Thursday, December 23, 2010

Part 29: Changing Seasons

The newly fallen snow crunched beneath their feet as the woman and her husband briskly crossed the street under the evening glow of the street lamps. She usually went to her appointments alone, but considering the road conditions that day, he volunteered to drive. Her mind flashed back. The last time he had accompanied her to an appointment, autumn leaves had just started falling off the trees and coats were still optional. It was hard to believe how much time had actually passed since then.

They sat in the waiting room together. The warm reality of it was enough to take her lingering chill off. She was glad he was with her again. For the last two months she'd been living in her own little world, one that could only be somewhat understood through her retelling to him upon her arrival home. It was true he didn't miss much, but something about his presence put her at ease. When he was with her, she didn't feel so alone.

Soon they were called back to the appointment room where they were shortly thereafter joined by the oncologist, who carried with her a calming radiancesomething that wasn't learned in med school, but rather was an innate gift. Bi-weekly it instilled confidence in the woman; she could trust that every word from her doctor's lips was sincere, honest, and true.

"You need to drink more water," the doctor said.

The woman had no argument to that fact. She had no excuse either.

The doctor continued, "And your levels this week are at 2.0. This is very good! We will wait and see how things go in two weeks."

The woman was a bit discouraged. She was hoping for an early Christmas present, but according to the test, her value had to be less than 0.8 to be considered negative. Another round of chemo shots were in her immediate future. Count it all joy, she told herself. And she could. She was blessed to be following what the doctor said to be the textbook case. Her numbers had been dropping consistently every time. She knew others weren't as lucky.

"There is a saying in french," the doctor began, "'Patience et longueur de temps font plus que force ni que rage.'"

"Ummm...all I got out of that was patience. Patience what?" the woman replied.

The doctor chuckled and then translated: "Patience and time do more than strength or fury."

The woman had plenty of strength, fury, and certainly time. She would trek through all four seasons at least twice before she realized her dream. Patience, unfortunately, was harder to come by.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Part 28: Routines

It was the start of the woman's third month of treatment, her fourth oncologist appointment. By now, she had the routine down:
  • Check in
  • Verify her med list
  • Take a pain survey
  • Wait
  • Get called in
  • Get weighed
  • Have blood pressure and temperature taken
  • Wait some more
  • Talk to the doctor
  • Hear that she needs more chemo
  • Walk over to the infusion therapy center
  • Wait some more
  • Get called in
  • Have blood pressure and temperature taken
  • Wait some more
  • Get a shot
  • Leave
The woman felt good about this appointment and was already prepared to hear whatever news came her way, be it good, bad, or less good than her expectation. Whatever the outcome, she knew even before meeting with the doctor she would still need to get another round of chemo. The doctor had said that once her values hit negative, she would need to do one last run. So, either her values were negative this week or they weren't. She hoped for the former.

"Your value is 8.9," said the oncologist.

It was a 55 percent drop from two weeks before—still good, because it was dropping, but not yet negative, so it meant at least two more rounds of chemo. Luckily, by this point the injection schedule had worked itself out to be after she got off work, so she wouldn't have to make up time.

"I'm hoping for an early Christmas present next time," the woman said.

"Well, I can't make any promises," the oncologist replied. "When is your birthday?"

"February third."

"We might be able to make that happen."

It wasn't the best news, but it was good. The woman resolved to keep her hopes up for next time. She made her way over to her next stop to get her shot.

Count it all joy, she thought.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Part 27: Nonsense

The woman sat in the front seat passenger side and gazed out the window at the clear blue sky. Random thoughts flowed through her mind like the leafless trees passing through her line of vision, leaving as quickly as they came. It had been a good time with family. She looked down at the soft-covered book resting on her lap. Right before she left, her aunt had given it to her. The timing of the gift was all to coincidental. Just days before, the woman had thought to herself how she needed to find a book to read that would help her gain perspective as she walked through this season of her life, something to help her deal.

She sensed a still, small voice had been trying to send her a message. The doctor's words, her father's counsel, her grandfather's story, her aunt's bookthese had all happened within a weeks time and each instance built off a similar theme: attitude. This combined with her own conviction was enough to get her attention. If someone was making an effort to tell her something, she was going to make her best effort to listen.

She picked up the book admiring its newness as she flipped through the crisp pages and opened to the first chapter. A sobering emotional sting took her by surprise upon reading the chapter title: "Accepting the Truth." She stopped there. It was a loaded phrase, one that had been haunting her daily since the very beginning of this ordeal. Just when she thought she had gotten to a point of acceptance, something would happen and she'd have to do it all over again. Initially she had viewed acceptance like painting a spherethere was one surface to cover and then it's done. But it was more like painting a polyhedronthere were multiple faces that needed painting, and each had to be done one at a time. And so it was with the woman, each aspect and each residual effect had to be accepted. Some were easier than others.

As she continued to read, it talked about expecting trials and troubles as a norm of life. That part seemed true enough to her and explained why this situation had been such a jolt to her system. The past few years had been easy; everything she had reached for, she had accomplished. She hadn't experienced any major disappointments, and while she knew she that was a blessing (for she was no stranger to hardship), she had lost sight of the inevitability of trials.

She read on: "Count it all joy when you when you fall into various trials." She stopped again. She knew those words, but knowing and doing are two very different things. She had read and heard them many times before, but never had she realized how ridiculous they sounded. Consider it a pain in the neck? Yes. Count it an emotional blow? Yes. Consider it a reason to feel angry and sorry for yourself? Yes. Count it as joy? What? Wait a minute here. Now that makes no sense. Apparently the author thought so, too, but that did not negate the advice. As the woman understood, to count suffering as joy was an act of the will, not the emotion, and it was not a senseless choice. Patience, perseverance, character, and hope were the fruits of that decision, things that she could use a little more of.

Not knowing exactly what she was doing, she decided to give it a shot. It wasn't going to be easy, and it wasn't going to be a one time decision, but at least it was something to help combat her misery. That day, contrary to her feelings, she decided she would try to count her situation as joy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Part 26: Circle of Thanks

The woman held the white styrofoam cup with two hands and looked down at the red sparkling grape juice inside. The fizz was drowned out by the sound of her little niece and nephew playing on the floor. She sat beside her husband, amongst her family who had gathered together in the living room forming a large, not quite-so-perfect circle. It was time for the Thanksgiving tradition where everyone would go around and take turns sharing what they were thankful for. After each monologue, the group would raise their cups saying "Here, here!" and "Praise the Lord!" This year, the woman didn't want to be thankful. She wanted to disappear. Unfortunately, her absence would most definitely be noticed, so she had no choice but to stay and participate.

Her grandfather opened the ceremony with a story. Eighty years of wisdom colored each spoken word as he shared a testament of God's faithfulness to him over the past year. "A year ago I was told that I needed to get a new roof," he began. "It was going to cost 7000 dollars. I had no idea who would help me do the work or how I would get the money to pay for it, so I prayed."

He continued by telling how he diligently saved a little each month in preparation for the expense and kept on praying over the course of the year. Fall came around and he managed to find eight people who were willing to help with the project. A few weeks before they started, he received an unexpected letter in the mail stating he had 3500 dollars worth of stock, which he cashed in to help pay for the expense. When it was all said and done, the entire project cost came out to 3500 dollars--half of what the original cost was supposed to be and exactly the worth of the stock he had just sold!

"The point is," he said, "God answers prayer. He doesn't always do it when we want it or how we might expect, but He always answers. Sometimes we have to just be patient and wait on His perfect timing."

The words "patient" and "wait" resonated in her mind as if someone had just hit a gong. She reflected on her situation. She desperately wanted to accept the message and believe she was experiencing perfect timingno matter how imperfect it feltbut pain from the past few months had jaded her perspective. It coated the truth of her grandfather's words with a shell of bitterness. The truth was in her mind, but she would have to crack through the shell in order to truly receive it.

