Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Part 37: Frustration

What in the world, the woman thought. She held in her hand a letter from the doctor's office that read:

We're so sorry you missed your scheduled appointment. Please call us back any time to reschedule.

Being late to an appointment was not unrealistic for the woman, but completely blowing off a commitment was not part of her personality profile. She was puzzled. The last conversation she had with the office left off with the nurse stating she would put a note in the woman's file requesting the doctor to give her a call about the next steps of her treatment. There was no talk about scheduling an appointment.

Emotionally charged, she called the doctor's office. The attendant on the other line took her through the rigamarole checking address and contact information. After reassuring the woman she would not be penalized for missing her appointment, she scheduled an another one two weeks out.

It had been awhile since the woman had gone into the office, but all was as she last remembered. While sitting alone in her room, she reflected on the past few months. She had been waiting anxiously to talk to her doctor so that she could start planning her life again. A noise outside the door brought her back to reality. The door began to open, and just as the woman was preparing to welcome her doctor, disappointment came over her. The woman at the door was not her doctor, but one of the young residents.

"So, how are you doing?" the resident began. "You're thinking about wanting to start trying again in September, right?"

"That's the last I knew," answered the woman.

"Ok. Well, let's get started on your pelvic exam," continued the resident.

"Excuse me?" the woman questioned in surprise.

"The doctor wanted me to do a full examination."

Considering the woman's last five appointments included sitting on a bench talking to her doctor, she expected nothing different from this appointment. A pelvic exam, however, was a different story. Typically, these require some advanced preparation, including mental readiness and shaving! Frustrated, the woman replied, "Is this really necessary?"

"Well, I can go back and talk to her and see what she wants to do," the resident said and left the room.

Eventually, the woman's real doctor entered the room and they started talking. For some reason, she and her doctor always had very frank conversations.

"Well, when I came in, I was not under the impression that I would have to be taking my pants off today," said the woman.

"You're due for a pap smear and thought we do a full exam," replied the doctor.

Nice of someone to warn me, the woman thought. "Well, if this is something that needs to be done," the woman began, "we might as well do it now. I'm just telling you, it's not going to be pretty down there."

The rest of the appointment was as depressing as the first half. Not only did she have to live through an unexpected exam, but she had to come to grips with the fact that trying to conceive starting in September was no longer an option. Due to the fact that complete molar pregnancy patients are higher risk, her doctor wanted her to follow the treatment by the book and wait the full year. I've waiting this long, she thought to herself. I guess I can wait a little longer.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Part 36: Day of Remebrance

The months went on and life seemed as it was before her molar pregnancy. By now, there were days when she didn't think even about it, which to her was somewhat refreshing. But she couldn't escape it completely. She continued to be monitored monthly via HCG blood testing and every once in awhile she would receive mother-to-be items in the mail. The most recent had been a box of formula. Guess I won't be needing that any time soon, she thought.

Haunting the back of her mind was her soon approaching former due date. What was she going to feel? How was she going to react? When the day finally came, it was somewhat serendipitous. Of all the days, it just so happened to occur over the weekend of her brother-in-law's wedding. She could stay preoccupied with all the wedding prep and family time, in spite of the personal underlying weight of the weekend.

The woman and her husband stayed with his family at a cabin in an area resort. The night before the wedding, the owners of the place, a husband/wife team and friends of her in-laws, stopped by for a visit. She was most impressed by the wife. The 59-year-old hostess had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer a little over a year prior to their meeting, yet nothing but joy and laughter emanated from her lips. The woman listened intently to the cabin hostess seated in the cushioned rocker beside her who wore an infectious smile that complimented the blue and green scarf covering her chemo-stricken head.  Below her right shoulder lived a permanent port by which her chemo treatments were dispersed. She would be on chemo for the rest of her life.

The woman's eyes filled with tears as she listened to the stories of hope and peace flowing out of this dying woman. She was granted yet another fresh perspective on her situation. Upon her reflection, she thought how fortunate and thankful she was that her molar pregnancy had not turned into cancer. Things were definitely not her ideal at the moment, but they most definitely could be so much worse, and if this cancer-stricken lady could live out what life she had left with such intention and joy, how much more so could the woman?

When the busyness of the weekend died down and the woman had time to think, she allowed herself to mourn once again. But it was a hopeful mourning. She was three months negative and had three more to go before being officially declared molar pregnancy free. It was crazy to think about how much time had passed, how far she had come. Sometimes she wavered with the thought of getting pregnant again. Who in their right mind would want to live through this again?, she thought. But the idea of having a little life of her own some day overruled her fears.

Thank you, Judy, for your inspiration and example.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Part 35: Twenty-seven Years

The woman headed into her bi-weekly blood draws with a comfortable familiarity. And to think, only a few months earlier she had cringed at the thought of needles. Her HCG values continued on the decline. By this point, the woman felt at peace with her circumstances. She had accepted what had happened, but there were still moments when she thought about how things could have been.

This week marked the celebration her 27th year. The scene before her did not match what she had originally envisioned her life to have been by this point in time. She would have had two more months left of her pregnancy and perhaps started working on a nursery already. Instead, she found herself working with her husband on their basement project.

As she laid tile and drilled holes, she couldn't help feeling relieved that she wasn't crawling around carrying a big belly along with her. It was certainly easier to accomplish the tasks without it. And she most definitely appreciated that she didn't have to deal quite yet with a crying baby and no sleep.

