…..And it had teeth and hair. Kyle here. Steph’s out of surgery and will be going home today. Turns out the grapefruit was not actually a tumor. It was a dermoid cyst. Just google it… I won’t post the pictures. Basically its a cyst composed of teeth, hair, and whatever else. She lost an ovary due to it, but all should be normal going forward. No cancer. No risk of cancer in the future due to this. Thank you for all your support, she (and I) have really appreciated it!
If you are a member of road crew or a client working with me, you have a wide selection of ways to piss me off. Talk to me like I’m an idiot. Make us unpack and repack portions of the truck because you can’t remember the order of the pack. Argue with me over why you should be allowed to use your clearly-not-up-to-code, very homemade power distribution.
But there is only one surefire way guaranteed to ensure that I will have to grit my teeth and force myself not to stomp on your neck. The fastest, most efficient way to make me hate you is simple: just call me ‘sweetheart’.
And you don’t actually have to stop with sweetheart, either. ‘Honey’, ‘babe’, ‘darlin”, ‘sweetie’…any of them will get you a sharp look and me telling you, “It’s Stephanie, actually.” A second occurrence, and you’ll hear, “My name is Stephanie, don’t call me ‘sweetheart’.” You will also ensure that I fantasize about your death and give you nothing but short, polite-but-curt responses for the rest of the day, or at least until you can prove to me that you’re not a complete asshole. Call me that a third time, and…well, let’s just say that I’m glad there’s never been a third time, because I’m not quite sure what I’d do if someone did.
But I assure you, it wouldn’t be pretty. Or ladylike.
Nothing makes me more furious than when someone on deck calls me by a term of endearment, because regardless of intention, it’s incredibly disrespectful. I get that people often can’t remember my name, and I totally get that; you can pretty much guarantee that on any given day I forgot the road co’s names approximately 15 seconds after we were introduced. But hundreds of other clients and road co have figured out ways to address me without being disrespectful: my name (for one,) Ma’am, Ms, Miss, Captain, Boss, Mate, even, “I’m so sorry, I’ve forgotten your name,” is okay by me. Never ‘honey’, never ‘sweetheart’, never ‘darlin’, and never *’babe.’ It’s especially disrespectful when the client has just introduced themselves to, say, our audio guy and replies with, “How’s it going, sir?” and then turns to me and says, “Nice to meet you, sweetheart.” That is so beyond insulting that it makes me want to spit.
*I have come upon a single exception in the almost-ten years that I’ve been in this industry. I met a road guy once who called everyone ‘babe’. Me, our audio guy, our House Manager, Kyle, the Artistic Director, people above his position, below it, men, women, everyone was ‘babe’. By the very nature of its inclusiveness, I had a hard time finding fault.
I go through life–even outside of work–cringing every time I hear a pet name directed towards me. Unless you are a member of my family or a very, very close friend, I am never happy to be addressed in that manner; I just may not respond with outward vitriol. But I definitely take it as an insult, and it definitely sours our interaction.
Until the other day.
I had my pre-op appointment with my gynological-oncologist last week. She talked me through the exact procedure they’re planning to use, and what risks are involved. They also scheduled my surgery (May 5th,) talked through my pre-op regiment (I won’t go into details, but suffice to say it involves 119 grams of Miralax and Kyle being out of the house for the afternoon,) took some blood for routine pre-surgery blood work, and gave me a chest x-ray.
The entire process had me interacting with almost a dozen different receptionists, doctors, nurses, and technicians. My doctor called me by my name, of course, as did anyone who spoke to me from behind a computer station. But a few of them, particularly the nurse who took my blood and the technician who gave me my x-ray, called me all variety of pet names.
“Okay honey, now you just relax those shoulders and give me a nice deep breath, that’s my girl.”
“Now in just a moment, you’re going to feel a little pinch…right there it is, good job, baby, almost done.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, sweetheart, we’ll take good care of you and get you back to your old self before you know it.”
Unlike every other fucking time in my entire fucking life, being called an endearing name didn’t fill me with hate-rage. Instead, I found it soothing. It made me feel safe and cared-for. So help me god, I actually liked it, which in itself filled me with confusion and a little guilt. Why do I loathe it when someone on deck calls me ‘sweetheart’ but not when a nurse does? And does that make me a hypocrite?