And so the circle of thanks began. One by one family members listed off the many things they were grateful for. Closer and closer her turn approached. She tried to think of what she could say. Everything she thought of only reminded her of what she couldn't be thankful fora baby on the way. The cold fact was further etched in the stone of her mind as her brother-in-laws relayed how thankful they were for their children. Her husband's turn soon followed. I guess I'm thankful he gets to go first, she thought to herself.

"As you all know, we've had some trying times come our way recently, but through it all we still have things to be thankful for," he began. "None the least being that we live in Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic..."

He began to choke up. Her stubbornness held on as she fought back tears, but his warm, genuine words were quickly thawing her frozen heart. She grabbed his hand.

"...and they've been doing their best to get her better..."

His composure was quickly failing, as was the woman's ability to control her tears, and no one said a word. In attempt to contain the situation, divert attention elsewhere, and fill awkward silence, she held up her styrofoam cup and said, "Praise the Lord!"

"Praise the Lord!" the room responded.

It was now her turn. She opened her mouth, ready to quickly recite her pre-planned statement and pass the baton, but she couldn't speak. The dam holding back her emotions had been cracked during her husband's speech and by now it had lost its integrity. Tears rolled down her cheeks. She apologized for crying and as she regained her composure, she noticed the room was no longer quiet. Others had started to cry and sniffles came from all sides. It was then that she realized she was not alone in her pain. Her burden had been spread across the shoulders of those she loved most and they were walking alongside her every step of the way. How could I have been so blind, so foolishly hard-hearted? she thought. Thank you, God, for my loving husband and loving family.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Part 25: X-ray Vision

The woman stood outside the elevator catching her breath. Being fifteen minutes late on her end, she only hoped the doctor's office was maintaining their status quo. The arrival to the tenth floor couldn't come soon enough. She turned the corner. Luckily there wasn't a line. Her transition from the check-in desk to her appointment room was practically seamlessa first in her experience. Unfortunately, the woman still had to pass the time.

"I haven't as much seen the whites of the doctor's eyes yet today," said the clinical assistant.

Relieved to finally receive an honest estimate, the woman sat and waited, wondering what kind of news she would find out that day. It had been two weeks since her last appointment. The chemo treatments were pretty predictable and low key for her by now. Sure, she wasn't recovering back to her normal self as quickly, but she was making progress, and that's really all that mattered to her. Knowing her tendency to worry, she took some time to pray to calm her nerves. Then, she grabbed her cell phone and started reading through three years worth of text messages. I really need to bring a book next time, she regretted.

Just as she finished reading the last text, the oncologist apologetically entered the room, noticeably out of breath.

Like doctor like patient, the woman thought to herself.

There wasn't much to talk about considering her HCG results had not yet come back, but even if the levels hit zero, the woman discovered would still need to go through at least one more round of chemotherapy. The woman felt a bit discouraged. She was ready to move on to the next phase.

As if cued, the oncologist looked through the woman's eyes into her soul and said, "There is a light at the end of this tunnel. This is a bump in the roada big one for youbut I am confident that you will be cured of this disease and you will go on to have more babies. I recently lost a patient to ovarian cancer. And do you know what she said of her situation? She said that it was a gift from God. I encourage you to think about how you might view what you're going through."

The woman swore this doctor had some kind of x-ray vision into her mind because the words pierced her heart. How does she know I've been feeling depressed about this the last few days and have been nursing a sour attitude? She was pretty sure she hadn't said or done anything incriminating, but somehow, the doctor knew.

The woman left the doctor's office in a contemplative mood and headed down to receive her first chemo shot of round four. She had plenty of time to think on the doctor's wordstwo hours twenty minutes, to be exact. She called her parents to kill some time.

"Your life experiences are a stewardship," her dad said. "Just like your time and your talents. What are you going to do with them?"

As she hung up the phone a nurse escorted her to her room. Her father's words still hung in the air. She had never thought of life that way. Sure, she was responsible to do good things with money, time, and talents, but life experiences? One cannot control life. Life just happens. But the more she thought about it, the more she realized either she could try to control her experiences, inevitably harboring anger and bitterness from her inability to do so, or she could let the Holy Spirit work through her, conforming her attitude to that of Christ, allowing Him to reveal His glory through her story of brokenness. If it were only that easy, she thought.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. A nurse entered the room handing her a piece of paper with a yellow Post-It note stuck to it upon which was written: "Beta HCG is Ok. Value is 20." Initially her lucky digit "0" was overshadowed by the "2" proceeding it. However, she caught herself before she went too far down that road. She reminded herself that it was an 83% drop from two weeks prior and the first time she had been in the two digits. Thank you, Lord, for six straight weeks of good news.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Part 24: Piece of Cake

"You are a piece of cake!" the oncologist said, her French-Canadian accent shining through. "You are a tree in a forest. You see the tree and I see the forest. My job is to get you through the forest."

The woman could not help but smile. She loved this doctor. There was always some kind of positive spin rolling off her tongue, a language the woman was not always the most fluent in.

The oncologist continued, "Not to minimize what you are going through. You have been through a lot, but I see the forest. Other trees are not as easy as you."

It was the prologue to one of the woman's most encouraging appointments yet. She sat in anticipation as the doctor turned the computer monitor in her direction. Her eyes locked in on the screen that posted her multiple weeks worth of lab results.

"Blood levels are good. Hemoglobin still a bit low, but going up. Liver function good. Creatinine still normal, but you need to drink more water," the oncologist reported.

They had gone through everything on the screen. What about my hormone levels? the woman thought. She looked at the doctor whose face wore an eager smile, like she had been saving the best news for last. The doctor scrolled down the screen while the woman leaned in for a better look.

119.

"This is very good!" the oncologist affirmed.

And it was good news. Prior to walking into that room, the woman had prepared herself for the worst—a rise in the levels marking the need to switch to a stronger, more aggressive chemo drug—and hoped for the best—levels to zero. The 95% drop to 119 from two weeks prior was really, really good news. She would still need at least another round of treatment since the weren't at zero, but these were the lowest levels yet, which was a great encouragement.

It's amazing what a good doctor and good news does to a person's patience. The woman left and settled in the waiting room once again, waiting for the assistant to bring her a new appointment schedule. Upon receipt of it began another series of unfortunate going-to-the-doctor annoyances. The scheduler had scheduled the appointments all wrong, the doctor had forgotten to write up her new prescription, the chemo shot took forever to get ready, and the pharmacy caught an inconsistency in the prescription which lengthened the ready time. Had it all happened at the last appointment, the woman would have for sure been annoyed, but oddly enough this time around she wasn't bothered a bit.

She walked down the corridor towards the parking garage elevator. Tears of joy stirred within her.
While they never made it to her eyes, they filled her heart with hope of the weeks to come. She had come so far, and for that she was thankful.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Part 23: Triggers

As time went on, the woman settled into this new chapter in her journey. Life went on just like it used to.  In the beginning, she worried that seeing pregnant ladies might be the most difficult for her. They were everywhere. Her sister was pregnant. Her close friends were pregnant. Gals at work were pregnant. Ladies at church were pregnant. Her facebook friends were pregnant. Oddly enough these reminders in and of themselves were not as discouraging as she had originally thoughtas long as she stuck to her mental attack plan. She reasoned with herself that had her circumstances been any different, she would still be happy and excited for all these women. Why should it be any different now?, she thought. Sometimes she was successful, other times she wasn't, but at least she was ready. Every once in awhile, however, when she least expected it, something would happen that triggered a memory or resurfaced a feeling reminding her of her loss.

The couple had been finishing their basement that fall, one of her necessities on their life plan before starting a family. As they gave a tour to their friends of the recently drywalled space, the woman started sharing her plans for the living areas.

"We'll put the futon right here. The desk from upstairs will go in this corner. We'll move the bed from the upstairs office to one down here..." But then it hit her. They were going to move all the stuff out of the extra room upstairs to make room for a nurserya nursery that was no longer needed. The thought saddened her for a moment, but then she was just perplexed. She hadn't even thought about what now to use the room for instead.

