An introduction of sorts seems best fitting, as I will be journaling a heat wave of emotions through my moxie of what I consider to be the most shocking news of my life. To begin, my name is Britt and I am 27 years young. I’ve been a desert scorpion for most of my life. Sunshine and heat warm my bones to the core and Phoenix is the place I call home. Not but two short years ago I married an incredibly loyal and loving man, Steve, whom I am sure I will rave about often in this platform that will hopefully and helpfully lend itself to a medium of therapy.
I live(d) a relatively normal life – whatever normal tallies up to be, right? I work the typical 9-5, living for my weekends and ever so anxiously awaiting to not having to set the alarm clock. This followed by weekends surrounded by my lovely family and colorful friends. Most often I crave some form of adventure and experience to fill my days, even if that is defined by a dinner with my girlfriends at the newest restaurant, a quick road trip with my main squeeze or playing card games with my family. As the old saying goes, you are the company that you keep and quite frankly, I hit the jackpot. My point is, my life was very average yet, wonderful. I was good at being young and felt as though I had the rest of my life to think about things like a mortgage, kids and the thought of cancer; or even worse, the possibility of my life being cut short.
Intuitively, a few months prior to my diagnosis I would often ponder the meaning of life in the dark hours of the night, while analyzing what now seems to be mediocre stresses. Just to clarify, my pondering was just that- curiosity; it did not come from a dark place but rather a place of wonder and whether certain daily tasks and habits would really make me the person I was meant to be at the end of my life. I didn’t have any idea as to why these foreign thoughts were formulating, but found them to lie very heavily on me while the rest of the world was sound asleep. The strange part was and still is, this thing called life and how we are supposed to know what to make of it. Is it something we are born with, some form of common knowledge or innate awareness that without we find ourselves in limbo? Those are the million dollar questions, I suppose, but nevertheless pressing questions that I desperately sought after. To no avail, the mystery remains but as sheer intuition would have it, maybe I was on to something and there was a bigger reason as to why I was suddenly begging the question regarding the point that is life.
Naturally, at 27, I ignored most signs of illness despite my in-tune notions of life uncertainty. Narcissistically, I thought that because of my age, I would be exempt from any serious or fatal sickness. Outside of being overly tired, unable to lose weight and perpetually achy, I thought that was just a part of life and the pressures that it brings forth. These aches and pains were something that I learned to deal with and inevitably ignored for what I now know to be too long. Fatefully, one Monday in June during the premature hours of the morning, I awoke to a fever that offered itself upon me, accompanied by violent vomiting, erratic shaking and an overall frame that was trying to wake me up from my ignorant bliss and immunity from sickness.
While still being somewhat aloof and in denial over the fact that something quite serious was going on with my body, I told myself that I most likely caught some form of revolting summer flu and would mend in no time. As that fateful Monday continued, I began to come to a higher conclusion that this wasn’t something that would go away by the end of day. Could it be the flu, food poison, appendices? – I asked myself, but instinctively my thoughts of those late night questions began to shudder and burden me with concern. Against typical form, I desperately asked my husband, Steve to take me to the Urgent Care to draw a line through any imaginary, worse case scenario thoughts I was having on what this could possibly be.
U.T.I- three letters that I had never been so happy to hear in my life. The Urgent Care deemed my issues to be a urinary tract infection. For anyone who has ever had one, I am sure you can relate as to how painful they can be. However, I wasn’t having that type of pain. In fact, I couldn’t have felt less likely to have that type of pain, but I wasn’t going to argue. If the Doctor was sure that the U.T.I was the most of my condition, then I was going to take that and run without interrogation, along with the quick fix in antibiotics to be well again in 12 hours.
Under Doctor’s orders, I continued to take my prescription in hopes that the horrid symptoms of my so-called “U.T.I” would depart. Monday turned to Tuesday, Tuesday turned to Wednesday and by the time I knew it we had already arrived at Friday and there were no indications that my infection was getting better, in fact, they were worsening by the minute. Alarmed to continue my existence in irresponsible unawareness, I pledged that my life was worth it and would seek out further assistance. That Friday night, just 5 days after my initial visit to the Urgent Care, I came to St. Joseph’s Medical Hospital in Phoenix and checked myself into the emergency division. With a litany of questions about my medical history, it became clear that a U.T.I, this was not.
