Lucky With Cancer, Lucky to Have Insurance

I think I have a horseshoe stuck up my butt... because I'm lucky as hell.I know I've been complaining lately about being clumsy and stumbling into random misfortunes  (i.e. dropping a $75 key fab at just the right angle that it falls into the elevator shaft, accidentally throwing away important documents like checks and birth certificates, tripping on flat ground, getting tons of shizer stolen... etc), but in life in general, I run pretty damn well.

I got the best cancer you could ask for, AND my dad had insurance.

I've told my story before, and to me, it's all really anciet history, but with all the discussion on healthcare these past few months, I've been thinking a lot about my experience, and how lucky I really was.

In June of 2006, just before my senior year in college, I was laying in bed alone one morning when I felt a lump-- a small, but noticeable roundish hardness on the right side of my lower abdomen. I thought it was strange but didn't think much of it. Besides, it could be just gas! :) At the time, I played soccer for Indiana Purdue of Fort Wayne, and during the summers, my days were spent avidly preparing for the fall season. While practicing with my town's semi-pro team, I noticed a dull pain in the same area where I had felt a lump the week before, only, it was not a tiny one anymore.  It had grown to twice the size.

As a girl who was 5'6'' weighing 130 pounds, a growing lump was easy to notice.  I knew I had to, but I dreaded seeing a doctor. I already had an appointment with a cooter docter (<-- immature term for gyno)  scheduled three weeks away, so I decided that I could wait.

A couple weeks went by and the lump got bigger and harder, and my appetite disappeared. Since I'd always been know for having an especially large appetite, both Andrew and I knew something had to be wrong, but my plan was to still wait for my doctor's appt.

At my next soccer practice, I started running with my team, and again, the pain returned. A mile into our run, the pain was so severe, I had to quit. I’m a firm believer in “sucking it up” when I comes to sports, so for me to have to walk off the field because of the pain was a big deal. I went to see my trainer the next day, and he referred me to another doctor, so I scheduled an appointment for a few days later. In the meantime, I, like everyone else these days does, searched on Google for answers to my medical questions.  I typed in, "lump in lower stomach." I fumbled around and kept finding results for ovarian cancer.  I don't remember specifically what I read about it, but I remember it saying that death was a big possibility in stage III.... whatever that meant. I started crying and crawled into bed with Andrew.  He calmed me down and told me not to worry because we were going to see the doctor the next day.

When the doctor examined my stomach, he must have poked a little too hard because as he was writing down what he had observed, I started sweating and feeling nauseous.  He told me to lie down and that he wanted me to go straight to the emergency room to have some tests done.  He asked if I had someone to drive me, and I told him that my boyfriend was in the waiting room.  The nurse said she’d fetch him and asked me what he looked like… “Uhh tall, dark, and handsome.” Obviously, she picked him right out of the crowd and brought him into the room. We went straight to the ER.

Of course, the line was hella-long so we sat and cuddled on the couch in the waiting room for awhile.  Before the doctors could see me, I had to get my temperature and blood pressure taken. I went to go do that by myself, but I wished so much that Andrew would have gone with me because when the nurse went to take my blood pressure, she took out the regular-sized black instrument for adults that wraps around your arm. I told her to watch out for my sweet guns (obviously joking because my arms are scrawny). She chuckled and pulled out a small white arm band with Winnie the Pooh on it, saying that it would fit my "guns" a little better.

After some paperwork, Andrew and I went into a private room where a couple doctors looked at me. I then had a pelvic exam, and an ultra-sound, both of which were very uncomfortable. Being a poker player, it was in my nature to try and read ultra-sound lady's expressions, but she didn't have much of a tell haha. Andrew and I were there for hours, and talked a little bit about what the doctors might say.  We decided it would be pointless to worry, so we starting watching, "Deal or No Deal."  It was one of the first times we had ever seen it, and the lady contestant featured that particular episode was crazy!! She was doing really well, and getting down to the last case when the Doctor came in... duh duh duuuuuuh!!

I was so into the show that I HALF thought about asking him to wait a second.  The thought swiftly vanished once I saw the consternation on his face.  He was a little easier to get a read on than the ultra sound lady.  He moved slowly. He sat down on a stool and leaned forward with his elbows on his lap with his hands clasped together.  He spoke very softly, and his words were chosen carefully. I knew that what he was going to say was bad, and I am sure Andrew predicted the same.

His name was Dr. Schwartz, and he said that I had what he believed to be a germ cell tumor on my right ovary. He knew it wasn't a cyst because it was solid, not fluid filled.  He said that it might be cancerous, but probably benign.  The tumor was 12cm, and it needed to be taken out immediately.  Afterward, he would biopsy it for cancer.

I was in shock.

I teared up a little, but didn't know what to say besides, "Ok let’s do what needs to be done." It’s weird to look back at this time, because to be honest, I was scared to death. I didn't know anything for sure, but it is hard not to imagine the worst.

I called my mom and told her that it wasn't serious but that I needed surgery. I didn't want her to worry, but she soon found out the truth when I told her what the insurance would be billed for. Whether I liked it or not, I was getting ready to have serious surgery.  I had an MRI the next day, an appointment with Dr. Schwartz on the day after that, and surgery scheduled for two days later.