One time she went to the fridge looking for something to snack on. She spotted some olives, took them out and dished them onto her plate. The savory flavor filled her mouth. But then it hit her. She was eating the same olives that she had eaten during that first and only normal week of her pregnancy.

Another time she was talking to her pregnant sister.

"Do you want me to save some of my maternity clothes that are too big for me?" her sister asked.

"Sure! That would be wonderful!" she thankfully replied thinking how great it was to get some free clothes, even if it she didn't need them right now. But then it hit her. She began to cry. She would have needed them in a few months, but now it would be a long while before they'd be useful.

Yet another time she was writing on an online message board to encourage another gal who was experiencing the same disease on a time-line similar to hers. She pulled up a calendar to see which exact day she had first learned of her pregnancy. It was the last Friday in July. She looked at the number thirty. And then it hit her. At one point in time she was pregnant and happy about it, naive to the risks of it all, but that was a long time ago.

In the midst of these moments, she was at peace. As sad as the triggers were, they were comforts along her road to recovery. Their presence signified the passing of time, the acceptance of her lot, and the healing of her broken heart.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Part 22: Anxious Thoughts

The woman watched as the nurse attached the needle to the syringe filled with chemo. The transparent yellow liquid glistened inside its plastic shell. It was the woman's second injection in her second round of chemotherapy and she was grateful that aside from some fatigue, watery eyes, muscle cramps, and occasional mild nausea, she had not experienced any overbearing physical side effects from the treatment thus far. Mentally, however, the anxiety of her last appointment still plagued her because the syringe in the nurse's hand seemed wider that day.

"Are you sure that is the same dose as last week?" the woman asked delving into the details of her traumatic experience from two days prior. "That syringe looks different from what I remember."

"Yeah. It's the same," said the nurse. The husband peered over to look the computer screen and concurred.

"Okay," replied the woman, still in need of convincing. 

She stood up and turned her back towards the nurse who, shortly thereafter, slowly dispensed the yellow liquid into the woman's backside—so slowly, in fact, that it caused the woman internal alarm. 

It's never taken this long for them to give me the shot. What's she doing?

"Um...are you almost done back there?" asked the woman, starting to become anxious while the needle held its ground. "This seems to be taking awhile."

"Almost, I'm just doing it slowly so that it doesn't sting."

“It usually hasn't taken this long, so I'm just trying not to..." The woman didn't finish her sentence. A tingling sensation began to flood her body and she fought the urge to close her eyes. "Umm...I feel weird."

"Just a second," said the nurse. "I'm almost done."

"I...I think I need to sit down or something," the woman replied trying to remain calm. 

Instinctively she began to sit back down the the chair, the nurse scrambling to get a band-aid over the injection site. She turned pale and her skin became clammy. She felt like she was going to pass out. The nurse quickly closed a blood pressure cuff around her upper right arm and began to get a reading. The woman's blood pressure had dropped in half. She breathed deep, trying her best not to freak out, but she was scared. Luckily, in a few minutes, she was back to normal, though noticeably shaken up from the experience. The nurse ensured that her vitals remained stable and then freed the couple to go on their way. 

It had been a shaky start to chemo round two, but on the bright side, her HCG levels had dropped by 90% since her first round—down to 2400! Prayers being offered up from around the country and around the world were notably gaining momentum. She only hoped that these next two weeks held similar results.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Part 21: Inconsistencies

Relieved that her appointment with Dr. Substitute was over, the woman walked over to the appointment desk and picked up her schedule. She casually reviewed it as she made her way back to the waiting room and at second glance noticed something slightly disturbing: there were no chemo treatments listed. She turned around and asked the assistant, "Umm...I'm supposed to have some chemo scheduled, but I don't see any of the appointments here?"

"Oh. You will have to go to the chemo desk for that," the assistant replied.

Ooookay. That would have been nice to know!

The woman tried to be patient and headed to the chemo desk. The response she received from the attendant there was equally disheartening: "We don't have any record of you needing chemo."

A bit frustrated, the woman replied, "Well, I know I'm supposed to have chemo today. The doctor told me so and I watched him order it."

Convinced, the attendant made some phone calls.

As the woman sat, thoughts of what should have been filled her mind. She was supposed to be 16 weeks along heading to OB appointments and worrying about buying pregnancy jeans. Instead, she was here in a room full of cancer patients waiting to receive chemo. The two extremes were irreconcilable, and somehow she would need to find a way to reconcile herself to the latter in order to move on with her life.

Thirty minutes later a nurse finally called the woman back to receive her injection. Upon entering the room, the woman noticed that the nurse had two syringes filled with chemo.

"Umm...Is that the correct dosage? I've only ever had one shot," said the woman nervously.

"Yep, it's the same dose as last time. It just depends on how the pharmacist mixes it," replied the nurse and continued preparing the needles without any noticeable concern.

"Are you sure it's the same dosage?"

The nurse looked down at the syringes and then back up at the computer screen. "Yep, it's the same."

"Uhh...okay," the woman said, hesitant.

The residual sting of the shots were like background music to her thoughts as she walked towards the elevator replaying the events of the day. It had been a long one scattered with inconsistencies that made the woman feel uneasy. In the midst of her anxious distrust, the only thing she could do was surrender, trusting that the doctor knew what he was doing, the schedulers knew what they were doing, the pharmacist knew what he was doing, the nurse knew what she was doing, and that ultimately God was in control of it all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Part 20: The Substitute

The woman felt out of place amidst the sea of predominantly white hair. Not quite pregnant, not quite suffering from cancer—it was a queer state. It had been two weeks since her last visit. She had just come from her bi-weekly blood draw and now sat in oncology waiting to be the lucky one called over the intercom. Across from her sat an aged couple. They were both asleep.

Not very promising, she thought, hoping she'd have enough patience to make it through the wait.

A glance through a magazine and many daydreams later, she finally heard her name. The clinical assistant brought her back to a room where she took the woman's vitals and then promptly left, leaving her with the promise, "The doctor will be in shortly."

Either the assistant had made a good faith estimate on the time frame or she had lied through her teeth. The woman decided to take the silent advice from the elderly couple in the waiting room and pass the time by napping. She positioned herself in such a way as to be decently reclined, her feet hanging just off the edge of the bench cushion, but not so much that she wouldn't be able to quickly resume a somewhat normal seated position, were she caught off guard.

At last, the woman heard a knock. In walked a pot-bellied man in his sixties, the substitute doctor while her gynecologic oncologist was out of town. Generally pleasant, he seemed a tolerable replacement. It was obvious he didn't know much about her case. For the first five minutes he barely said a word to her and skimmed her patient notes. Great. I have some guy treating me that has no idea who I am or what's going on, she thought. He then proceeded to review her lab results. Blood counts and liver function looked good, but the HCG value, the one she cared the most about, had yet to post.

"Normally, if the initial run falls above the upper limit of detection, they will need to dilute the sample and re-run it," he said. "I'll just get started ordering up your next chemo dose while we wait."

"But don't you need to know what the actual value is before you go ahead and prescribe another round?" she asked. "What if the value is already at zero?"

"The likelihood of that is pretty slim. And even if it were at zero, we would still prescribe another round."

The answer slightly annoyed the woman. Then why am I even here in the first place? A call asking if I was okay would have sufficed, she grumbled to herself, the dollar signs multiplying in her head.

She glanced over toward the computer screen and noticed an error message pop-up. He had been sitting at the computer for at least ten minutes and was making comments to himself. Apparently the ordering system was not the most user-friendly. The longer it took him to place the chemo order, the more confidence she lost in his competence. Considering the personal impact this drug would have on her body, she was markedly concerned. Her mind raced to the close call at the hospital a few weeks back. She tried not to worry.

The doctor finally figured it out and had the woman get up on the exam table where he listened to her heart and pushed on her belly. She began to ask him all the questions that had been collecting in her mind over the last two weeks and she was disappointed by his answer. "You're getting out of my level of expertise," he said. "I'm not in gynecology, I'm in oncology."

