Back my story of how cervical cancer has affected my life and how I got to where I am now, we go back to April. A month after my hospitalization. When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, multiple doctors told me that I would never have the chance to get pregnant again. My current pregnancy was the only chance we would have to be able to have a child on our own. I was supposed to have a radical hysterectomy right after the c-section I would need to deliver our baby. When we lost the baby, Dr. Goff said we could try doing a cone biopsy. Hopefully by doing this procedure, we could remove the cancer and Dan and I would have one more try to have a baby.
I was confident this would happen. The biopsy would remove the cancer, and we could try to become pregnant again in July (my timeline, who knows what it actually would have been). In my post-op appointment with Dr. Cheng, we talked about what pregnant life would be like missing a chunk of my cervix. She advised no traveling (good-bye trips to Boston and Europe in the fall), and I would be under her care at 13 weeks, which meant moving to Seattle at that point. She told us birthing horror stories of parents who went on babymoons, and then were stuck in the cities they were in until the baby was 38 weeks and could fly home. Hopefully my cervix would heal with a lot of scar tissue, meaning that there was still a slight chance that I wouldn’t need a cerclage, and could actually have a baby naturally, no c-section.
Dan and I drove out to Seattle the Sunday before the surgery. I had told my parents not to drive up for the surgery, but Dan’s mom flew out and we stayed with her at the Rainier Club. We went to an amazing seafood dinner at Anthony’s that night. Monday we had a pre-op appointment with Dr. Goff, and that night I went to Ivars for happy hour with friends were I ate as much as I could before I had to stop eating at 7pm.
My surgery was scheduled for 7am, so we arrived at the hospital at 5am. Dan hung out with me in pre-op, and we nervously waited. Dr. Goff came in and said they would be removing the lymph nodes first, and that if any of the lymph nodes looked bad or tested positive for cancer, they wouldn’t go through with the cone biopsy. Instead they would pull me out of surgery and would schedule the radical hysterectomy.
There’s always a small sense of fear when I go under. I know that my procedures are all standard, but I’m always scared of not ever waking up. In the time leading up to the cone biopsy, I texted my best friend telling her of my fear. I know it’s silly, but it’s scary. When I went in for my radical hysterectomy, I had to have blood drawn to confirm my blood type in case of a transfusion. There was a bit of drama about whether I could actually get a transfusion if need be, since I had had one within the past 3 months. I also had to mark that I was pregnant within the past 3 months.
“Was the blood transfusion needed during the birth?” the lab manager asked.
“No.” I replied with tears in my eyes and daring him to inquire further.
He didn’t ask any questions, and said it probably wouldn’t be a problem if I needed a transfusion during the hysterectomy (I didn’t).
But back to the cone biopsy. I said bye to Dan before they rolled me into surgery, and on my way to the surgery theater I prayed. Hail Mary’s, making deals with God. Begging them to let this surgery be successful. I made promises that I would go to church every Sunday. That I would never say anything bad about anyone ever again.
I remember tears rolling down my cheek as the anesthesiologist put a mask on my face. With one last prayer I closed my eyes.
I woke up a few hours with my best friend next to me. Of course I was crying. I always cry with anesthesia. The nurse was on the phone with the patient floor nurse checking to see when my room is ready.
“She’s ok. She’s just sad,” the nurse said on the phone.
Apparently I woke up in hysterics that they had gone ahead and done the radical hysterectomy. While that obviously did not happen, they did find one large, abnormal lymph node, but it had tested negative for cancer. They think it was leftover from my bout with sepsis. The tumor was much larger than they anticipated though, so surgery took longer and things in my body had to be moved around. Which meant that for about 2-3 weeks after surgery, going to the bathroom was very uncomfortable. I was scared things were never going to go back to normal, but they did. (Though now after the hysterectomy, I’m feeling the same pain and wondering if things will go back to normal ever again… again).
I was only in the hospital for one night this time. My nurses were lovely as always, and my best friend was on spring break so she hung out with me, as did Dan and his mom. I was discharged after passing the bladder test (in which they fill your bladder with saline, then seeing if you can pee out the same amount. This is the norm after spending sometime with a catheter in..). Dan had reserved us a nice hotel in the University District, so we were close to the hospital in case anything happened.
Dr. Goff stopped into see us before I left. Tumor board was Friday morning before our appointment in the early afternoon, so she would have a chance to discuss my options with other doctors. I won’t lie. She didn’t seem to happy. I know now it’s because she wasn’t confident this would work. Her demeanor between this surgery, and my radical hysterectomy were vastly different. During the cone biopsy time she was very serious and short. With the radical hysterectomy, she seemed a bit more animated and smiled more. Don’t get me wrong. Dr. Goff is a great doctor, she is amazing and smart. Very smart. Also a little intimidating, but like my resident friend said: The best doctors make their residents nervous, they always want to be do their best for these doctors.
Another fun thing that happened during my discharge — removing the vaginal packing. This gets a little TMI, so feel free to skip this paragraph. During the surgery they put a vaginal pack in to help with the bleeding. Vaginal pack is a fancy way of saying a million feet of gauze shoved up your vagina. When the resident took out the gauze, it was like a 10 hour Brazilian wax. Ok, it was probably 30 seconds of feet after feet of gauze taken out, but it was so painful. Again, imagine having a Brazilian, but inside, and instead of a swift rip off, a looooong, slow, painful procedure. If you ever have to have a vaginal pack, I recommend you ask the doctor removing it if they can moisten the gauze before it comes out.
Dan and I spent the rest of the week relaxing. I was in a lot of pain the Wednesday after I was discharged, so I stayed in the hotel and just rested and hung out with friends. That Thursday was Holy Thursday, so I went to church that night. I was painful. Midway through mass my best friend went to her car to get blankets and towels that I could sit on. After mass some friends came over and we all hung out. I wasn’t nervous about the next day’s results. It would be ok. Dan and I would have a chance to have our baby. We had planned meticulously. I would get pregnant in July, and then things would go on as normal.
We saw Dr. Goff when we were in the waiting room. She waved to us as she walked quickly back into the office. That made me nervous, but Dr. Goff was busy doctor. She probably didn’t have time to smile and chat.
Once Dan and I were back in the room, I took out a small rosary my best friend gave me and started saying Hail Marys.
“I don’t have good news.”
That was the first thing out of Dr. Goff’s mouth when she walked in.
“The tumor was twice as large as we thought, and your margins came back positive, both the cervix and one of your lymph nodes.”
Dan and I both burst into tears. Choice four letter words came out of our mouths. We would need to go through with the radical hysterectomy and chemo/radiation. I wouldn’t be able to carry our baby.
“I called the Reproductive Health office though, I can get you an appointment with Dr. Neal-Perry and you can start IVF.”
She left to call and make the appointment for us while Dan and I sat, still shocked with my prognosis. We didn’t ask many questions about our next steps with the cancer, all we cared about was trying to have our baby.
“Ok, I made an appointment for you at 3:30.”
We had about 30 minutes before the appointment. The office was across from the hotel were were staying at. My best friend was on her way down to meet with us, and I’m pretty sure I was sending her incoherent messages of what was going on, and where to find us, asking her to come to the IVF office.
Numb, Dan and I left the office and made our way to our next adventure/life obstacle, IVF.