It’s been ten years since my molar pregnancy. I hold on to so many memories of that harrowing experience, but the one thing I’ll never forget, or let go of, is the ghastly sensation that there was something inside my body – first the botched fetal material and then the cancer – that wasn’t supposed to be there, that I had no control of, and that caused me harm.
After a barrage of invasive medical procedures, including vaginal ultrasounds, a CAT scan, and surgery, it was around this time in February 2005 that I spent every Monday morning for eight weeks at the gynecologic oncologist’s office receiving chemotherapy injections to destroy the malignancy inside my uterus.
On my first Monday, there was an older couple sitting in the waiting room with me. The woman wore a scarf over her head. She looked tired and was quiet. The man looked nervous and was talkative.
“What are you doing here, young lady?” he asked me as if it were absurd for a woman my age to be sitting in the same room with them.
It was absurd. I wanted to scream, As luck would have it, shit happens to us youngsters, too! Instead, I explained my molar pregnancy as best as I could because I still didn’t understand it and as quickly as I could because I didn’t want to cry.
They looked shocked.
I was, too.
We must’ve had the same chemo schedule, because I saw this couple every Monday morning, and every Monday morning the man was eager to talk about his wife and her cervical or ovarian (I don’t remember which) cancer while he (we) waited. I felt bad for them – for his wife who was sick and for him who was powerless to help her – but I dreaded seeing them. I didn’t want to think about what was inside her body. I didn’t want to watch him sit alone. I didn’t want to imagine their future. I didn’t want to do any of it because it was terrifying, and I was too worried about myself to have any perspective that my condition, albeit crappy, was curable and that my future, unlike theirs, was a sure thing.
Eventually, I stopped seeing them, but it wasn’t because they were done with their cancer journey. It was because I was done with mine. I’ve thought about them periodically over the years. Did she survive? Is he alone? My memories of them usually creep up during a medical procedure, like a colonoscopy, a skin biopsy, or a thyroid ultrasound, that probes for something below the surface of my skin.
I thought of them on Monday while I waited to get a mammogram.
I have no family history of breast cancer, but I turn 40 later this year and because of my medical history, you’ll never catch me avoiding an examination, test, or procedure that could help me avoid sitting once again in the waiting room of an oncologist’s office.
For better or for worse, my molar pregnancy taught me two things:
1. It taught me to be afraid. It’s been a decade since that clusterfuck of a pregnancy, and I’m still convinced that every lump, bump, tingle, or pain is a cancer that’s going to kill me.
2. It taught me to take care of myself. The upside of my PTSD is that I go to the doctor more than most people I know.
I never skip a cleaning at the dentist or a Pap smear at the gynecologist. I get a wellness check-up with my primary care doctor twice a year. I also have several visits each year with a dermatologist, endocrinologist, and hematologist. My next (and third) colonoscopy will happen in 2017, I had a follow-up thyroid ultrasound done a few weeks ago, and last Friday I added an orthopedic hand surgeon to my Rolodex of doctors.
In early January, I discovered a small, hard lump underneath the skin of my right hand. Google attempted to assure me that it was most likely a fluid-filled and benign ganglion cyst, but it also disclosed that, although very rare, some hand cysts were malignant sarcomas that could spread to other parts of the body. Despite my outward attempt to not freak out, you can probably imagine the diagnosis that haunted me in my sleep while I waited five weeks for my appointment. Fortunately, my little lump was a benign cyst. Crisis (cancer) averted.
I’m (trying) not (to be) overly worried about the results of Monday’s mammogram, but it was an emotional day. There’s no place to hide when a big machine takes pictures of what you can’t see inside your body. It’s normal for these kinds of tests to cause anxiety about one’s future. For me, though, they also trigger difficult memories of my past, including the couple I met ten years ago while waiting for my Monday morning chemotherapy injections.