Dejected, she decided to keep her mouth shut from there on out. Why do they have some guy who can't even answer my questions treating me? she wondered in frustration. He freed the woman to head to her next appointmenther first injection of chemo round two. "The girls will get you your schedule," he said and oddly ended with a question, "Do you have any kids?"

You've got to be kidding me. "Nope. This was my first," she said and walked away.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Part 19: Goodbyes

"What should we do for the service?" the woman asked her husband. She wondered if he thought it strange that she wanted a service in the first place. Her husband seemed okay with it, so she didn't worry too much about it. As they discussed the details, the woman made some notes.

"This looks good!" she said smiling. "It will be a wonderful service." 

Just then a faint emotion stirred within her and began to crescendo. Before she knew it tears were filling her eyes and she started to sniffle. At last an audible cry emerged.

The woman's husband took her in his arms and comforted her. "Just let it out," he said in a warm voice.

While she had cried different times over the past couple weeks, it had been about other things—the stress, her condition, the long road ahead. This was the first cry in awhile that actually grieved the loss of her pregnancy, yet it felt just as fresh as the first time and emotionally it was just as hard.

The cool Sunday morning air filled her lungs as she made her way to the backyard where she found her husband standing by the small spruce tree. Sunshine settled upon the tiny hole beneath the lower branches he had dug just moments before in preparation to receive the package she held in her hand wrapped in a white napkin.

Together they stood looking down at the site, the wind blowing and the sound of passing cars traveling along the nearby country road resonating in the distance. They began to sing:

How great is our God.
Sing with me, how great is our God.
And all will see how great, how great is our God.

She placed the tiny package into the small hole. After each shared a few words, the husband closed in a prayer.

“Dear Lord, we thank you for the gift of each other and for this pregnancy. Even though it wasn't a baby, it was still special. We pray for healing in the months ahead—spiritually, emotionally, and physically—so that someday we can try again and be blessed with a baby.”

With a small spade they took turns covering the newly filled space with a mixture of soil and wood chips. Every spade-full finalized reality. Dreams of starting a family, caring for a baby of their own, passing on the many things they wish to teach, and enjoying God's gift of a new person had been postponed. They offered up one more moment of silence, then turned and together walked away.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Part 18: The Delivery

It was just like any other Saturday morning. She awoke at her normal time while her husband lay sleeping under the mound of covers. He would be there till at least 9:30 a.m., to the detriment of the woman, of course. An early morning chat with her husband over coffee was her Saturday morning dream, a dream, unfortunately, crushed every week. Alternatively, she knew his dream was to sleep in, and somehow she worked up the weekly discipline to restrain herself from harassing him awake before the allotted time...most Saturdays, anyway.

Her first stop was the bathroom.

Ummm...that was weird.

The woman had passed clots before, and large ones at that, but this did not feel like a clot. Peering into the toilet she saw a dark shadow resting at the bottom. Curiosity got the best of her and she fished it out.

Upon further examination, the woman determined that what she had in her possession was indeed the mass from inside her uterus. It measured a little over 3.5 cm in length, just like what the doctor explained from her ultrasound a week and a half earlier.

She hurried to the bedroom.

"Honey," she whispered nudging her husband hoping he wouldn’t mind too much. "I think I just passed the tissue."

Looking at her with tired eyes he acknowledged the situation and lovingly rolled out of bed to take a look.

"Yeah, that definitely looks different than a clot," he confirmed, still a bit groggy.

They deliberated the meaning of it all, wondering, perhaps, if it was a good sign for things to come. Little did they know it would mark the end to two and a half months of the woman's bleeding. They questioned what to do with the the tiny mass. After a few moments of silence, the woman replied saying, "I think I'd like to have a funeral."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Part 17: Weeping Willows

A noticeable increase of golden brown strands collected in her brush daily during that first week of chemo. They draped over her fingers like weeping willow branches as she pulled away her hands when washing her hair. While sitting in meetings at work she would notice strays laying on the table and brushed them away hoping no one noticed. The doctor had said the drug would not cause hair loss. She, however, noticed a contradiction to that expectation, which began almost immediately after starting treatment.

After discussing with her friends, she concluded that hormones instead were most likely the cause. Many gals mentioned losing large amounts of hair after delivering their babies—a time when HCG levels would be dropping. It made sense to the woman because, in a way, she had "delivered" something during her surgery and assumingly her hormone levels were dropping drastically now that she was on the chemo. To the woman, having a similar experience to a post-pregnant woman, yet being so far from that place, felt odd.

Her bleeding, while lessened, still continued. One of the many things she had looked forward to in getting pregnant was the lack of monthly cycles. Life had certainly dealt her an ironic hand. Two and a half months, she thought. When is this going to stop? After her last injection that week she noticed her flow likened to a medium period—less than what she experienced the week of her scare, but heavier than "normal." It bothered her.

Friday night rolled around. The woman and her husband decided to stay in for a movie night. As the evening progressed she experienced something she hadn't felt for awhile. The muscles in her lower abdomen contracted, similar to cramps during a heavy period. This, combined with the "abnormal" flow and the fact she had passed a few more small clots over the past few days, heightened her state of alarm. Taking precautionary measures, the woman folded up a towel and placed it beneath her just in case.

The intensity of the cramps increased during the movie, but she made it through crisis free. Crawling into bed that night she prayed for protection, fearing the worst: another trip to the hospital. She laid her burdens down, rested her head gently on the pillow, and quickly drifted off to sleep.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Part 16: Serenity

Hours passed as the woman sat in her hospital bed dressed in the usual with a twist: a flowered gown, blue robe, tan slippers and black wind pants. Might as well be comfortable if I have to sit here all day, she thought. She and her husband threw around jokes to lighten the mood and pass the time while they waited for the beginning of this new phase in the seemingly never-ending dramathe chemotherapy. It had been an hour since the woman last checked on her bleeding so she hopped off the bed and went into the bathroom.

“The nurse wants to weigh you again,” the husband said as she came back out.

“Umm…okay,” she replied. She stepped out of her room and onto the scale. Turning to the nurse she asked, “So, why are you weighing me again?”

“I just want to verify we have the right information in your charts. The chemo dosage is based off these numbers and I just want to make sure we have it right,” the nurse explained.

The woman watched as the number on the scale rose.

“Huh. I thought so,” said the nurse.

“What do you mean? That looks right,” the woman confirmed. “81 kilograms179 pounds, just like two hours ago.”

“Your charts say you are 91 kilograms. Just looking at you, I see you’re a head taller than me, but you didn’t look to be 200 pounds.”

The woman was shocked. “Is this standard for you to make sure the patient looks as heavy as their charts say?” she questioned.

“Actually, no,” replied the nurse. “It just occurred to me as I was looking at you. Now, I know you’ve been waiting awhile to get this first dose of chemo. They were just about done verifying your dose, but with this new information, they’re going to have to start the process all over again so it will be a little longer.”

“Not a problem,” the woman assured. “I think I’d rather have the correct dosage. Thank you so much for being so observant. This is a God-thing.”

The woman gave her husband a mutually understood look. The implications of an incorrect dose were unknown to them, but they knew they had been spared from yet another pot hole in this journey.

A few more hours later, the nurse returned ready to administer the woman’s chemo shot. It was quick and virtually painless, nothing like the images she had conjured up in her mind when she envisioned receiving chemotherapy. True, they did have to use special blue gloves and the woman had to utilize a special spatter screen over the toilet, but that was the extent, though somewhat alienating.

And so it began. For an indefinite amount of time the woman would have to undergo bi-weekly rounds of this treatment. Week one consisted of every-other-day intramuscular (IM) injections of Methotrexate. On the off days, the woman would need to take a recovery vitamin called Leucovorin to help her body replenish what was lost due to the chemo. Week two was her recovery week as her body would work to build  immune system back up in preparation for the process to begin all over again. They would also bi-weekly track her HCG levels to zero, after which point would begin the monthly draws for at least six months to ensure everything stayed that way.

