Tag Archives: girl troubles

Ovarian Cancer Awareness

Published / by Kim

Ovarian cancer is the 9th most common cancer in women, but it’s the 5th leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the United States. It accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. It has a frighteningly high mortality rate because its symptoms are non-specific and it often isn’t caught until it’s very advanced. This year, over 20,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 15,000 American women will die from ovarian cancer. It’s worth noting that those mortality rates haven’t gone down since I last posted this 2 years ago.

The best way to protect yourself is to know the facts and know your body. The symptoms are vague, but there ARE symptoms:

– Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
– Urinary urgency
– Pelvic discomfort or pain
– Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
– Unexplained changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
– Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
– Loss of appetite
– Unexplained weight loss or gain
– Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
– Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
– A persistent lack of energy
– Low back pain

Never second guess youself when you don’t feel right. The life you save could be your own.

For more information about ovarian cancer, visit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

The Most Important Person To Trust

Published / by Kim

In a recent post about my upcoming surgery, I mentioned how much I trust Dr. Firm Handshake. Having a doctor you trust – whether it’s an oncologist, a general practitioner, or a foot doctor – is a key part in developing a health care partnership with the people you depend on to keep or make you well. As I was laying in bed this morning trying to will myself to get up, it occurred to me that trust in someone else is much more important even than trust in your doctor, and that’s trust in yourself.

A large part of the reason this tumor was able to grow to record size* was that I didn’t trust myself. I knew something was wrong. I knew for many months. Some of you who follow me on Twitter may recall that last summer I was researching – with Dr. Google, of course – what surgical abdominal scar tissue might feel like and what sorts of problems it might cause. When I couldn’t attribute the weird feeling of separateness in my belly to scar tissue, I decided it must just be bloating and blew it off. As if I don’t know how bloating really feels.

With my scar tissue theory thrown out for lack of evidence, I knew what the problem had to be. Deep inside I knew it, but I kept denying that there was a problem. Why? Because I didn’t want to be a bother. I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to go take up a doctor’s time and find out there was nothing wrong with me and look foolish. Even though I went through this three times before and knew there was a problem I didn’t trust myself, my own knowledge, or my instincts.

I think a large part of the reason I didn’t listen to what I knew inside was that it’s been driven home by the medical community so many times that we, as patients, shouldn’t trust ourselves. Oh, sure, the literature will tell you that you should, but experiences with individual doctors says otherwise. Here’s an example: Right around the time Scott and I got married, my thyroid went entirely out of control. My heart sometimes tried to beat out of my chest, I couldn’t hold out my hands without them shaking, I was ravenously hungry all the time. I had classic symptoms of hyperthyroid, as well as some not so classic but documented symptoms. One of those was hives, which is how I was diagnosed, because I went to the doctor for hives and he noticed the palsy in my hands. Following my diagnosis, there followed a short period where I was in and out of the doctor’s office with a long list of strange complaints while my endocrinologist tried to get my medication dosage correct. One of the complaints was shooting pains in my arms. The doctor I saw for that looked at my chart, saw that I was being treated for a hyperthyroid disorder, ignored that, and told me I had weak arms and needed physical therapy.

My endocrinologist later told me that shooting pain in the limbs is often a sign of hyperthyroid problems. The other doctor just dismissed my concerns, my experience, and my medical records. He knew best and that was that.

That gave me a big lesson in not always trusting what one doctor says and instead asking another. It was also when I began to realize that I was my most important health advocate. Infertility further drove that home for me. And yet, after all of that, and after three bouts with this disease, I still didn’t trust myself enough to go see Dr. Firm Handshake right away. When Scott and I were sitting in his office to get the results of the CT scan and Dr. Firm Handshake led with, “Well, I have good news**…” I still expected him to say he didn’t see anything wrong with me.