This gnawed at me for a while before I finally figured it out. It all comes down to the perceived position of strength in a relationship. See, terms of endearment are words that we use towards small children. It’s a name that lets the child know that even though they are much smaller than you and you could potentially eat them, you feel enough tenderness towards them that you will protect them; they are safe with you. A pet name communicates something about the user’s views of both themselves and you: that they are in a position of strength and that you are in a weaker position, and they will protect you because you’re in that weaker position. And in the workplace, I don’t need a fucking protector. It doesn’t matter if you’re the parent of a girl in a dance recital, member of a legendary rock band, or the goddamn governor (who, for the record, has been nothing but kind and respectful towards me,) I still expect you to respect me as a professional who knows what the fuck I’m doing and can handle my own shit. Not a fragile creature who needs to be protected.
But in the hospital, preparing for surgery for the first time? I was afraid. I was waaaaay outside of my element, and facing a huge unknown; hell, the most invasive surgery I’ve had up to this point was getting my wisdom teeth out, so this whole process has had a swirl of the terrifying unknown darkening it. In this particular instance, it was reassuring to have a person communicate to me that they were going to take care of me, that they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. I wanted a person to be in a position much stronger and knowledgeable than mine. I wanted a person to protect me from my fear. So when the nurse called me ‘baby’ and patted my back, two things that on deck, will get your head detached from your torso? Like a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer, they were.
So much of what has been difficult about this entire experience is that it has shaken so very many of my previous thoughts and beliefs. The way I think about control over my body, the way I think about my reproductive system, the way I view myself as a woman: so much of my beliefs about myself have to be viewed through a different context than previously. And one of these new thoughts that has been hardest to accept is how to reconcile my feelings of vulnerability with the public part of my person. Before I found out about my tumor, vulnerability was a secret part of myself, rarely to be shared or shown. It could be expressed to very close friends and family, maybe even discussed with the public in an abstract way. But it was never to impede my life in any way shape or form, and vulnerability didn’t even exist once my boots hit the deck at work. I’m a fighter who doesn’t flinch and sure as shit doesn’t need someone to take care of me. I got this.
Except that’s not totally true anymore. In very short order, I’ll be physically vulnerable, unable to do things for myself that I used to. I’ll need people to do things for me regardless of how much of a fighter I am, because fighter or no, there’s going to be a hole in my stomach that had to be sewed up. And in addition to the physical vulnerability, there is/will be a fair amount of emotional vulnerability. I’m strong, but the fear that I’m facing is a pretty formidable fucking foe; even though the surgeon is confident that the surgery will be straight-forward and I’ll be completely free of cancer, there’s a small amount of uncertainty, and that’s enough to feed the fear. I’m afraid in a way that I’ve never been before, an intangible but very real way, and it’s made me feel emotionally fragile in ways that I’m not comfortable with. I’m not used to leaning on others–especially strangers–for comfort.
So for now, I will just accept that as part of my physical and emotional healing, I will be doing things that I don’t normally do because right now, that’s what I need. I will be eating a lot of popsicles and frozen chicken potpies, because that’s what I need. I will be letting my coworkers lift all the heavy amps and push all the cases when I initially go back to work, because that’s what I need. And I will find it comforting when the stranger inserting my IV calls me ‘sweetheart.’
Because that’s what I need.
Hi, guys. This is shitty, isn’t it? I know. To say that this has been an exhausting week is an understatement. But I can also say that the outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming. I keep saying it, but all your love is my strength, and I can’t thank all of you enough. (And if you don’t know what I’m referring to all I can say is go back and read the post I put up yesterday. It’s a doozy.)
Needless to say, that afternoon–learning that I had a mass with the same approximate dimensions as a grapefruit attached to my ovary–threw my world into upheaval. There was a small silver lining to be found, however; when you have a softball-sized mass inside of you, doctors would like to get it out of you as quickly as possible, and for once the medical world works incredibly quickly and with maximum efficiency. I was getting blood work the next day, and a week later I was strapped down in a giant tube for an MRI.