Drifting off to sleep she thought about the long road ahead and a prayer came to mind:

God, grant me the...
Serenity to accept things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the things that take time
Appreciation for all that I have, and
Tolerance for those with different struggles
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of my past ways, the
Ability to feel Your love for me and others and the
Strength to get up and try again even when I feel it is hopeless.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Part 15: Submission

“Absolutely not,” the woman protested. “I will not get back on that stupid pill. Do you know how long I was on that thing? I’m already going to have to wait at least six months before trying again, probably more. Adding this to the mix will just make that wait even longer.”

The debate had already been going on for a few minutes, the gynecologic oncologist proposing one idea, the woman giving a counter argument for another.

“It is very important that you not get pregnant while on the chemo,” the oncologist rebutted. “If somehow you did, the results would be devastating to you and your baby.”

Beneath the professional fa├žade a genuine concern pleaded from the oncologist’s eyes. It was not just the plea of a doctor who had witnessed suffering and the unthinkable over many years in her practice, it was the plea of a woman and a mother who understood the innate desire for new life. It was this sincerity that broke through the woman’s resolve.

“Okay, I submit,” the woman replied. “I still don’t want to take that pill, but if you think that is best, I will do it. I’m 100% on board.”

The oncologist moved on to speak of the specificities of the chemotherapy treatment. They would begin by giving her Methotrexate, a drug that inhibits DNA replication in rapidly producing cells, like the ones continuing to reproduce in the woman’s uterus. This would kill off the existing cells and prevent new ones from forming. There were other drugs that could be used as well and possibly would be if her body didn’t respond to this first one, but those were more aggressive and had more side effects. The oncologist wished to start with the lesser of the evils.

This does not sound fun, thought the woman reclining back in her hospital bed. She was discouraged. I hope this stuff doesn’t wreck my body.

“When this is all over, I want to see pictures,” the oncologist said, interrupting her thought.

“Pictures?” said the woman.

“Of your next baby. I ask all my patients to send me pictures. You will get through this. Your type of the disease is nearly 100% curable, and I am confident that you will make a complete recovery. When you are ready to try again and you have your next baby, I want to see pictures!”

The woman was taken aback. She had been so caught up in the weight of her present situation that she hadn’t much thought about the light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t believe how confident she is about this, thought the woman. Could it really be true? I can't even imagine, but maybe she is right. The time will come some day when I can try again and I will have another baby. The emotional wounds from the past two months were still too fresh for the woman to completely buy into the idea, but deep down a hope filled the empty space in her heart left over from the loss. A freedom came over her as she not only submitted her treatment into the hands of the doctor, but also submitted her all into the hands of the Healer.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Part 14: Beating the Odds

The woman turned her head, closed her eyes, and breathed deeply as the assistant released the blue dye into her system. A warm sensation quickly passed throughout her entire body. Initially, the nerd inside her was intrigued by the biological workings happening in her circulatory system at that moment, but the intrigue soon subsided. The thought that it was happening to her was disturbing, so she tried not to think about it and instead imagined herself relaxing on a warm beach. In reality she was laying on her back in a cold room tucked under a stack of white hospital blankets making her way towards the buzzing machine that would soon document her insides. She moved closer and closer when, suddenly, it all stopped.

“We need you to remove your bra and underwear,” echoed a voice over the intercom.

“Huh?” the woman replied, unsure if anyone could hear her as she was all alone in the room. She was confused by the request. This was a CT scan not a medical examination. She was pretty sure she could keep her clothes on.

“My underwear?” the woman asked the assistant entering the room and walking towards her.

“No—underwire. The underwire of your bra is causing interference,” said the assistant.

They had asked her at the beginning if she had any metal on and she had confidently assured them that she was good to go. Before she left her hospital room, she made sure all of it was gone. Apparently she forgot something.

The staff re-situated her and restarted the scans. It was painless. Her only complaint was that the room was freezing. The issued hospital gowns didn’t offer much warmth. The staff graciously offered her some warm blankets and she obliged. Then, they wheeled her back up to her hospital room where her husband and in-laws were waiting for her.

A few hours more hours of waiting passed and finally the CT scan results came back. Everyone held their breaths as they listened attentively to the doctors words: “The scans show no sign that the cells have spread. It is all contained within the uterus.”

A sigh of relief filled the room.

The doctor continued, “Based on these findings, we have diagnosed you with non-metastatic gestational trophoblastic neoplasia.”

The woman understood, but everyone else in the room looked a bit lost. The doctor translated, “Pretty much this form of the disease is invasive, but it’s not spreading and it’s not cancerous.”

More sighs of relief followed…and hugs…and tears…and smiles.

Finally, the woman could rest easy knowing that the cells weren’t attacking her brain, or any other part of her body for that matter. After two months of succumbing to what felt like the minutest odds, she was encouraged to know the odds were now moving back into her favor. Experience had taught her to mistrust potential good news, but she wasn’t going to let experience steal her joy in this moment. Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Part 13: Crimson Tears

She felt like a product on an assembly line. One by one the clinical assistants in radiology brought the patients into the dressing rooms, spouted off a memorized set of instructions, and handed them unflattering blue smocks to cover themselves. After changing, the woman went out to sit in the secondary waiting room, where she fit right in with the rest of the like-dressed patients. Shortly thereafter, she was escorted to a room to receive her ultrasound.

“I’m so sorry,” the woman apologized to the technologist, embarrassed by something she couldn’t control. It had been about an hour since she left the house for the clinic. The double-layer protection she thought would last a few hours had already lived its course and she was on the next round thanks to her husband who had packed extra pads against her wishes.

She lay on the exam table worried about how much blood she’d find underneath her afterward, while the technician maneuvered the ultrasound wand and diligently reviewed the images on the screen.

“Are you going to tell me what you see when you’re finished?” the woman casually asked.

“No. You’ll have to wait to discuss the findings with your doctor,” the technician succinctly replied.

Goodness. These technologists in radiology are way stricter than those in OB. Guess it won’t be the first time I’ve waited for answers.

The technician finished the scans and gave permission for the woman to leave. She met up with her husband and they walked over to the doctor’s office.

“The HCG results have come back and they have gone up again since your last draw five days ago,” the doctor began. “After reviewing the ultrasound, there seems to be re-growth of tissue in your uterus. We located a mass inside measuring about 3.5 to 4.0 centimeters and it seems to have grown into the uterine wall.”

A mass inside? the woman thought, shocked.

The doctor continued, “I took a look at your pathology results from the D&C and the cells did not have the appearance of choriocarcinoma, which is good. However, they have definitely started to invade into the uterine wall, which is a concern. We don’t want to do another D&C at this time because of the risk of possibly puncturing the uterus, which could cause uncontrollable bleeding and lead to hysterectomy.”

The word “hysterectomy” made the woman shutter.

“We want to preserve your fertility as best we can. The next step will be to get a CT scan to verify the cells have not spread to other parts of your body. We want to keep you overnight in the hospital to monitor your bleeding and make sure that goes down. And then we will also start you on chemotherapy treatments today.”

The woman felt like she was listening to the text book treatments she read on the internet and in online medical journals. The information was very familiar, but it wasn’t supposed to be her story. It was supposed to be some impersonal nice-to-know information that she didn’t have to worry about. But it was her story now, and somehow she would have to deal with it. All the times she had been given less than good news, she had been able to keep her composure, but this time was different. Though she didn’t know where else the crazy cells in her body may have gone, they had finally managed to get to her psyche and through her tears, she released the emotions that had been building inside her all day.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Part 12: The Scare

The woman was running late…again. Three years out of college and she still couldn’t get this get-up-early-like-an-adult thing down. She raced into her company’s parking lot. Haphazardly she grabbed her keys, purse, computer bag, and the plastic Wal-Mart bag containing the blueberry muffins for her 8:00 a.m. meeting, and walked briskly to the door. Her hair had already started falling out of her pony tail, but she didn’t have time to care. As she stepped up from the pavement to the sidewalk she felt a gush of fluid leave her body.

