November is a bittersweet month for me. It is the month that I started my mother’s journal and seems to be a month when trouble comes calling.
I am wearing a johnny. A hospital gown.
It doesn’t open in the back as usual, mine opens to the front and I have my pants and shoes on. See, unlike the patients who need a gown that allowed them to use the “john,” hence the word “johnny”, I need the gown to open in the front. I am sitting in a patient lounge watching “The Librarian” at the Cancer Center at Froedtert. My mammogram earlier in the week had shown two spots.
I don’t invite trouble. Some people would be freaking out; expecting the worst.
I learned a long time ago that things are not always what they seem. Why waste energy on the unknown. So, I am back to where I started: my mother’s journal.
In November of 1995, with two toddlers at home, I sat in a similar waiting room while a radiologist told me that I had a softball size mass on my ovary.
The words “stage 4 ovarian cancer” were mentioned. A surgery was scheduled. I was stunned. So was my husband. The survival rate at that time was less than 5 years. I would not live to see my girls go to middle school, let alone graduate high school or get married.
I started a mother’s journal to my girls that night. I tell them about their birth, how excited we were, about how much I love them and their dad. I include short stories about their first words or funny things they did as babies. I insist that I would never choose to leave them.
When I woke from surgery, I was very sick. Anesthesia and I don’t agree. The surgeon was furious. The radiology report was in her hand. She ranted about never even opening me up if she knew there wasn’t going to be anything there. I briefly sat up to high-five my husband before getting dizzy and falling back onto the pillow.
In November of 2012, as a full time firefighter, I responded to two house fires in one week. Normally, this would not be a big deal, but I was experiencing difficulty breathing after exposure to smoke. Usually, I recovered in a few days. This time, I did not have a few days. The fires were too close together. My lungs couldn’t support my air tank and I found myself in an urgent care with a breathing treatment being told I am done being a firefighter. I fought to breathe for three months. I could barely walk from a bed to a chair. It took months to be able to even walk to get the mail.
My family was afraid. My husband reminded me that I had once said I thought I could will myself to live if I was ever dying. He told me, “Now, now would be the time.”
I no longer fight fires, but I was told this past July, after almost four years, that my illness was finally “stable.” I can walk wherever I want now. Other things might be harder, but I am happy and with my girls and husband. I didn’t invite trouble that November; but I lived through it.
So, here I sit. Another November with another challenge. My husband had a trip planned to move our oldest daughter today. He asked if he should cancel. I said “no, why invite trouble. It will be fine.” When the first nurse called to tell me about the spots and additional testing, she asked if I was okay. I was. When I arrived earlier at the cancer center for additional imaging and a possible ultrasound, the techs were careful. I was okay.
The radiologist is finished reading the images. Her nurse enters the lounge and leads me to a quiet room. She is glad when she says the radiologist was sure the spots are nothing. She leads me to the changing room where I leave the johnny behind.