At first glance, you might think that this is a picture of a pregnant woman. Interestingly enough, it is not. With full permission, by the owner of the body in this image, I will tell you a little story, along with the lessons learned.
There I was, not even two months ago, clothes shopping with my Mom. This activity is not something that my Mom or I do often. I generally categorize looking for clothes in the same department as sitting in the painfully long line at MTO, waiting to renew my licence. She usually goes once a year, with the intention of getting everything she needs, in one spree. This time, she was shopping for her trip of a lifetime, to Italy, where she is headed next month.
After an afternoon of browsing, she eventually found a store with sundresses she liked. She tried on a ton of them, in her usual size, and nothing would fit. She kept complaining about her belly and how crazy it was she was fitting items that were much larger than she has worn, her entire life. She is a toothpick, actually, and both of her legs can fit in one of mine. She just thought she was gaining weight.
Finally, she settled on some adorable outfits and we completed our task at hand. The only problem is that she was progressively feeling sick. When prompted about going to the doctor to get the problem checked out, she insisted that she would be fine until her next scheduled appointment. She wasn’t going to let anything stop her from getting to Italy, and she is bull-headed, at the best of times.
Fast forward days and then weeks of pain, until my sister finally convinced her to go to the emergency department, after vomiting and being doubled over in pain, continued. She had been accustomed to handling the pain, but she said it was getting much worse. A few emergency visits later, the doctor showed us this image. My mother had what appeared to be a tumour, the size of a small soccer ball, on her ovary.
Several tests, including the elevated CA125 cancer antigen screening and various doctors later, she was sent to Toronto to see a cancer specialist. In agony, they had to rush the surgery, because she couldn’t keep any food down, her blood pressure was all over the map, her lung partially collapsed, her body was unable to perform basic bodily functions, they were worried about her heart, not even heavy narcotics could take her pain away, she could have been mistaken for a late-term pregnant woman, and the drill sergeant in her was getting increasingly frustrated.
In the middle of this, she told me that I couldn’t write about what was going on. She didn’t want people to feel sorry for her or think she was dying. She had a trip to get to and she was determined she would be fine. Since this situation consumed our family, it was impossible for me to write about any other topic, and instead of being incongruent about what I was feeling, I decided it was best to keep silent.
After the urgent surgery, my mother is now over 16 pounds lighter, back to her normal size, less a 20cm ovarian tumour, healed up from a radical hysterectomy and 45 staple incision, with the amazing news that there was no evidence of cancer at all. The pain actually came from the fact the tumour was torqued on the stem, five times.
Imagine filling a water balloon, the size of a small watermelon, twisting it in a circle five times and walking around with it, inside your pelvis, pressing and invading all of the nearby organs. The emergency room doctor said that it was larger than a baby and the surgeon said she had never seen a torqueing that bad before.
The torqueing might have actually been a blessing, in disguise though, because it killed the tumour (called necrosis) and potentially any cancer cells in it. Either that, or it was a rare type of benign ovarian tumour. The best cancer doctors in Canada analyzed the tumour, as well as the removed and adjacent organs, dozens of tests were run and it has been determined that she is perfectly healthy. No cancer follow-up is required and Mom can get back to her active self.
My theory is that the torqueing happened while she walked up the 63 outdoor stairs at our place, after a family gathering. If you remember the big staircase at Hiawatha, from the old days, that is the type of staircase we have to access the lake. We offered for her to walk across from the neighbour’s place, where the driveway was at the same level, but no, she had to be stubborn and do the steps.
Now that my Mom has made it into the surgeon’s photo album of interesting cases, grateful for the multitude of answered prayers along the way, looking fantastic and bouncing around like a teenager at a pep rally, excited for Italy, I can get back to being able to write about what is really on my mind.
I believe that her stubbornness actually helped her to stay focused on her trip and not allow worry to get the best of her. At lunch the other day, she gave me permission to finally speak publicly about it, with the intention of letting people know what we learned about ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is known as ‘The Silent Killer’ because there are often no symptoms, and by the time it is discovered, it has often moved into advanced stages or spread beyond the ovary. Since regular internal checkups may have caught it sooner, it is a reminder not to put off screening tests, for early detection.
On that note, maybe it is time for you or your loved ones to book your internal exam, colonoscopy, Pap test, mammogram or annual physical with your doctor. If you are experiencing unusual pain, for any reason, don’t wait weeks, months, or even years, like my mother did, before getting things checked out. You never know what they might find!
Another thought is that it is essential to always have something to look forward to and say lots of prayers, to get us through difficult times. Miracles do happen.
‘Being stubborn can be a good thing. Being stubborn can be a bad thing. It just depends on how you use it.‘ ~ Willie Aames