That was weird, she thought and entered the building. While jogging up the stairs, a voice inside her suggested she should go check things out. I’ll just have to do it after this meeting, she rebutted. I’m facilitating so it will just have to wait until afterward.

Arriving at her desk, she quickly sat down to check her calendar for the location of her meeting. It was then that the moist feeling around her inner thighs won over her attention. Looking down she could see a dark red stain contrasting against her gray pants which in no way could be inconspicuously hidden. Oh my gosh! What do I do? she thought, trying not to panic.  

The woman made her way back as carefully and quickly as possible to her supervisor’s desk. I hope she’s not at a meeting yet! As she approached the cube, she was relieved to see her supervisor sitting at the computer. Tears welled up in her eyes as the woman briefly explained her embarrassing situation. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” she said, “but I need to go home and change.”

She fought off anxiety all the way home. The seven minute trip seemed an eternity. Luckily her husband hadn’t made it too far when he received her call to come home right away. His car was already in the driveway when she pulled in.

“I’ve bled all over!” she cried hurrying toward the bathroom.

“It’ll be okay, honey” the husband assured her.

The bleeding had soaked her entire pad and spilled over leaving her underwear and pants to do the rest of the job. She couldn’t hide her fear. There was too much blood and she was still bleeding. She called to her doctor’s office. The secretary took a message and said she would have the doctor call the woman back as soon as possible.

The woman began writing emails and making phone calls to keep her mind occupied in the short time while she waited. Prayer was a must in situations like these and she needed all she could get. She was just about to make a call to sister number three when the doctor’s office called her back. It was her nurse.

“The doctor wants you to come in right away,” the nurse said. “Can you get here in the next thirty minutes?”

“Of course,” the woman replied.

“I thought you’d say that. Head over for a blood draw, then go to radiology, then come straight over to the 12th floor. No specific times. Just get here. When you’re finished with one area, head right over to the next. We’ll get you in. And, honey, don’t eat anything except for clear fluids. We may have to do another D&C today.”

After confirming the details with her nurse, the woman got off the phone and started gathering her things for the trip over. Before leaving, she dressed herself with two pairs of underwear, a pad stuck to each one. This ought to hold me over for awhile, she thought.

The couple made the all-too-familiar trip back to the clinic. Her heart was heavy. She didn’t know what to feel or think. The thought of another D&C was worrisome and undesirable. Her eyes gazed out the car window up towards the sky. Keep me safe, Father. I’m scared and need Your help.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Part 11: Conversation with God

“What are you doing, God? How could you let this happen? And why me? There are so many women with unwanted pregnancies, but I wanted this, Lord! You know I want to be a mother! I have been waiting so long to start trying for a family and now I’m going to have to wait an indefinite amount of time longer! I have been planning and preparing as much as I possibly could for the last 3 1/2 years!”

My dear child, in your heart you plan your course, but I determine your steps.

“Well, my course was a pretty good one, God. We paid off all our debts but the house. I stopped taking birth control for six months to make sure there wouldn’t be any interference when we started trying. My husband finally came around without me nagging, which was nothing short of a miracle, and after three months of trying we finally got pregnant. We were all set. Our basement would be all finished by the time the baby arrived. Nine months and it would have been fine. But, no. You took it all away before anything even began. From the very moment of conception this was hosed and You knew this would happen before I was even born! Thanks for the warning!”

I love you, my child. I know the plans I have for you—plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. I cause everything to work together for good. In time, you will see.

“Well, it certainly doesn’t feel very hopeful right now. And logically I don’t see anything good about the fact that this whole thing keeps getting worse and worse. I could handle a miscarriage. I could handle getting surgery. But I can’t handle this never ending unknown of what is going on inside my body. I have absolutely no control over this. It’s just too much!”

Without Me, you can do nothing, my child. Come to me. You are weary and carry heavy burdens. Give Me your burdens. I will take care of you and give you rest.

“I’m scared, Lord. What if this gets even worse? What if these cells are spreading? What if I get cancer? What if I can never conceive again?”

Be strong, my child. Do not be afraid or discouraged. I am with you. Do not worry. Come to Me with your needs and My peace which exceeds anything you can understand will guard your heart and mind as you live in Christ Jesus. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Trust in Me.

“I'm sorry, Lord. I know You care. I know You love me. I believe You’re in control and that You will take care of me through all of this. Forgive me for my unbelief. Even though I cannot see exactly what You’re doing and I certainly don’t understand it all, I will trust You, Lord. Please give me faith to trust You more.
Take my worries, my cares, and my life. Use it for Your glory. I need You so much.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Part 10: On the Rise

Beep!

Beep!

Beep!

Like an alarm clock buzzing after the third snooze, a muffled beep sounded from her lower desk drawer where her cell phone, nestled inside her purse, annoyingly reminded her every thirty seconds of what she had forgotten to do the night before. Of all the times I forget to charge my phone it has to be when I actually care about receiving a phone call, she grumbled to herself and continued working. That morning she had gone into the local clinic for her second week blood draw. She had been waiting all day for the doctor to call with the results and now was not the time for her phone to lose battery charge.

Her work phone rang. It was her husband.

“Hi honey,” she said.

“Hey. Have you heard anything yet?” he asked.

“No! It’s driving me crazy! On top of that, my phone is dying and I don’t know if there will be enough battery for me to actually hear what my doctor has to say!”

“I wonder what’s taking so long?”

“I know. Maybe I should just call over there and…”

The crippled ring of her cell phone interrupted her.

“Ahh! It’s the doctor. I have to go. I’ll call you back,” the woman said and hung up her work phone, clumsily grabbing for her cell phone to quickly answer the call.

The doctor barely got a word out when the woman interrupted, "I'm sorry. Do you mind calling my work phone? My cell phone battery is dying." She apologetically chuckled hoping the doctor would find the situation at least slightly amusing.

"Of course," the doctor replied.

Within seconds, the woman's work phone rang. After getting the niceties out of the way, the doctor got to the details. “Well, your hormone levels have risen to 20,000.”

While the woman had been hoping that this would not happen, in the back of her mind she knew that rising levels were a possibility with her type of the disease. Her suspicion of higher levels had increased over the past week. She had been feeling mild symptoms again, so the unfavorable news wasn’t a complete surprise. After sharing this with her doctor she asked, “So, what are the next steps?”

The doctor replied, “The first thing we want to do is have you wait one more week to verify that the levels are indeed going up.”

The woman was concerned about this. Fortunately or unfortunately, she had absorbed like a sponge all information on the internet about her condition, officially termed gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD). The fact that her hormone levels were rising meant one thing: the cells were still rapidly reproducing inside her. This left her vulnerable to metastasis, the spread of these cells to other internal organs, including her brain. The next logical phase in the treatment would be chemotherapy.


“What about the risk of this spreading? Wouldn’t it make sense to start chemotherapy to make sure it doesn’t start to spread or spread any further if it has already started?” the woman asked.

“I wondered that, too,” the doctor said, “and so I checked with my colleague, a gynecologic oncologist who is more familiar with this, and was told that the risks of waiting one more week are less than if we started chemo right away. Once we can verify that the levels are going up, we’ll know for sure we need to start treatment.”

The risks of waiting were less? To the woman, having out-of-control cells start spreading all over her body sounded pretty grim. What does that say about chemotherapy? she thought to herself.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Part 9: Perspective

“Well, at least we know that it wasn’t really a baby,” said the husband.

She wanted to resent him for the comment, but the woman knew that he was only trying to help. Biologically speaking, she knew he was right. The pathology report came back diagnosing them with a complete molar pregnancy, which meant that her egg had no genetic material inside so when it was fertilized, only the DNA from her husband was present. Had it been a partial mole, as the doctors originally suspected, at least they would have both created a little life, abnormal as it may have been.

The woman found herself grieving all over again. First it was the little life that never got to be. Now it was the little life that never was.

“But, it’s kind of like we lost a baby, right? I mean, didn’t you think about what it would be like to be a dad or what you wanted to name it?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said.