On the day of my surgery, my mom, dad, sisters, grand-parents, and aunt drove down to Fort Wayne, IN from Kalamazoo, MI to see me. My best friend, Nicole, was there too. We small talked, and at that point, I was too busy to be scared.  It wasn't until the nurse came to push my bed away, that I completely broke down.  I was crying uncontrollably, and I held onto Andrew's hand as long as I could. I had never had surgery before, and I was so scared about what they were going to find. The surgery door opened, and I immediately felt the coldness of the operating room. Everything seemed so surreal. It looked just as it does on TV- bright, white, and very... sterile.  The anesthesiologist talked me through what was going to happen, and put the mask on me. I felt a sharp pain in my IV, and the last thing I remember was feeling like I was choking.

I was woken up by a nurse whispering to me that it was all over. I was so happy to still be alive!!  My head was completely clouded, and I couldn't open my eyes because my mascara had crusted them shut from my tears. Why I was wearing make up and trying to look cute in a hospital is beyond me.  I laid by myself in the recovery room for what seemed like forever. All I could think about was seeing Andrew. I also wanted to tell him and my family I was ok because I knew that they were so worried. They finally rolled me into my hospital room. I was still very tired but sooo excited at the same time to see everyone.

Andrew was the first person I saw.  He kissed me and grabbed my hand. I was trying so hard to get my body to wake up because I wanted to talk to him. I told him I was ok, and then realized that I should ask him what the doctors had found. "Was it cancerous?" He hesitated, and said yes, that my tumor was malignant, but the doctors said they thought it had all been removed. I was still so groggy and out of it, that I didn't truly grasp what he was saying. I just nodded and said ok. I talked to my little sisters a bit, and then my mom told me that my friends had not been allowed in because they didn't know how I would react to the news.  "Let’em in!"

Along with my family, many of my friends came to visit right after surgery. We had a good ole time for a few hours until my family had to return to Michigan, and Andrew decided that it was time for me to get some sleep. Everyone left and my mind began returning to its normal state.

In the still of the night, everything became magnified.  Andrew held my hand as I tried to sleep, but I couldn't.  There was the pain in my stomach, the cathator, the IV, the machine pumping my feet to keep circulation, and an oxygen tube in my nose that itched SO bad that all kept me awake. Also, the fact that I had just been told that I had cancer didn't help.  Andrew fell asleep in a chair next to me but I kept waking up when I freaked out every five minutes. I'll never forget what he did next...

He read to me. "Sweetie, I'll read you a story and you can try and relax and go to sleep."  He looked around the room for something to read. Our friends had brought me a ton of reading material. Out of all of them, he knew what I would like the most... Card Player Magazine. The article he read was about not saying sorry at the poker table... (hmm real life foreshadowing?) I could tell how tired he was too from the way he read, but he kept reading to me until he was confident I could go to sleep, and I did.

For the next three days, I had tons of visitors.  We played games, watched movies, and laughed- a lot. The nurses called my hospital room, "the party room." The big obstacle for those few days was peeing again!! We cheered when I did it myself!  Haha, too much info? Finally, Andrew got to take me home. He was wearing the same outfit that he came to the hospital with, having been too worried to leave.

I got home and stayed in bed. The pain was crazy, so I slept and watched Sex and the City for 5 days.  Andrew cooked, helped me shower, changed me--did everything for me.  It hurt to roll over.  I felt helpless, but he was wonderful. (He now knows every Sex and the City episode by heart, go ahead! Ask him)

After each day, I felt better and better, but for a month, I had tons of doctor's appointments. I got my staples out, I had follow up appointments, I met with an oncologist, I met with a gyno-oncoligist, I had to get blood drawn... blahblahblah.  The worst part, though, was that none of the doctors could tell me exactly what was next. One said that I may have to have surgery AGAIN to take out more lymph nodes and my other ovary.  Another said I might have to have chemo. The emotional runaround was exhausting. Finally, after a complete run-around, a doctor assured me that I wouldn't have to have surgery, and even if I had chemo, I would probably be fine. That was such a relief.

Knowing that my prognosis was good, I began focusing on soccer again. I wanted to play my senior season which was going to start in mid-August.

I had a month to get back into playing shape, and it was so slow at first.  The first day I strapped on my running shoes, I got tired within the first few steps and knew it was going to be a long road. Andrew ran with me everyday after that.  By the time the season was set to start, I was still a little weak but had the strength of everyone behind me.  Andrew bought me brand new top of the line cleats, to show me how proud he was of me, and to encourage me to have a wonderful season.  The first game was at the IPFW yearly showcase, in which teams from all over the country come to scrimmage. I started, and played nearly the whole game. Although the rest of season ultimately didn't go perfectly according to plan, I am happy with the way it went.

So, I'm pretty much the luckiest cancer patient alive. I had surgery, and that was it. Not only did I have a perfect recovery, but I had the friends, family, and Andrew to help me through it. I also had the best insurance available since my Dad works for Phizer. I wish others were as fortunate.

Healthcare reform has been such a hot topic in recent weeks, and though I've spent a ton of time informing myself on both sides of the matter, my own experience has been the most influential. In general, it seems as though both the right and left agree that there needs to be modifications to the current system, obviously varying in degree, but what devastates me the most is that the conversation is being clouded by the influence greed has had on many politicians on both sides.

I know this blog is long, and not many people will read long enough to get to this point, but I thought it was important to share my story.

Thanks for reading- Kristy