“Myryam, did you forget to tell me something?”
It was the beginning of May, and I was standing in the living room in front of my mother, who was regarding me with a horrified expression. I knew what she was staring at: my bulging stomach. I hadn’t been home since Easter and, in that time, I seemed to have had developed the appearance of someone who was seven months pregnant. My cheeks reddened as I protectively put my hands over my protruding tummy. Of course I had noticed the change in my body, though I had tried my best to ignore it. I had told myself that I was gaining weight and that nothing was wrong. However, my round stomach was rock hard. There’s nothing rock hard about fat. I was also experiencing severe back pain at work, where I stood on my feet all day. Customers kept asking me when I was due. I had ignored all of that.
“Are you pregnant?”
I gulped. I knew I wasn’t, but I didn’t know what to say. I looked like I was smuggling half a globe under my t-shirt. The issue I had been trying to avoid wasn’t going to go ignored by my registered nurse mother, who insisted I lift my shirt so she could feel my bloated stomach. She pressed a bit too hard and I winced.
“Maybe it’s just… a lot of gas,” I said seriously, trying to find any explanation that wouldn’t result in me giving birth to the creature from Aliens.
My mother had an appointment with our family doctor the next day, but insisted I take it instead. She wanted to know what was wrong as soon as possible. I went to bed that night in a fit of panicked tears. Naturally, I was terrified.
The next morning, I drove to the clinic where my family doctor kept his office. My mother, who was working her usual shift at the nearby hospital, came to join me. I had always known my doctor as a gentle man who never wanted to alarm his patients. That day wasn’t any different. He remained calm as he lifted up my shirt, his hands pressing against my stomach. I couldn’t see my own feet.
“Is there a chance you might be pregnant?" It was the second time I had heard that question in 24 hours. My cheeks burned red.
“No,” I snapped, tugging my shirt down. It was impossible. Still, the question made me queasy. I tried to pretend that I wasn’t terrified as I sat up again, watching him phone the hospital. I heard him request an emergency ultrasound, describing my situation to the technician like it was perfectly normal.
Less than twenty minutes later, I was lying on a rubber mat in a dark room, flanked by my mother and an ultrasound technician, my stomach covered in petroleum jelly. The kind they use on pregnant women. I kept shooting my mother frightened glances as the technician pushed her wand way too hard all over my stomach and abdomen.
“Well, you’re not pregnant,” she said, staring at her screen. That was obvious, yet I still breathed a sigh of relief. I could hear my mother do the same.
“But there’s something in there…and I can’t see your right ovary on screen.”
Before I had the chance to panic, the technician had the radiologist come in to have a look. That’s when I knew something was wrong, and that it wasn’t just gas making my stomach look like a helium balloon. I heard the words “mass” and “ascites.”
I didn’t know what ascites meant, but you can bet that my mom did and the way she stared at the radiologist told me that it wasn’t something positive. The radiologist wasted no time in referring us to a gynecologist/oncologist who worked at the Gatineau Hospital, in the city. He would send him the scan and set up an appointment.
Ten minutes later I was upstairs in the General Care wing, sitting in my mom’s office.
“Mom, is this bad?” I asked, my eyes stinging with tears despite my efforts.
“It’s bad, Myryam.”
She never called me by my first name.
Later that night, I decided to write my will. I know it sounds ridiculous, but in my mind, I was going to die. I didn’t have much and left my book collection to charity. For the second night in a row, I went to bed in tears, lying on my back because I hadn’t been able to sleep on my stomach in a while. I had to go back to the hospital the following Monday for a scan.
I drank a clear liquid that tasted like death, and that “lit up” my insides so they could see what was going on as they scanned me through a donut-shaped machine. They also injected me with a liquid that makes you first feel like you’re having a hot flash, then like you’re peeing your pants, before inserting a camera where I never thought to have a camera inserted, to make sure there was nothing wrong in that end.
A week later, I was finally meeting with Dr. Rozenholc, at the Gatineau Hospital. I was still convinced that I was going to die at 21 without having done anything particularly interesting with my life. I waited 45 minutes, which feels like an eternity when you think you’re waiting for a doctor you’ve never even met to tell you that you have cancer and six months to live.
That’s not what Dr. Rozenholc told me.