“And this whole time we’ve thought it was a baby, so we still lost a baby,” she insisted all the while trying to convince herself.

As she pondered the situation, her mind wandered off to the “what-ifs.” The cells in complete molar pregnancy could become invasive, spreading to other parts of the body, including the brain. They could even develop into choriocarcinoma, the malignant cancerous form of the disease. Twenty percent of women with complete moles experienced a recurrence of cell growth after their D&Cs. She tried to block these thoughts out of her mind, but no matter how many times she swept them away, they always found a way back in.

A few days later, the woman went in for some blood tests. It had been a week since her surgery. Now began the weekly blood draws where the doctor monitored her HCG (pregnancy hormone) levels. If things were progressing as they should, the levels should be dropping. Once the levels hit zero, she would begin the six month long wait to ensure they stayed that way. If they remained at zero, she would then get the clearance from her doctor to begin trying again. She could picture that day in her mind. I hope I get good news today, she thought.

Later that afternoon she received the call from her doctor with the results. Her levels were down to 15,000, a 255,000 point drop from the week before! She could hardly believe it—good news two weeks in a row. The light at the end of the tunnel was a little bit closer and shined a little bit brighter. Things were definitely on the up and up.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Part 8: Renewed Hope

Her hair was up in a loose pony tail. Clothed in a flowered gown, blue robe, and tan slippers, the woman sat in the hospital bed, her husband in the chair beside her, and they waited. She stared out the window into the early morning darkness and admired the city lights. There was something peaceful about that time of day, while the city still sleeps. She took a deep breath, allowing divine peace to calm her in preparation for the upcoming surgery.

“Time to go,” the nurse said, peeking her head around the curtain that split the room in two.

The woman stepped out of bed and followed the nurse down the hall to the elevator. She wasn’t sure what to expect as this was not only her first surgery, but also her first ever hospital visit. They entered a triage area full of people on hospital beds separated by curtains and bustling with hospital staff. The woman was directed to her bed and she climbed in.

After answering a long list of questions for the nurses and anesthesiologists, she was wheeled into the operating room. It looked just like tv: white walls, lights everywhere, people with masks dressed in blue, IVs and monitors. The decisiveness and speed at which the operating room staff moved was like a well oiled machine.

“We’re going to give you some oxygen now, so just breathe deep,” one of the staff said as they placed a mask over the woman’s mouth and nose.

She took about three breaths.

The next thing she realized, she was in the recovery room listening to a nurse talk on the phone, “She’s awake and stable. Ready to come back upstairs.” An escort came by shortly thereafter to wheel the woman back up to her room. When she got back, she found her husband sitting in the bedside chair with his laptop. It was a familiar sight and it comforted her.

Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was the free cranberry juice, or maybe it was the knowledge that her body was finally rid of the harmful tissue that had been plaguing her for the past month. Whatever it was, she felt so good—better than she had in weeks. She wouldn’t find out the results of the biopsy for another few days, but still, a renewed sense of hope filled her heart and she was grateful that this was all finally coming to an end.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Part 7: Mystery Unveiled

One thing the woman learned quickly when going to doctor appointments is that waiting rooms are accurately named. Nothing makes bad news worse than having to wait 1 ½ hours to hear more of it. Luckily, her husband was a geek who had a major work project due that week, so he had brought his laptop along that day. They sat in the waiting room devouring as much information as they could about molar pregnancies to pass the time.

Symptoms: nausea/vomiting—check, vaginal bleeding—check, “snowstorm” appearance on ultrasound—check

“At least these pieces of the puzzle are finally adding up,” she said to her husband. “We’re finally getting some real answers. And at least they think it’s a partial mole. The complete one sounds a whole lot scarier.”

They were finally called back to a room to speak with the surgical gynecologist who would be taking over the woman's care. The doctor was young, approachable, sensitive, knowledgeable...and female—everything that caused the woman to take an immediate liking to her. She educated the couple about the disorder. Inside the woman's uterus abnormal cells from the fertilized egg were producing tissue resembling a bunch of grapes. Due to the cancer-like, invasive nature of these types of cells, the doctor highly recommended an outpatient surgical procedure called a dilation and curettage, or D&C. This is where the contents of the uterus are suctioned out and the inside of the uterine wall is scraped in an effort to remove all of the abnormal cells. In all reality, there was not much discussion about alternatives. At 5:45 a.m. the next morning they were to report to the hospital admission desk.

Though much had taken place over the course of the whole day, to her it all seemed to be moving so fast. The woman didn’t have time to think through all of the risks of the disease she carried in her body or the procedure she was having the next morning. Three weeks of mystery had finally been unveiled, and there was no sense dragging it out any longer. She was glad that there was finally something she did not have to wait for—the surgery.  The surgery would be the first step to ending this horrible month-long nightmare.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Part 6: Snowstorm

His emotionless eyes said it all. The doctor glided the ultrasound wand over the woman’s belly as he gazed intently at the screen. Though she didn’t know what he saw, she knew what he didn’t see. There was no baby. If there were to be, this would have been the time for it to show up on the monitor and he would have said something right away. He would have smiled. Instead, his face was somber. It screamed amidst the silence: There is no baby.

If there is no baby, then what is it? How could I be feeling all these symptoms and there be no baby? she wondered.

Finally, the doctor spoke up. “I still don’t see a fetus. What I do see is a little more concerning. This ‘snowstorm’ appearance indicates to me something along the lines of what is called a hydatidiform mole or molar pregnancy, but we will need to get a clearer ultrasound taken to be sure.”

“Hide-a-didda-pole what?” she asked.

“Hydatidiform mole.  It is when there is a genetic abnormality starting at conception...”

The woman drowned out the rest of his explanation as her mind wandered off on a tangent. Abnormal. There was that word again. Since the beginning none of this had been normal. She had to wait three married years before getting the opportunity to start trying for pregnancy. She had started bleeding 6 weeks into her pregnancy and it still hadn’t stopped yet. They never saw anything normal on the ultrasound. Her miscarriage did not happen normally. The only normal thing about this whole experience is that everything was abnormal.

“…cancer…”

Did he just say something about cancer? she thought. Apparently certain forms of this disorder could turn into cancer. Great. Even better.

The next ultrasound couldn’t come soon enough. She knew the drill for these vaginal ultrasounds by now. Not pleasant by any means, but if it meant better answers, it was certainly worth it.

The ultrasound confirmed the doctor’s suspicion. “This is definitely a molar pregnancy,” he said. “It happens in about one of every thousand pregnancies.What I don’t know is what kind. There are two possible types: complete and partial. Based on the ultrasounds we’ve seen, I would suspect you’re suffering from a partial, which has fewer risks involved.”

"Just out of curiosity," the woman began, "how often do you see this here?" The medical institution where she was receiving her care was well-known. Perhaps this happens a lot here, she thought.

The doctor replied, "We see this maybe once a quarter."

Wow. I guess not very often.

He continued, "But this condition has been around long enough that we know exactly how to treat it."

He referred them to a surgical gynecologist who would be able to give them more details. They set up an appointment for early that afternoon and made their way over to the next waiting room.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Part 5: Nothing

Day one: nothing.

Day two: nothing.

Day three: nothing.

“It’s okay to go now, little one,” the woman said aloud to her stomach. “I understand. We will see you again someday.” With a quiver in her voice she sang the baby’s first and last lullaby:

Glory baby you slipped away as fast as we could say baby…baby.
You were growing, what happened dear?
You disappeared on us baby…baby.
Heaven will hold you before we do
Heaven will keep you safe until we’re home with you…
Until we’re home with you…

Week one: nothing.

The doctor said two weeks. I guess I’ll wait a little longer, the woman thought.

By this point she began experiencing more distinct pregnancy symptoms. Brushing her teeth in the morning became pointless because each time she finished up, the toothpaste would make her gag, initiating an instantaneous reaction. She was grateful the toilet was only two feet away. Her body also got into the “after work” rhythm, forcing her to run to the bathroom as soon as she pulled into the garage. One time driving home, it came a little early. Thankfully a cup from a fast food drink sat empty in one of her cup holders.