Exam after exam took place in an effort to discover the core of the suggestive sickness. Finally, we had a tipoff! Per the laparoscopic pelvic ultra sound, the Ultra Sound Technician gave a simple, “hmmm…”, which indicated to me that there was something to be seen, something abnormal and a potential period mark to our unanswered question. Unable to advise me of what it was that she saw, she simply said that the Doctor would be following up with me after the results were determined, but off the record told me that she did find something that was a cause for concern. Unmistakably, we knew that something was wrong and Steve and I braced ourselves for the news as we headed back down to the E.R. to discuss further with the Doctor. I found myself once again reading the signs as to why I had been heretofore-questioning life’s themes.
As we awaited the news, Steve and I both speculated as to what it could be. Perhaps kidney stones or a cyst of some form? – Once again I found myself beseeching questions that I was craving an answer for. Thankfully, I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d receive the verdict regarding the ultra sound and what it was that they found. Unusually swift, the Doctor followed up with us in the room to break down what was going on in my young body. “Based on the results of the ultra sound and various other exams, there appears to be a pelvic mass on your ovary that must be removed immediately”, the Doctor explained. Stunned and shaken, I wanted to know more. What did this mean? The Doctor continued to explain that the “mass” was approximately the size of a softball and immediate surgery needed to take place to remove it. All I could think of was how I wished for it to be as simple as a U.T.I. and the conclusion couldn’t have been further from it.
Logic immediately kicked in. I needed to know the facts. What does this mean for my bill of health, how can I get it clean? Will I be able to have children and a future family? But, through all of the rational and factual questions, I still found myself in a haze of confusion. How was it that I had a mass on my ovary and hadn’t known about it sooner and could I have prevented it? The Doctor explained that although sudden surgery would be necessary for its removal, the operating rooms were booked for the night and I’d have to wait until the following week to discuss the details in clinic with the OB. Just like that, I was released from the hospital and expected to return home with greater knowledge, yet I still had so many questions.
Come Monday morning, I followed up with the OB and was asked to come to his office immediately to discuss the mass in which the E.R. discovered over the beginning of the weekend. Foreseeably, I assumed that the appointment would just be a re-cap of the information that the E.R. provided, we would schedule the surgery and I could go on my merry way until then. However, the specific word used upon seeing the OB Doctor was distressing to say the least. “Tumor”, the Doctor revealed. All that I was able to think of was tumor, as in synonymous with cancer. While the Doctor then buried my fear of it being cancerous, he explained that tumors are not necessarily equitable to cancer, that cancer is defined by malignant and most often tumors on such a young, usually healthy woman are most often benign. Kindly complying with the Doctor’s philosophies, I swallowed the information in good faith that my softball size tumor would be removed and I would be blessed with a renewed bill of health. I was assured that both the tumor and my right ovary would be removed, with satisfactory results in still being able to have children and move forward with my fledgling life in just one week from that very date.
The week passed and before I knew it I was met with my surgery date. Steve and I reported to the hospital at an ungodly hour of the morning, alongside our wonderful family, to send me off with good vibes and oodles of love. I found myself crying before they wheeled me via the hospital bed to the operating room. I figured it was nerves and overall tensions due to being put under, as many people are wary of that. Nonetheless, I knew that the surgery would take approximately two hours and by 9:30 a.m., I would be on my way to recovery. As the bright lights of the operating room blinded my sense of sight, I followed the instructions of the anesthesiologist; three, two, one…
You know how some people believe that when you reach the pearly gates of Heaven, you are received by all of your loved ones? Similarly, that was how I was greeted upon waking up from my surgery. But wait, why were ALL of my family and friends there, when just two hours prior, or so I thought, there was only my husband, Mom, Nan (grandmother) and Mother-in-law. Clouded by the post surgery substances, I suddenly found myself with sweaty palms and in alarming sub-conscious apprehension over how my operation went. Once again, in my haziness, I alerted to logicalness. “What time is it?”, I asked and no one would answer me. This was my attempt at finding out what was going on, why was everyone here and why I suddenly felt like the “get well” balloon had popped. After all, how could I get well when I didn’t even know what was going on? Still, the time of day was becoming more and more demanding upon my scattered thoughts.
