Staring down the unknown

This morning I keep staring at my to-do list. I have two days a week where Young Master Gray goes to school and those two days I try to do all the things. However, this morning I cannot seem to focus on any of the tasks I wrote out earlier this week. Two days ago I went in for an ultrasound on my remaining ovary. It was a follow up after a cyst was discovered in December. I have been feeling bloated and nauseated since December, off and on. That coupled with pelvic pain was enough to put me on high alert. My doctors did not seem to be as concerned so I tried to tamp down my anxiety as much as possible. This was easier on some days than on others. They had said that they wanted me to come back for a follow up in six weeks to make sure the cyst wasn’t growing and nothing abnormal was occurring. Right around the six week mark, I started making calls to put the follow up ultrasound in motion. It took three weeks of me constantly calling to get where we are today. Advocating for myself is not something that comes naturally. In fact, there were many days during that period that I wanted to give up and just “see what happens.” However, I am lucky enough to have people in my corner who know that I am not the squeaky wheel, and they lovingly pushed me to keep at it. These same people also saw how sick I was feeling and threatened to make calls for me if I didn’t do it for myself. Again, I am so grateful to them.

Once my ultrasound was done and the results were sent to my doctor, all of a sudden they were acting with urgency. An MRI is in the works and an appointment with an oncologist was made immediately. That appointment is today. I am grateful that I do not have to wait with the unknown for long, but the fact that now they are rushing and getting things done after dragging their feet for so long definitely makes me uneasy. Of course, I am holding on to the idea that all of this is being done “out of an abundance of caution” because of my history of ovarian cancer. No one has said that to me, but that is my life preserver at the moment.

Psalm 25

This verse also serves as a life preserver, as it has before. It is the verse that I was journaling when I got the call that my cancer was gone, nearly 13 years ago. I found this verse to be true and a comfort then, and in many other times in my life. The Lord was loving and faithful when my cancer was all contained in the tumor and completely removed with no need for treatment. He was loving and faithful when He gave me a son though I had thought I would never have children of my own. There are many, many more instances that I could list, and today I choose to dwell in them. Instead of letting my mind wander down the road of what ifs, I will think of all the ways that the Lord has shown Himself to be loving and faithful.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I am not sick to my stomach and still anxious as the time for my appointment approaches. I am still feeling both of those things.

I’m sharing all of this even though it is against my nature because I have really appreciated the transparency of others recently. I want to become better at being transparent in my troubles and anxiety as well as in my triumphs. So, I am not sharing this for your sympathy, but because I want to have you all along with me praying, sending good vibes and all of your positive thoughts. Forgive the dorkiness, but I can’t get the image of a virtual Care Bear stare out of my head!

Care Bear Stare

Lost & Found

I thought about it from time to time, recalling only that I
had been dwelling in a Psalm before I received THE call. Through so many moves,
I imagined that it was gone forever, or buried so deep that it may as well be.
My journal, that is. The journal that I was doodling it just before I received
a call saying that my cancer was gone. 
Days after my surgery I could not get up
and dance after receiving the good news, but I rejoiced from my perch on my
bed. Oh, did I rejoice. That Psalm–the one I didn’t even finish committing to
paper before the phone rang–says, “All the ways of the LORD are loving and
faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.” That would be
Psalm 25:10. I wrote it down that day because I had such an overwhelming peace
in my soul when I came upon it. A peace that carried me through surgery to
remove an 8 lb tumor on my right ovary, a peace that told me, “This thing
that’s happening here, it’s really going to be okay. I am with you.” I
knew. Before the call, I knew. I knew that this call would come and they would
say, “No more cancer. It’s all gone.” And now, 12 years later, I found
the journal. I was looking through a box of books in preparation for a garage sale,
and there it was. The myth was made real. I didn’t imagine its existence. So
I’m sharing it with you all, and I’m doing that dance that I didn’t get to do
12 years ago.

Natural Birth in the Natural State

“I remember the day you appeared on this earth 

With eyes like the ocean, got blood on my shirt
From my camera angle it looked like it hurt
But your mama had a big ol’ smile.”
-Conor Oberst

My iTunes playlist shuffles to “You are Your Mother’s Child” by Conor Oberst and I’m instantly transported to July 4, 2013, a divine turning point in my life–the day I became a mother. I know many say that your maternal instincts kick in as soon as you see the two lines appear on the pee stick, but that wasn’t the case for me. I had to get used to the idea. After all, 10 years before this day in history I had been told that I may never be able to have a child of my own. I felt more at peace when I was told, “It’s cancer” than I did when my surgeon sat me down to say that my option to have children may be taken away before I even had the chance to try. However, after 6 years of marriage, I had finally gotten used to the idea of not having children of my own. I had made peace with it and even planned for the future based on this assumption. So, while a part of me felt triumphant to find that my one, lonely ovary could rally the troops, the other part took a long (loooong) while to reconcile with the fact that this was real life.

Since I had not been planning for this moment or even trying for a baby, I was at a complete loss as to what to do next. I set out for the bookstore and selected a book touted as “the most comprehensive and authoritative guide for expectant parents.” That should do it. Standing in the bookstore while trying to conceal that I was carrying a baby “about the size of a small blueberry,” I had no idea that Sheila Kitzinger’s, “The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth” would inspire me to proceed down a path that would lead to a natural birth, unaided by medical interventions or medication.

As I was searching out options that would help me realize my desire to have a natural birth, I discovered the Birth Center of Northwest Arkansas. In my excitement to find a place centered on relaxed, non-medicated birth in a home-like setting, I contacted the Birth Center to see if that was an option for me. The staff was extremely helpful and encouraging, I really wanted to make it work. There was one major flaw to this plan–I lived in Central Arkansas at the time and planned to continue working throughout my pregnancy. Could you really blame me for wanting to have a baby in a cozy and luxurious birth room like this?