Even though I’ve been in discomfort since August and pain since December. Even though my belly is so big that twice I splayed my fingers over it on a crowded subway train and guys leapt up to give me their seats***. Even though I knew something was wrong, I still expected him to say it was all in my head. That’s sick, right?

So what I’m saying here is this: if you think there’s something wrong, for gods’ sake, so get yourself checked out. Trust the little voice inside you telling you there’s a problem. You know you better than anyone. And if you know something is wrong and go to a doctor who says it’s not, go to another one. We all need to take charge of our own health and make sure we get the care we need and deserve.

* Record size for me. I’m aware there are far larger tumors out there.

** Yes, he really did lead with news of a 28cm tumor with “I have good news.” In a way, it is good news, because it’s one big mass instead of several smaller ones. That makes it less likely to be invasive, so that’s good news.

*** Yes, I did that on purpose. I’m not proud. I wanted to sit. I may as well get SOME perks out of this.

All The Details

Published / by Kim / 4 Comments on All The Details

Hello, World! Yesterday, I checked out from you, but I’m back today. The Wallow Day is over and now I’m ready to get on with my life again. The Wallow Day included a complete break from the world, a box of Magnolia cupcakes, and games all day. Days like that allow me to hang on to my normally not-exactly-sunny-but-at-least-I’m-not-killing-myself-or-others disposition on other days.

Now that my outlook is feeling refreshed, I thought I’d share some of the details of the tumor and the upcoming surgery. It’s not particularly gory, so probably it’s fine even for the squeamish. Though consider yourself warned that I’m going to talk about “organs” and not the kind that might make you giggle.

I’ve been fortunate in that if you have to have cancer, I have the kind of cancer you should choose. The tumors of the past, while malignant, have always been non-invasive. As far as cancer goes, non-invasive is definitely what you want to hear. My oncologist did extensive staging during my first surgery in 2003 and discovered smaller tumors in various other non-girly part places, such as on my liver. Because of this, the cancer was staged as IIIA. Anyone who knows anything at all about ovarian cancer knows that stage IIIA is pretty much a death sentence if we’re talking about invasive cancer. For non-invasive, it means a lot of surgery, but not even chemo or radiation. On the one hand it sucks because the only treatment is keep cutting till there’s nothing else to cut out, but on the other hand it totally Does Not Suck because of the whole “I’m not going to die” part.

The type of tumors I’ve had are, according to my oncologist, unlikely to change into the type of tumors that are invasive. However, the most recent CT scan does show a spot behind my bellybutton that has the characteristics of an invasive tumor. The possibility of it having changed to invasive cancer is supported somewhat by some strange biopsy results after my second surgery, which showed that tumor had micropapillary patterns. Micropapillary serous tumors have a slightly higher risk of changing into invasive cancer. The risk is still very low, but it’s definitely elevatyed. However, given my history of recurrence, with it always being non-invasive, Dr. Firm Handshake feels pretty confident that it’s non-invasive this time just like the previous three times.

There will, of course, be frozen section biopsies in the OR as well as a more detailed biopsy following surgery. Dr. Firm Handshake is also going to conduct a thorough search of the house and grounds to try to find anywhere additional cancer cells may be hiding. Because of said thorough search and mostly because of the size of the tumor – 28cm is 11 inches for those of us who don’t use that mainstream metric system – the surgery could go on for a while. My internal organs are being squashed and shoved aside right now and there’s a very high chance that the tumor is adhering to several of them. Each of them has to be separately handled and detached from the tumor.

The tumor itself needs, if at all possible, to be removed in one piece. We can all use our imaginations to think about how Not Good it would be to have a tumor rupture and spill its contents all over the inside my pelvic cavity. The care needed to ensure its removal without rupture is something else that could take some time. Apparently this is also going to need a bigger incision than the last three. This I find shocking, because the previous three incisions already seemed huge to me. Bigger than 7 inches? Seriously?