“You have a tumour. It’s surrounding your right ovary and fallopian tube. It’s very big. We’re going to have to operate.”
He was blunt. I was going to pass out.
“Is it cancerous?”
“We’ll only know that once we operate.”
“Is it big?”
“Right now, we think it’s around 30 centimeters by 30.”
I was going to puke, but not before he got the chance to have me spread my legs on the examination table so he could make sure there was nothing growing in that end. I was in too much shock to cry, and was sent home after learning that the hospital would call with a date for pre-op and one for surgery. All I could do in the meantime was go back to work, fill out a leave of absence form and pray that it would be over soon.
Pre-op: May 18th. Surgery: May 25th.
Those were the original dates. But on May 16th, I woke up unable to move. I was paralyzed in my bed, with an agonizing pain in my abdomen. This was a rusty chainsaw ripping through me kind of pain. I tried to roll over, sleep it off, but I couldn’t. It took me an hour before I was able to stumble downstairs, doubled over and clutching my stomach, to beg my aunt (whom I live with during the school year) to take me to the hospital.
I ignored the immediate “How far along are you?” question that I received from the ER’s nurse as I crawled in, explaining to him what was happening and what was inside me. The tumour was pressing down on my organs and it was pressing hard. It wasn’t long before they had me lying on a hard bed in the ER with an IV in my arm and enough morphine to keep me from screaming. My parents showed up, my grandparents showed up looking ragged, and it was determined, after multiple blood tests, another scan where I had to drink more of the weird liquid, and a checkup by the ER’s doctor on staff, that I was to be operated on ASAP.
I slept on that hard bed that night, woken up every couple of hours by a nurse who would take my temperature and administer more pain killers.
The next morning, they transferred me to the Gatineau Hospital where I had been scheduled for my operation. They finally gave me an actual room, and decided they would operate the next day, a week ahead of schedule. I should mention that they hadn’t let me eat throughout this whole ordeal. It had been nearly two days and I just wanted a cheese burger. Also, I spent that night on painkillers, being frequently woken up, and given so many blood tests (then and over the course of the week after surgery) that I was sure they had drained me of all blood.
The morning of the 18th was showtime. I patiently waited through more blood tests and needles before the moment finally came when I was wheeled down to the operating room. On the way down I was in an elevator surrounded by my mother, my father, my step-mother, and step-father. They had never all been in the same room together. My parents hadn’t even been on speaking terms until then. I guess it takes a massive tumour to bring people together.
The operating room was too bright and too full. Apparently interns would be assisting with the surgery.
I’d seen Grey’s Anatomy. I knew what could go wrong if an intern messed up.
I didn’t have much time to panic, because soon they were slipping an epidural into my back and lying me down on the table. The last thing I saw, as they put the gas mask on my face and counted down from ten, was Dr. Rozenholc walking into the room.
I was in surgery for more than three hours, but it felt like three seconds as soon as I woke up in the recovery room.
The tumour they removed actually was the size of a helium balloon and weighed nearly 30 pounds.
It also contained 13 litres of liquid and could have busted at any moment, leaving six large Pepsi bottles worth of fluid to be released inside me, and god knows what that would have done.
They couldn’t save my right ovary since it was literally being swallowed by the tumor, so they removed it, along with the fallopian tube.
I spent the remaining week in the hospital, living on Jello and broth until my stomach could properly function again.
The operation left a pinkish purple scar running just below my breasts to the middle of my pubic bone; my souvenir of the event.
I spent the next five and a half weeks being babysat by family because I wasn’t allowed to lift anything, was in extreme pain, felt like my stomach was a black hole, and had to inject myself with an anticoagulant every night so I wouldn’t get a blood clot to the heart and, you know, actually die this time.
I eventually healed up enough to feel like a human being again.
The best part?
That pathology results came in.
That 30 lbs tumour wasn’t cancer. It turned out that it was borderline. It was caught just in time.
And it isn’t supposed to grow back.
What did I learn throughout the month of May 2016? Life is short. Don’t waste it. You never know what can happen to you.
Also, scars are pretty bad-ass.
Myryam Ladouceur is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, aspiring to work in the editing and publishing business. She likes to write short stories and poetry, doodle on any surface available, and read whatever catches her eye. She hopes to one day have the privilege to edit the next great novel of her generation.