Which, let me tell you, was no cake walk. For one, it’s so loud! In my sensory-deprived loopiness I started pretending that the repetitive banging was a house beat just before the drop, and I started making up dance moves in my head. And then there were the mind games I managed to play with myself. The MRI technician said I could keep my wedding rings on as long as I was certain they were real gold. Which of course they are, but that didn’t stop me from imagining that the tingles I was feeling in my left hand (from being propped up on my stomach for an hour) were actually the magnets getting ready to rip my finger off. Add to that the fact that I had to pee for the last 15 minutes of a test that requires you to remain perfectly still, and I left no fan of MRIs.
Two days later, I was back to my doctor for a follow-up of the MRI. This was the appointment that we were looking forward to (in a perverse sort of way) the most. It was here and now that we would finally learn just how serious this was all going to be. Was it going to be an out-patient procedure that would have me miss one, maybe two days of work? Or was this going to be major surgery that would have me at home for several weeks?
Here’s what we learned:
It’s a tumor. A probably benign tumor, since the blood work they did to search for a cancer indicator in the blood came back with very low levels, telling us that there’s likely no cancer. But a tumor nonetheless. It’s a solid mass that has likely engulfed my entire right ovary. (Seriously, between the ultrasound and the MRI, no one can actually prove that I even have a right ovary, since on one can find it.) But because the tumor has presumably taken it over, I will almost definitely lose my right ovary and fallopian tube. Which, I came to learn, isn’t that big of a deal, because apparently ovaries are like kidneys and you only really need one. (The more you know…)
This was…good-ish news. It was great to hear that this isn’t endometriosis, which apparently is a chronic problem that worsens with age. (And from what I’ve heard, pretty fucking painful. Mad respect to those of you worriers living with that shit, you are stronger women than I.) It was also great to hear that they’re 95% sure that it’s not malignant. But the not-so-great news was that the out-patient procedure was definitely off the table. The doctor told me that because she couldn’t say with 100% certainty that the tumor wasn’t cancerous, she was sending me to a gynecological oncologist for surgery. They would be able to tell once they got in there, she told me, whether the tumor was malignant and if so, how much more of my plumbing needed to go in order to keep the cancer for spreading. But they won’t know until they cut into me and start looking around, so no matter what, I’m looking at some pretty invasive surgery. The oncologist would call me back probably within the next five or six days, she said, and I would probably have surgery scheduled within the next three or four weeks. Even if the tumor isn’t malignant, with its massive size it still has the potential to do some serious damage in there, and they want it out as fast as possible.
Funny, me too.
Not even 10 days ago, I thought I was in near-perfect health. If you’d told me that I’d be facing surgery within the next month, I’d assume that I was going to be hit by a bus in the near future. Which, in an emotional sense, might be easier than what I’m facing now. There’s very clear and simple causes leading up to getting hit by a bus; primarily, getting hit by a bus. Future prevention is pretty easy, too: don’t walk in the street in front of a bus. But this. I don’t know what caused this tumor to grow inside of me, but it’s likely nothing that I did or could have stopped. And even once they remove it, even if there’s no cancer, what’s to stop it from coming back? I don’t fucking know, because I don’t know what caused it in the first place, other than that some of my dead cells started piling up for who-the-fuck-knows-what-reason until they formed a softball-sized pile of fuck-you-Stephanie. And it’s that unknown that is the hardest to face.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. But I have an amazing, beyond-supportive husband who’s in my corner 100%. Very soon he’ll have to help me get around while I recover from surgery, but even before then, he’s allowing me to heal from the emotional trauma with love and support. Things like finishing the laundry for me because before I could, I got overwhelmed by terror and depression; he saw that I was paralyzed with fear so he guided me to bed and turned on The Last Unicorn for me until I fell asleep.
I’ve also been overwhelmed by the support and love that has come from family and friends. Limitless offers of emotional support, as well as the literal in the form of meals and post-surgery care. Unanimous effort at work to help cover me while I’m gone, and pledges to support me coming back to the work during the tail-end of my recovery. A friend told me in earnest and thorough detail about her own mother’s abdominal surgery, with the encouragement that based on her mom’s recovery, I might be surprised how quickly I’m back up and around. Friends brought me cake (and a grapefruit) to go with the hugs and whispered words of confidence. It’s amazing and wonderful how much love has been shown to us in the last week, and it’s been made very clear to us that Kyle and I won’t go through this alone.