This brings us to the part that makes me uncomfortable. Dr. Firm Handshake believes the post-surgical pain for a procedure so involved will be considerable. So much so that he plans to completely bypass messing around with a morphine pump for post-surgical pain management and instead I’m going to have an epidural put in before the surgery. That will remain in place for… I don’t know how long, but long enough that after the surgery they can just use the epidural to numb me for a while.

I must confess to you, Gentle Reader, that scares the crap out of me.

Scott and Dr. Firm Handshake were both kind of stunned when I said the epidural scares me more than the surgery, but it does. I know women have them every day but they’ve always terrified me. I’m trying not to even think about the fact that he thinks the pain will be so bad that I’ll need one. That makes me worry about what will happen when the epidural is removed. I suppose I’ll worry about that when the time comes, and that’s why they make Percocet, after all.

So now we should be all up to date. March 30. Shit’s gonna get real, son.

In Which We Start All Over Again

Published / by Kim / 4 Comments on In Which We Start All Over Again

Some time last summer, probably around August, I started noticing a strange feeling in my abdomen. Not pain, just a feeling of fullness, and sort of a detachment, like my abdomen wasn’t really a part of me anymore. Mostly I ignored it, because ignoring things is something I’m good at. I’m a champion ignorer.

It started getting harder to ignore, though, when I started noticing that my bellybutton, always a proud innie, was slowly working its way to an outtie. Along with that my pants started getting tight. Not in the thighs or the hips; only in the belly area. Because I’m so good at denial, which goes hand in hand with ignoring, I actually had myself convinced for a tiny moment that I was really many months pregnant and that I was one of those women you hear about who doesn’t know she’s pregnant because she never stopped getting a period. That delusion lasted long enough for me to bring one of my formerly favorite pastimes out of retirement: I peed on a stick.

I’m just going to leave the results of that to your imagination, because you and I both know that the result didn’t begin with the letter P.

Finally, I decided that ignoring and denying weren’t really serving me very well, which is how I found myself today once again in the tender care of Dr. Firm Handshake. I call him that because he has one, a firm handshake. I’ve always found that surprising in a surgeon and it’s one of the things that made me immediately like him when we first met 8 years ago. Dr. Firm Handshake also has kind eyes, and if I’m totally honest, he’s also pretty kind to anyone else’s eyes that happen to be looking at him, if you get my meaning. But seriously, there are a lot easier ways to get an attractive man to do to you the things I let Dr. Firm Handshake do to me today.

I won’t go into those things in detail, but as soon as he saw my ridiculously distended belly – and looking at it, I don’t even know how I managed to stay in denial as long as I did – he said, “It’s been like this HOW long?” For the rest of the appointment, Dr. Firm Handshake kept his concerned face on.

“You need a CT scan,” he said. “And I want a blood panel so we can get a CA125.”

And that’s another reason I love him: we’ve been through this dance before*, Dr. Firm Handshake and I. He knows I know the drill, like what the hell a CA125 is. He doesn’t talk down to me, but he also answers my questions when there are things I don’t know about what’s going on. He’s a really great doctor and I trust him. Trust is pretty damn important when you’re dealing with an oncologist.

Somehow I finagled the imaging center into letting me come in today, since I was already all the way on the east side**. So the CT scan is done, and the blood is drawn. I’ll be back in Dr. Firm Handshake’s office on the 3rd for the results. He’s moving me fast on this one which, combined with his concerned face, has me a little concerned myself. But this is it, this is the last time. If there’s surgery this time – and I would be stunned if there wasn’t – there won’t be any girly parts left over for cancer to grow on again. So Dr. Firm Handshake and I get to dance one more time, and then it’s over.

*Because we’ve done this so many times before, I felt a little like I’d let him down by not coming in sooner. Like he was disappointed in me for giving in to denial for so long.

**And if there was one complaint I have about Dr. Firm Handshake, it’s that his office is in NY Presbyterian, all the way over on York Ave. It’s a pain to get there.