had ovarian cancer (Stave IV). Sadly, she died in March 1996. My gynecologist began testing my CA-125 level every six months. This is NOT a screening tool for ovarian cancer, but it is all we had. This is a blood test usually used AFTER ovarian cancer is detected. Most times that is after surgery. Sometimes it can be detected on a C/T or an MRI, but even then, the doctors aren’t sure until they obtain a biopsy and test it. Even though it wasn’t standard protocol, my gynecologist checked my levels for SEVENTEEN years. I was always between a 7-9. Then that fateful day it happened. I went in for my six month check-up (being closely followed for breast cancer) and got the paper work for my lab work. I went to the lab right from the office like I always did.
A few days later, I was shopping at Joanne’s and my phone rang. I saw it was Dr. Ginsburg’s office. I immediately answered it. He said my CA-125 was a 28. Normal is below 35. Since it was a huge jump for me he suggested I go back to the lab for another test. He sent me to get an internal sonogram. This was only two to three days later. I asked him what he would suggest if it was a true reading. He said he would refer me to Dr. Grumbine where he has sent his family members. I immediately drove to his office to get a new lab slip and went right to the lab.
Something to keep in mind, Dr. Ginsburg had been my doctor since before I got married. He followed me during my pregnancy with Elizabeth and delivered her still-born body. He had just reviewed my 30 week sonogram for Eric, which appeared normal, only to find out Eric was born just a few days later with a hole in his diaphragm. He followed me through my pregnancy with Jessica and knew of her difficult delivery. He always said the difficult times in a marriage either broke it or made it strong. He believed Jim and I would never divorce. He was right.
Continuing on, I got a phone call from Dr. Ginsburg the next day. My CA-125 was now 32. That’s still below ‘normal’ but for me it was a big jump and climbing. He referred me to Dr. Grumbine at GBMC and told me to call him back if they couldn’t fit me in for awhile. I was blessed that they had a cancellation that Friday. Dr. Grumbine examined me and discussed the possibilities. He believed that if I had ovarian cancer it was probably contained to one ovary since my numbers were low. We scheduled surgery for March 28, 2013.
This is where I originally thought this story would start. I get to the hospital at some freakishly early hour. We were told the surgery would take about ninety minutes. Jim had an important appointment with a neurologist that afternoon. He wanted to cancel it but I convinced him I would be fine. We needed to find out what was wrong with HIM. I assured him that my sister and a friend or two would come and stay with me after he left. Little did we know that I would be in surgery for FIVE hours. I’ve been told that the doctor had come out and talked to Jim and informed him of my diagnosis. He said Jim could come back and see me soon. However, that didn’t happen. Jim had to leave for his appointment. I was very worried about his condition and had told him, no matter what, to get to that appointment so I could rest easy knowing he was okay OR we would begin developing a plan on how we were going to manage to get care for both of us. (By the way, he was fine. Well, not fine, but not critical.)
Here’s what I actually remember. I wake up in the recovery room and I am having muscle spasms near my diaphragm. The pain was excruciating. The nurse got me a binder and I asked her to put it up high on me. The next thing I remember is my sister, Joyce standing over me saying something like, “it’s bad, but we are going to get through this.” Before I know it, I’m up in my room. It seemed dark and small. I don’t know how many chairs were there and some people must have been sitting on the window ledge. My sister Joyce and my friend Sharron were sitting to the right of me. My brother-in-law, Jim was sitting at my feet. My friend, Kathy was there during surgery and I have no recollection of when she left.
Most of the time I was drifting in and out. The next thing I remember is my surgeon coming in and asking how I was. He was surprised I had the binder up so high, but I told him that is where I need it. He pulled back the covers, lifted my gown, and, without warning, he pulled off my over 12-inch long bandage. I didn’t have any underwear on and I remember thinking, “I just flashed my brother-in-law.”
At one point I woke up in a panic. “What about Eric? Somebody needs to be with Eric.” Eric was away at school at Towson University. Joyce assured me that Jim had called Eric and had given him the news. I cried, because I didn’t want Eric to be alone after receiving this news. Jim had called and asked if I wanted him to come back up. I told him to stay with Jessica and take care of her. “I would be fine.” Really I knew I was just going to sleep. I had company with me and they wouldn’t leave unless they thought I was settled.
The next thing I remember is my friend, Gemma showing up. She had driven from Gettysburg , PA to Towson, MD to be with me. She walked into the room and just stared at me, as if she was in shock. I remember wanting to comfort her, but there was no way I could. My heart was breaking. Suddenly my friend, Sharron got up and went to Gemma. She took her out into the hall. I remember finding peace, knowing that they would comfort each other. Joyce and Jim left and Gemma and Sharron stayed with me for a bit longer. I have no idea how long, since I was sleeping during most of it. I remember having them go onto my FB account to tell my friends of my diagnosis.
They left and I went to sleep …. My cancer journey had begun.