Week two: nothing.

I’m still bleeding so I’ll just wait a little bit longer, she thought to herself. Perhaps it will finally happen this week.

After three weeks of nothing, the woman was finally convinced that nothing was happening. “There must be something still in there if I keep experiencing this morning sickness,” she said to her husband. “Maybe we do have a baby after all.”

“I don’t know what else could explain all this,” the husband replied.

For the first time in five weeks she worked up the courage to go back to the pregnancy website tracker to see how far along she was: eleven weeks. According to the article, she would soon be out of her first trimester and the morning sickness would soon subside. She scheduled another appointment and a glimmer of hope stirred in the back of their minds.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Part 4: Something Normal

“I believe what I’m seeing here is the sac and this would be the fetal pole,” the ultrasound technologist reported, as he zoomed in to show the couple a closer look. “But this does not look normal to me. Considering you are eight weeks along, it should have been much bigger by now.”

The couple then moved to another room to discuss the situation with the doctor. While they waited, a spirit of relief calmed them.

 “Well, at least they finally found something,” the woman said to her husband. “I don’t mind being told I’m abnormal as long as there is something normal in there somewhere!”

The doctor finally arrived. He explained to them that it was indeed a miscarriage and that he believed that the bleeding she was experiencing was caused by a detachment of the placenta form the uterine wall. He discussed with them the options available to deal with the miscarriage. The couple decided to forego intervention methods and let it happen naturally.

“How long do you anticipate until this miscarriage will occur?” the woman asked.

“Based on the amount of blood in your uterus, I would imagine it would happen in the next few days,” the doctor replied. “Be sure to make an appointment after it happens so we can make sure you’re okay.”

“If it doesn’t happen as you say, how long should we wait before seeing you again?” the husband asked.

“If in two weeks you still haven’t miscarried, come back in,” the doctor said.

The couple left, and as they drove back home the woman could not help but relive the car ride from two weeks prior. Another dose of bad news, she thought. This is really happening. This pregnancy did not work out.

She grieved.

Fears about the miscarriage plagued her mind. How bad will it hurt? What if it happens while I’m at work? How do I move past this? She sent up a prayer for strength and courage to make it few the next few days, resting in the peace that followed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Part 3: Emotional Gymnastics

It was the day of the woman’s second ultrasound. Her hypochondriac tendencies nearly drove her mad the week before, but today was the day where she and her husband would finally be able to get some closure.

“I can say with certainty that this is definitely not an ectopic pregnancy,” the doctor reported after viewing the latest ultrasound scans.

Relief swept over the couple.

The doctor continued, “While your hormone levels did double like normal this past week, based on your ultrasound we believe that they will soon be on the decline, as there is no visible fetus present. You are going through a miscarriage, which should happen at any time. We want you to get another blood test just to be sure these levels are trending downward.”

“So, I should expect to see that the hormone levels have gone down from last time?” she asked.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Someone will call you with the results once they are in.”

The woman and her husband made their way down to the lab services. The short elevator ride gave her time to reflect on the news. Well, at least we know what’s going on, she thought. This will soon be over and we can try again. The unknowns of miscarriage scared her and the loss of the little life inside grieved her, but she was hopeful that one day there would be new life, redemption to glory over the sorrow.

The phlebotomist rubbed the woman’s arm with alcohol and she turned her head.

“Don’t worry. It’s not you. I just don’t like needles,” the woman said and breathed deeply. In a matter of seconds it was all over and she headed out the door with her husband.

For the remainder of the day, the woman sat at her work desk trying to focus, but all she could think about getting the call with her test results. She waited an hour. She waited two…three…four. Finally, the day was over and she had still not received a call. Impatience getting the best of her, she called the off-hours nurse line to get the answer.

“Looking good!” the nurse said excitedly. “The levels have doubled from last time.”

“Um…that’s interesting,” she replied, puzzled. “I was told they were supposed to be going down since I am having a miscarriage.”

“Oh, dear! I’m so sorry!” exclaimed the nurse, noticeably embarrassed. “I didn’t look at your history first. I’m so sorry. You’re right. It’s been five days since your last draw, not two.”

“That’s okay. I just want to know what that means, since the doctor said they were supposed to be going down.”

“Well, you’ll have to check back with your doctor about that,” the nurse replied, and the two of them hung up.

A call to the doctor’s office the next day began with confirmation of the prior day’s blood test results, but unexpectedly followed with a request to come in again for yet another ultrasound for the following week. The woman wasn’t sure what to make of this, considering the fact the doctor had told her the day before that she would not come in again until after the miscarriage delivered. Sadness. Hope. Despair. Possibility. The emotional gymnastics were starting to wear on her, but she did not want to give up on her baby if her baby wasn’t ready to give up on her.

 Perhaps I am still pregnant, she thought. Maybe they were wrong.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Part 2: Puzzles

“What do you mean I puzzle you?” the woman asked, cold and uncomfortable on the exam table. She was six weeks along and had been bleeding slightly over the last three days. The prior five minutes of poking and prodding amidst silence was bad enough, but “You puzzle me” being the first statement out of the ultrasound technician’s mouth did not offer any reassurance.

The technician responded, “I’m not seeing anything that resembles a fetal sac. This does not look normal,” and she left the room to get a second opinion from a doctor.

Humming from the ultrasound equipment resonated through the room while disbelief resonated in the hearts of the woman and her husband. Anticipation for a more detailed explanation rose within her. The additional five minutes of waiting felt like an eternity.

She turned to her husband, “This cannot be good.”

Finally, the doctor entered the room. Through his British accent, he matter-of-factly explained how the woman was either dealing with an ectopic pregnancy or a normal miscarriage. He wanted to get some blood tests in order to track her hormone levels to determine which one of the two was the culprit. He requested that she return in a week for a follow-up ultrasound.

The woman left the clinic devastated. Anger, disappointment, sadness, anxiety, and fear wrestled with each other to get their fair share of attention. Unable to bridle them all, she sat in the passenger side front seat and wept as her husband drove her back to work.

Why is this happening? It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” she cried, pleading to God through her tears for some divine explanation.

There was nothing more she could do for the next week but wait and wonder. Either there was an embryo attached somewhere it shouldn’t be, which could threaten the woman’s very life, or the little life that had been there never made it very far and was gearing up for miscarriage.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Part 1: Possibilities

Two…pink…lines.

Her disbelieving eyes squinted as she held back the wand to gain better focus and then she brought it back in again for a closer look. She had taken the test other times before. There was only ever one line. The current result was unmistakable. Glaring back at her through the small pane were definitely two pink lines. She was pregnant!

Three long years she had waited to start trying for kids. Though she had hoped to have at least one child by now, she knew her husband was a little more conservative on the issue. He wanted to be sure he was ready before diving into this life-long commitment called parenthood. Understandable, of course, but in her mind, she at 26 and he at 30 meant both of their biological clocks were ticking, especially if they were to have at least 4 kids! She had learned the hard way, however, not to press the issue. Arguments and tears did nothing but delay what she had longed for since the day she married him: to have his children!

One day, a month after their 3-year anniversary, he casually mentioned how he would like to start trying. At such a moment, true desire trumps past bitterness and hurt. Bygones can be bygones. Equipped with that mindset, she seized the opportunity before he got any second thoughts. Three months later, here they were: pregnant! Her mind filled with dreams of the future, I wonder what it is? I wonder when I can hear the heart beat? What should we name the baby? It was all so new, so fresh, so scary, yet so exciting! Three years were worth the wait.

Immediately she began doing all the good stuff she should have been doing in the first place: eating super healthy, getting exercise, taking vitamins, etc. Never to late to start, she thought. She signed up on a website where she could track her weekly progress. Making the first appointment was a little nerve wracking. Inside she questioned her readiness to be a parent. This would be the first concrete step towards a new future. The appointment itself emphasized the weight of the responsibility as well as the reality and inevitability of what was to come. Little did she know how weighty that reality truly was.