I had the opportunity to tour the Birth Center this past Monday, and let me tell you, I was really impressed. From the moment you walk in the door, you feel welcomed and at home in this bright, clean care center.

The retail alcove is appointed with the hard-to-find items for mom and baby like Baltic amber teething necklaces, breastfeeding supplies, and herbal supplements, some of which are made right here in Northwest Arkansas.

The waiting area includes a cheerful sitting room where families can relax while they wait for baby to arrive. It extends outdoors to the picnic area overlooking a serene lake setting.

According to Kitzinger, “Going to bed in the first stage of labor and becoming more or less immobile is not a good idea. It can slow labor or interfere with its starting effectively…When you are upright and moving around, gravity helps you.” You can do this at home or in the halls of the hospital, but I don’t think a woman could ask for a better place to stay active and moving during early labor than this lovely trail around the lake, just steps away from the birthing rooms.

While all of these accoutrements make the Birth Center resemble a grand spa vacation, make no mistake, the certified nurse midwives provide excellent clinical care, and the facility is fully equipped not only for your comfort, but for your safety and that of your baby. Kitzinger addresses why a birth center is well worth your consideration, “A study of the experiences of 12,000 women who gave birth in 84 birth centers in the U.S. revealed that they had far fewer obstetric interventions of all kinds than women in a hospital, while birth was equally safe.”

Whereas many women cannot say the same, I was extremely lucky to have the birth that I envisioned in the hospital setting. Would I have preferred to have a birth center experience instead? Absolutely. The Birth Center is the answer for the woman who is seeking a low-intervention birth in a relaxed atmosphere with care provided by midwives that you get to know and who get to know you and your family. In the rare occurrence that a transfer to the hospital is necessary, it’s comforting to know that their partner, Mercy Hospital of Rogers, is a mere 1.5 miles from the center.

It may surprise you to know that in addition to providing top-notch prenatal, labor and delivery and postnatal care that includes home visits, the midwives also offer annual exams. Knowing that their comprehensive well woman exams include cancer screenings, pap smears and contraceptive management, I’m ready to trade in the hospital gown for one of their plush robes.

As I was touring the Birth Center of Northwest Arkansas and hearing the stories of the 200+ babies born there (even one whose parents came from Little Rock!), I couldn’t help but feel the tiniest twinge of regret that I did not have that birth experience. If you are looking for prenatal care or it’s time for your yearly exam, you should check them out!

Why I’m wearing teal this Friday

I am an ovarian cancer survivor.  So many emotions bubble up inside of me when I make that statement. Believe it or not, shame is the one that registers highest on the ol’ feelings-o-meter. Why? I have long struggled with the feeling that my cancer experience pales in comparison with those of other survivors’ so greatly that I downplay it at best and flat-out pretend it never happened at worst. I have first-hand knowledge of the kind of cancer that takes every last vestige of hope and energy away from you, ultimately ending in the loss of precious life. My family and I were all right there with my baby brother, Russell, when the heavy burden of a brain tumor was laid on his slight, young shoulders. We watched him battle through surgery, chemo, radiation and other treatments that left him weak and sick. We saw him lose range of motion and slip into a coma. We gathered at his bedside when it was “time” on more than one occasion, including that October day when his suffering was ended.  
However, that same painful path was not planned for me. And, I might as well just say it, I feel guilty that what was laid on me was such “a walk in the park” in comparison. 

My friends, family and gynecologic oncologist (not to mention the bikini-prohibiting scar I acquired at just 21 years old) often have to remind me that my 8-lb tumor and the surgery that I went through to remove it were not “nothing.” At the same time, I was once told that my stage 1, level 1 tumor was “barely cancer,” as if there were such a thing. Since my pre-op CA-125 (the blood test that detects ovarian cancer) was negative, I didn’t even know that the watermelon-sized tumor that made me look three months pregnant was cancer until after the surgery to remove it. There were several days of waiting–in the hospital and once I was home– to find out if my cancer was all contained in the tumor or not, but I still can’t help thinking, I didn’t even know I had it until it was already gone. 
Let me stop right now and say that I am so very thankful that I was spared the awful realities of cancer treatments like radiation and chemo. Not to mention the fact that while my tumor was hey-you-can’t-ignore-me huge, the cancer itself did not progress beyond the first stage. Yet, even when saying that, the guilt weighs so heavy. Ladled upon these already shameful feelings, I think about the fact that I should be using my story as a means of hope and a light in the dark. I should be glorifying my God with unconstrained praise for not only sparing me such pain, but also for keeping my family from having to go through so much turmoil only 4 short years after Russell’s passing. It breaks my heart to think of my parents during that time. My mom, curled uncomfortably on the chair next to my hospital bed, unsleeping at 4 a.m. when I finally awoke from a drug-induced slumber and telling me that it was in fact, cancer. 
Instead, I mostly keep it to myself. Afraid that if people knew my story they would balk at my nerve to deem what I went through as surviving cancer. So I mention it in passing, wave it off when pressed for more details and sweat buckets when my family and friends request that I come to a Relay for Life and put on the purple shirt that says “Survivor” across the back in big, bold letters. I want it to remain this small thing that happened to me, yet at the same time, I so want other women to know that you can have this disease and not recognize the symptoms until it’s too late. As a billboard screamed at me while traveling home over the Labor Day holiday, “Your pap smear won’t detect ovarian cancer.” This is me screaming for those of you who read this and do not know this fact. Please pass it on to other women you know. Wear teal on Friday, and when someone compliments you (they will, it’s an awesome color), tell them why you’re wearing it. 
The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance‘s teal ribbon is in the photo at the top.