At last, a family member whispered, “it’s five o’clock…”. Enraged with emotions and uncertainty, I began to slur a flurry of questions. Yet still, there was silence. There was heaviness in the room that now seems unexplainable, a despondency that everyone was privy to, except me. Even though I was surrounded by all of my loved ones, much like the pearly gates of Heaven, I swerved into the loneliest of settings due to my lack of knowledge and how my alleged two-hour surgery had become almost ten hours long.
After what seemed to be a lifetime of waiting, the Doctor finally came into the room to break the news. On average the news of my condition was worsening by the day, therefore I had a hunch that the Doctor wasn’t about to tell me that I had won a trip to Disneyland. As he approached my bedside, I once again braced myself for the information. But wait; there was something, someone missing from the room- my husband. It was too late at that point, the Doctor had already blurted out, “While we were operating to remove the tumor on your ovary, as well as your ovary, we discovered that you have cancer, which derived from the colon. Brittany, you have Colon Cancer.” Family members say that I went straight into business mode, asking all the right questions, despite my out-of-focus, drug induced state of mind. I couldn’t begin to tell you what I had asked the Doctor at that time, now it seems as though I fell down a black hole and have been working my way out of it since I was notified about the cancer diagnosis. All that I am able to recall is thinking about what was next and how I would get myself out of this dim pit that suddenly became my life.
Throughout the next week the Oncology ward would become my home away from home. I bonded with all of the nurses and was introduced to a team of Doctor’s that would be responsible for my recovery and my journey to healing. The Doctor I was most importantly introduced to through this process was the Oncologist and upon meeting her she very simply informed me that because the Colon Cancer had metastasized onto my ovary, I was considered to be a Stage 4 cancer patient. That said, she explained a catalog of things that would need to take place in order for me to get that clean bill of health I had so wished for. A pet-scan, chemo port, chemotherapy and IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization), if Steve and I were to want a future family. Somehow, when the initial news of my cancer broke, it didn’t dawn on me that I would need chemo. This all sounded way too serious and something that quite frankly, I did not feel I was prepared for.
Following my week stint in the hospital, I was finally released to come home and recover from my surgery in the confines of my own walls and in my own bed. I was happy to be home, after all, it was the most normalcy I had in weeks. The days seemed fleeting as I lay in bed, once again pondering that thought that is life. But, this time around I actually found myself in the know as to what the point of life is; it is to LIVE. I now had an essential sense of wakefulness as to how brief life could be. I felt fortunate to be alive and blessed to have the finest family and friends to rally around me, to help me get through this ephemeral time in my life. Finally the nights of my deep seeded questions had a period mark and I knew the person I would want to be at the end of my life; a person who appreciated every second of life and didn’t waste it, someone who enjoyed the small things and the trifling victories, someone who people could say was a fighter and ultimately knew how to LIVE.
My point is, I live a very average, yet wonderful life. I may have Stage 4 Colon Cancer and I am fully aware of the road I have ahead of me, but I know I will be okay. Attitude is everything and the key is to remain positive. Sure, we are human and entitled to a gloomy day every once in a while, but overall we have to stop and smell the roses and realize how beautiful life can be. It’s a choice.
Over the next few weeks and months, I will further along with my cancer diagnosis by starting IVF, having a pet-scan, chemo port operation and then inevitably beginning my chemo treatment. Be Still My Heart Blog will be a place where I will be sharing that journey, my journey and I could not be more elated to share my point of life, that I so long begged the question for.