Preparing for Surgery –

My surgery was scheduled for December 30, 2014. As I shared the date with my family and friends, I was consistently asked why I wasn’t waiting for the holidays to be over and have the surgery in early January. My response was always the same – I didn’t want to bring whatever was growing in my stomach into the New Year.

The holiday season was proving to be a challenge. It was the first Christmas in which I felt like a reluctant observer rather than a willing participant. The constant view of lights, decorations and other signs of the season were difficult to reconcile with how I was feeling.

The sound of Christmas music proved to be the most stressful trigger. I felt taunted by the Andy Williams classic “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which was playing every hour of the day. I could not escape it. It played in stores, restaurants, holiday gatherings – basically everywhere.

As the weeks progressed, when I heard this song, I would say to myself – or out-loud depending on my mood – something along the lines of, You know what, Andy? This is so not the most  wonderful time of the year.   

During the consultation with my oncologist, he explained that due to the size and uncertainty of the mass, there was a strong possibility that he would have to remove my ovaries as well as my other reproductive organs. The thought of losing these organs didn’t scare me as much as the realization that the surgery could become very complicated. The mass was too large to remove laparoscopically, so the only way to get to it would require an equally large incision into my abdomen.

Leading up to my surgery, I needed to complete several rounds of blood work. The lab order always included a pregnancy test. I took four pregnancy tests in three weeks. Each time I watched the needle draw blood from my vein, I thought about the likelihood that I would lose my ovaries. This, coupled with the fact that I was 44 years old, made me feel as though I was witnessing the demise of my fertility play out in a real-time “going out of business” sale.

My Mom traveled to Seattle for my surgery. Her plan was to stay for as long as it took for me to recover and find out exactly what I was dealing with. My Mom had barely walked through my front door when we collapsed into a long hug. I felt safe for a moment, as my inner child relaxed knowing there was an adult in the room.  But as we walked into the kitchen, my unconscious gave way to the present moment when I saw the gallon of “bowel prep” I had to ingest for the rest of the afternoon.

The next day we checked into the hospital at 11am. The first stop was a pre-surgery intake session with a nurse.  I changed into a surgical gown and sat in the hospital version of a La-Z-Boy recliner while the nurse asked me questions. Then she picked up a cup.

We need to get a urine sample, she said.

Even though I knew exactly where this was headed, I ask, Why?

You must take a pregnancy test before surgery, the nurse responds.

Seriously?  I took one two days ago, I said, more than slightly annoyed. 

The nurse wasn’t budging. I know, but I still need you to do it.

Feeling exhausted by the burden of everything that had transpired over the past month, I looked at the nurse directly in the eyes and said,

Do you really think that I have become pregnant in the last 48 hours?

The nurse laughed, but she was still holding out the cup, waiting for me to take it.

Realizing this was a battle I was not going to win, I took the cup and smiled in unspoken gratitude that the nurse found my sarcasm amusing.

Shortly after my final pregnancy test, I was moved to the surgery waiting area. My Mom was still with me as we were approached by another nurse with a booming voice and a big smile. To the limited extent that this nurse could accessorize her surgical attire, it was obvious that she was a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Images of Wisconsin cheese and Aaron Rogers #12 adorned the lanyard that held her identification.

I was distracted from my surgery being moments away by the awe I felt over the nurse’s bold choice to be so open with her allegiance to Green Bay, as the Packers and the Seahawks were expected to battle for the NFC Championship.

You must be very brave, I said while pointing to the lanyard.

The nurse laughed and said, Nothing makes me happier than aggravating Seahawks fans.

I loved her attitude.

My oncologist came over to check in with me and my Mom. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember feeling very happy that he would be the person performing my surgery. This feeling was validated seconds later, when nurse came rushing back to my bedside.  She held my arm as she whispered in my ear, You are in such good hands. He is my favorite surgeon in this hospital.

Hearing the nurse singing my oncologist’s praises is the last clear memory I have before the surgery. My next conscious awareness was leaving the recovery room and being wheeled down a hallway to my hospital room. It must have been around 4:30pm, because as my gurney entered the room, I saw the most breathtaking view of the sun setting over Mt. Rainier. Even in my drug induced state, I could not believe what I was seeing. For many reasons, Mt. Rainer holds a special place in my heart. So, to see this incredible image immediately following surgery felt like a sign that all would be ok.

But then my Mom walked in into the room and I could tell by the look on her face that something was wrong. Again, the drugs cloud some of my memory, but I remember her saying that the surgery was successful – but the mass was concerning. My oncologist wasn’t sure what it was, but he knew that it was “something.”

My memory of what came next is very clear. I told my Mom that I was going to be ok. Maybe it was the drugs or the halo effect of seeing the beauty of Mt. Rainer, but something had shifted. In this moment, I wasn’t scared.

I fell asleep again, awakened several hours later by a nurse. She took my vitals, then asked if I would like a glass of water.

Yes, PLEASE, I replied.

The nurse went on to explain that while I was not cleared to eat anything yet, I could have a popsicle. I could not think of anything more glorious than eating a popsicle.

I asked, Do you have grape?

We do, the nurse said.

In the early morning hours of the last day of 2014, I laid in my hospital bed with my grape popsicle having two primary thoughts about my surgery. The first was that I no longer had a mass in my stomach. The second was that nurses were quickly becoming my favorite people on the planet.

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