So that’s where I am. Likely a few weeks away from surgery, obsessively trying to make plans to deal with the next month while our world is turned upside down. Equally obsessively (and less successfully) trying to keep the fear and uncertainty at bay. But also full up of love and support.
When I told my coworkers, I was particularly nervous. I was worried because I didn’t want this to change our relationship until then, and even after I’m healed. I wanted them to treat me like my same strong, confident, rag-able self who isn’t afraid of hard work, not like some delicate thing that might break. As I told them the news, I watched their faces contort with shock and concern, and there were understandably questions. As the room grew quiet, and I became more and more certain that our working relationship was changed forever, one of my coworkers leaned forward in his chair. “So, what you’re saying is…” and in Peter Griffin’s voice parodying “Rock Me Amadeus” sang, “I’m a tumor, I’m a tumor I’m a tumor, Oh, Oh, Oh I’m a tumor.”
It felt good to laugh that hard.
We’ll be okay, my grapefruit-tumor and me.
Head’s up guys, this is a heavy one. Full of super shitty news and things I wish weren’t real, but are. I’ve told most of my close friends and family in person already, and if you are a person who’s upset that you had to learn via the internet, I am very and truly sorry. Just know that this is difficult for me to share, and it’s emotionally exhausting to go through the reveal process with so many people. Considering how much shit I’m going through right now, I beg you to let me have this one.
I was so beyond irritated.
The whole ordeal had been one goddamn annoyance after another. It had started with my yearly pap smear, which sohelpmegod, if they didn’t hold my birth control prescription over my head I would never subject myself to. Laying back on the tissue paper-covered table with my feet in those stirrups while a stranger–who’s very nice, but doesn’t think that any of my jokes are funny–jams a couple fingers in my twat and roots around… there’s nothing enjoyable about that.
Then the doctor tells me that she feels “fullness” in there. Whatever that means. And since this is our first examination together (my last gyno moved to Florida,) she isn’t sure if it’s something to worry about or if I just have a fat uterus, so I have to go in for an ultrasound. Yippy. Because who doesn’t love having their belly covered in goo while someone slides a cold plastic wand over their stomach?
But then, to pile a giant glob of annoying on top of my irritation, I find out that a pelvic ultrasound is different than an abdominal ultrasound. Now, I not only get to have my belly covered in goo, I have to do so with a full bladder, so that every time the technician presses the wand into my pelvis I worry that I’m going to pee on the table. And then as if that wasn’t fucking delightful enough, I have to empty my bladder and repeat the process from the inside. That’s right. From the inside. Meaning that I get a camera on the end of a wand up in my business. And even though the technician is making me as comfortable as she can and the experience as pleasant as possible, by the end of the procedure I’m starting to imagine how great it would feel to beat my gyno with the twat-cam for making me go through this just because I have a fat uterus.
So on the day of my followup appointment, I was so beyond irritated. I just knew this was going to be just like the time I had to go in and get the results for my BRCA testing. (The test they give to find out if you’re genetically predisposed to breast cancer. Which I’m not.) Watch, I’m going to sit in the waiting room for 20 minutes, in the examining room for another 15, and it’ll take the doctor 45 seconds to tell me that everything’s fine. What a waste of time. Why couldn’t they just call me and tell me everything’s cool? Blergh.
I was still annoyed when my doctor walked in the room, but that ebbed slightly when she pulled her chair up very close to me. Something in the way she held her shoulders told me that this wasn’t going to be quite as simple as, “Hey, everything’s cool.”
“We found a cyst on your right ovary…”
(Is that all? Like, five of my friends and my cat have had ovarian cysts. Yawn.)
“…and it’s about the size of a grapefruit.”
In that exact moment, the irritation dropped out of my body. I could very nearly feel it puddling in my socks. And the vacuum that irritation left was immediately filled by fear. The next words out of my mouth? “Well, at least I don’t have a fat uterus. After all, a lady has to keep her figure.”
Something I learned that day is that when presented with unexpected and frightening news, my coping mechanism is apparently to make a series of dry, matter-of-fact, mildly inappropriate jokes. I’d never known that about myself.
