I have a phone appointment with my therapist tomorrow, which I’m glad for. The searing pain I felt with Zevy’s suicide has started to fade. Now I’m just sad. I’ve been looking at lots of photos, and am mentally preparing to help pack up his apartment. It’s important to me to be a part of that. It’s going to be my only chance to pay respects, and say goodbye.
I’m thinking about other things tonight, though. I’ve been tooling around online, checking out different resources for women with Ovarian Cancer. Chalk it up to morbid fascination, since I’m in remission, and feeling myself drift ever further away from the harsh reality of living with Cancer. My oncologist doesn’t hesitate to remind me that there’s no cure for what ails me blah blah blah. It’s not that I can’t absorb what he says, it’s that, well…HERE I AM. Cancer free, two years later. I’m almost halfway to 5 years. When I was diagnosed, they gave me a 15-20% chance of living 5 years. So, that feels pretty significant.
I want to talk about denial now. It’s on my mind, as I aimlessly watch Guy Fierri chow his way through another episode of “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives”. My level of denial was completely ridiculous. Back at Suburban, on that awful day, I honestly believed that the mass in my pelvis was going to be benign. I was confused, annoyed that my vacation plans were being wrecked, but not scared. I’d just driven to Wyoming and back.I had a brand new album to promote. I’d applied to school. I envisioned the status update that I would post to Facebook when this was all over, and it went like this:
“BENIGN BENIGN BENIGN!!! The tumor was benign! Thank you all so much for your love and concern. I will never take my life for granted again”.
I definitely would have signed it off with a heart or smiley face, or some other flourish.
At Sibley, the doctor asked me why I thought I’d gotten in to see her so quickly. I said I didn’t know. She told me to change, and get ready for her exam. Sitting there in the room by myself, I suddenly felt the first pangs of anxiety crush my lungs. Why WAS I here? Maybe this really was bad news. By the time she came back in the room, I was crying. I told her that I was scared, and she took my hand and told me not to be scared, that she was going to be right next to me, helping me get through this. She examined me, I changed, we sat back down. She told me that she was as sure as she could be (without opening me up) that this was cancer. At that moment, I knew that my fortress of denial had taken a hit, because suddenly my arms felt like lead, and I couldn’t lift them to take the sheet of paper that she was handing to me. I don’t remember what was on that sheet of paper.
After we were done at Sibley, my Mom, boyfriend and I went to CiCi’s Pizza for dinner. I’d never been before. We acted like everything was normal. Aside from the hole in my back from the fluid tap, everything was.
That was December 29th. The next day, I went out for dinner with my boyfriend to La Madeleine where we, once again, acted like everything was fine. Everything still felt fine. It wasn’t real. I had some sort of pasta with tomato basil sauce, which wasn’t very good. On December 31st, we hung out and, in the late afternoon, went for a walk by the creek, near his parents’ house, as we so often did. I was wearing a new coat and new gloves, and my arm was in his. We passed another couple, coming from the opposite direction, and the woman and I made eye contact. I still felt so normal, so comfortable in my life, but the gravity of something sinister coming also felt palpable to me. At that moment, I wondered if this would be the last time I ever did this. I breathed, and took it in, and I tried to memorize the sensation of our intertwined arms, and the folds of my blue and grey striped gloves, just in case. My cellphone buzzed in my pocket. It was a friend, texting to say “Happy New Year”. He asked what I was up to. Nobody knew, yet, what exactly I had been up to those few days. I wasn’t about to tell him then. I didn’t want to dampen his New Years Eve. Later, we visited some friends. They’d just moved into a new house, with a jacuzzi, and had their first baby. I was worried that seeing them would make me sad, since I knew that, cancer or no cancer, I was on the eve of losing my entire reproductive system, and would never bear children (Turned out, it didn’t make me sad. The happiness I felt meeting their baby for the first time, was genuine). I was also adamant that I wasn’t going in the hot tub, because I was worried about germs getting into me through the hole in my back. I didn’t want anything delaying my surgery, which was coming up. I sat with my feet in the water, while the boys went in, and the new mother was holed up in the upstairs bedroom with the baby. She refused to come downstairs even once, but would occasionally scream for her husband, and he would go running. “THE BABY POOPED ALL OVER EVERYTHING!!”
January 1st, 2012 was a quiet day. On January 2nd, I had my second surgical consult in Baltimore. Denial? Check. I was sitting face to face with this legendary GYN Oncology Surgeon, who had opened his office during a holiday weekend, just to see me, who met me at the door, took me by the arm, and escorted me like royalty, into an exam room. I was still in complete denial. I perched on my chair in such a way, as to show him that I really felt fine. I told him that I was only taking 2 aleve per day, and that was taking care of my pain, so that had to bode well, right? I talked about dead parts of the tumor surely being a good sign. He was so very patient and kind, as he told me that it wasn’t uncommon for malignant tumors to grow so quickly, that they outstripped their own blood supplies, which caused pieces of them to die. He told me how very common it was, to catch Ovarian Cancer like this, in an advanced stage. Also, that my pain was much better, because the tumor had already grown as big as it was going to get, and was now just shedding cells into other parts of my body, as seen on the scan. Still, STILL I inquired with a straight face, whether there was still a chance that this tumor was benign. He paused, looked at the paper in his hand and began to tell me about my CA125. He said that he hadn’t planned on saying anything about it, but that my CA125, which was supposed to be no more than 35, was elevated to 25,000. That is not a typo. Again, he was so gentle and kind as he delivered this news.
And that’s the moment when my fortress of denial exploded from the basement up.