After assuring me that I did not have a fat uterus, I had an very adorable uterus, the doctor filled me in on the rest of the details. My cyst–which turned out to not be a cyst at all, more of a mass–was 9cm x 8cm x 10cm, which could also be thought of as slightly smaller than a softball. It was so large that it was folding my uterus in on itself, pushing it inside out. Apparently cysts usually get diagnosed because they cause immense cramping and intense pain, so the fact that this thing wasn’t flattening me was confusing to the doctor. And unfortunately, it wasn’t entirely fluid, but had mass and density. It could be endometriosis, which is where the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows as a mass on the outside of the uterus. It could also be “something else,” which she wouldn’t say what was, but reading my ultrasound results later was revealed to be called “uterine neoplasm,” which is fancy doctor-talk for some kind of tumor. Which immediately put the c-word on the table.
No matter what, the end treatment was going to be surgery. If the cyst was comprised of the right materials and positions in the right location, they could do it laparoscopically as an out-patient procedure, and it probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal. It could also be complicated enough that they would have to open me up and remove most of my plumbing. (Or, as I macabrely started describing it, they’d leave me nothing but a hole to pee from.) Either way, there was about a 60% chance I was going to lose my fertility.
Talking things over with the doctor, I held myself together surprisingly well. Probably frighteningly well. But walking out of the office I could only describe the sensation as “feeling all the feels.” But not in the way you say you feel when you watch a video of a kitten cuddling with an otter inside of a mitten. In the way that every shade of shock, confusion, rage, fear, and loss were trying to shove past each other to tackle me, and only a survivalist numbness was keeping them at bay.
I didn’t know how to handle this news or these emotions. Normally when you get bad health news, it’s because you went seeking answers and the answers just happen to be shitty. When I found out that my asthma had gone from episodic to chronic, I’d gone searching for an answer to why I couldn’t fucking breath. Sure, that was bad news, but I knew that something was wrong so I was emotionally prepared to receive bad news. But this… I was blindsided. I’d thought I was in good heath. Great health, even. My asthma had settled down recently, and I was feeling strong. I’d been drinking a lot of water and eating right, and I’d lost almost 15 pounds. I felt great. And then to find out that I’m not great, there’s something very, very wrong with me…I couldn’t prepare for that. For fuck’s sake, I couldn’t even figure out how there was physically enough room in my pelvis to fit a fucking grapefruit! Is there really that much vacant property in there?
Of course, I was scared. I was terrified of what this could mean as far as my overall health, what kind of surgery I would have to go through, how long I would be out of work, and the potential loss of my fertility, even though Kyle and I don’t have a strong desire to have kids. (And also agreed that even if I did become infertile and we decided down the line that we want kids, neither is opposed to the idea of adoption.)
But the thing that terrified me the most was the loss of control. See, for those of you who’ve never been around me for 10 minutes, I’m hardcore a control freak. Some of my biggest emotional distresses have come when I feel like my life is being driven by someone else’s actions. And when I can’t directly control portions of my life, I use control measures in other parts of my life to make me feel as if I were in control. Things like controlling the number of calories I eat, how often and long I exercise, the things that I wear, how clean I keep the house, even this little corner of the internet that I call this blog, all help me feel as if I’m maintaining control of my world. So to find out that this…this thing grew inside me without my permission or knowledge, that was pretty devastating. All of a sudden my careful eating and disciplined moderation of alcohol and sweets felt ridiculous; who cares if I make myself have a salad instead of buffalo chicken pizza, either way a mass the size of a fucking grapefruit was going to grow in my body. The loss of control over the one thing that I always had complete control over–my own body–was devastating.
As soon as the doctor gave me this news, she immediately started moving things forward to get it out of me. In my immediate future was blood work, an MRI, and some variety of surgery. Hopefully the simple, in-office kind, but that was still uncertain. In the meantime, there was fear.
And my grapefruit.
Author’s Note: This blog post is going to be a two-parter. Normally when I write a post like this, I will wait a week or so to post the next part, because this blog can only produce so much content. (I do have a day-job, you know.) But because this post is pretty heavy and affects my for-real life, that feels like a pretty shitty thing to do, making my friends and followers wait a week to find out whether I’m full of cancer or not. (Spoiler: almost certainly not.) So the conclusion to this post will be up tomorrow.