The woman had planned her course, but her steps were in Someone else's hands. In a way, she felt she had been given a second chance to enjoy and make the most of their time as a young couple, just the two of them. Not only that, but she had her own character flaws to improve in the meantime. She waited in anticipation to see how her 27th year would unfold. The air lingered with opportunity.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Part 34: The Perfect Crisis

Nothing tries a marriage like a crisis. How ever more trying is that which is unintentionally self inflicted, one so intricately woven into the woman's and her husband's very selves. It was both of their fault, but it was no one's fault. Her egg, his sperm. One without the other nullifies the possibility of molar pregnancy. It took them both to make this happen. However, in absolutely no way could they have made it happen. Neither had any control over the final outcome. She could no more prevent her eggs from being void of DNA as he could prevent his sperm from fertilizing it.

It was the perfect crisis, if there were ever such a thing. At least, the woman thought so. While she was good at the blame game and could defend her rightness till she was blue in the face, in this case, there was no one to blame but probability. It was a blessing in disguise. Had things been a little different, she surely would have fallen more deeply into her bad habits. Yet, Temptation, knowing it had lost this angle but fully understanding the woman's shortcomings, came to her in other forms.

He's relieved you're not having a baby. He didn't want it now, anyway.

If he would have been ready sooner, this never would have happened.

The lies crept into her mind during weak moments when tears and heartache filled her soul. Succumbing to the need to satisfy an explanation for this misfortune in her life, she allowed herself to believe it, instigating a gradual, subtle distancing from the man she loved.

Her mood swings should have been enough to drive him mad, yet he continually proved himself selfless. He loved her as Christ loved the Church, giving himself up for her. He washed the dishes and ran loads of laundry. He listened to her laments and comforted her in his arms. He kept a roof over their heads and made progress on their basement project. He was steady, constant, patient, and kind. He was a man of honor and, in her mind, she did not deserve such a man. He, at least, deserved a better woman.

Nevertheless, they were bound to each other. The woman reflected on her past promises:
I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband, my constant friend, my faithful partner and my love from this day forward. In the presence of God, our family and friends, I offer you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, and in joy as well as in sorrow. I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to cherish you for as long as we both shall live.
She had become lazy, yet he never faltered in keeping up his same end of the bargain. For a time she was able to maintain her emotionally detached position, but it became more difficult the longer she tried. Each kind word or loving gesture chipped away at her bitter heart. But his eyes were her biggest weakness. From the beginning, they had the power to evoke within her the deep longing to have his child. His dark, handsome eyes captured her heart. Out of them his love for her smiled directly into her soul. She could not escape his unconditional love.

Upon that realization, the woman confessed her wrongs to her husband and sought forgiveness, which he freely gave. From that point on, she made a conscious effort to practice her vows daily, for the sake of her husband and her marriage. Nothing tries a marriage like a crisis, but nothing strengthens a marriage like a devoted couple working together through a crisis.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Part 33: Mile Stones

"It's four o'clock. You should call her," said the husband, eager to know the results from the woman's blood draw that day.

"I know the doctor said four, but I'll just wait a little bit longer to see if she'll call," replied the woman as she screwed in the white outlet plate. The couple had been working hard all day on their basement finishing project. The woman found it to be a good way to keep her mind busy with other things, rather than worrying about the things she couldn't control.

The next half hour flew by. The woman was hoping the doctor would have called her by now because then she would know for sure she wasn't interrupting anything. However, the doctor had assured the woman to call if she hadn't heard anything by four. Getting over her guilt complex, she grabbed her cell phone and jogged upstairs to make the call.

While waiting for someone to answer on the other end, the woman couldn't help but wonder what her results would be. She desperately wished to have the chemo treatments behind her, to move on to the next phase. It was funny how such a little number could have such a big impact on her life, and no matter how much the woman wished for it to be over, she had absolutely no control over any of the outcome.

"Alo?" answered the doctor.

The woman greeted back, trying to keep conversation on the topic and as short as possible. Both the woman and the doctor were on vacation, and she didn't want to impose any more than she had to.

"Well, I got your results back from the lab," the doctor began. "In discussing your results with the lab consultant, it turns out that the negative values for the HCG test were re-developed. Whereas before, a value less than 0.8 was considered negative, now any value less than 2.4 is considered negative. This week your value is at 1.3."

The woman pondered the meaning of this news. Two weeks prior, her value was at 2.0, which meant she had unknowingly already experienced her first negative result! Not only that, but since she had undergone a chemo treatment at that time and her value was still negative this week, she would no longer have to do any more chemo!

The woman didn't quite know how to feel. She had been waiting months for the day to finally be able to say with certainty that her HCG values had reached negative. Had the reference values for the test stayed at less than 0.8, her value that week would have still been considered positive and she'd be on another round of methotrexate injections. It was a welcomed surprise, but it was in some ways almost anti-climactic considering her real first negative had been two weeks prior. Even so, it was still a big mile stone in her recovery from gestational trophoblastic disease and a huge answer to prayer.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Part 32: Fault and Fuss

The woman closed her car door and walked towards the parking garage elevator. After waiting a minute or so, the down arrow above the entrance flashed, the doors opened, and she stepped inside for a solo ride. She was still waking up. Six forty-five was too early to be running around on any day, let alone on her day off, but it was for a good reason. She was scheduled for a blood draw, and hopefully today was the day her HCG result would be negative.

The elevator bell dinged as it reached the subway level. The scene that emerged from behind the parting doors left her a bit perplexed. A security gate was blocking the entrance to the main hall. Maybe they just haven't opened yet, she thought to herself. Maybe they open later since it's a day before a holiday. Lucky for her, she knew her way around and had a badge to get in.

The absence of people seemed odd to her, but she dismissed the irregularity and continued over to the main collection center. When she arrived, there was no one around. A sign displayed at the front desk which read: "Push button for assistance. Someone will be with you shortly." Something about pushing a strange button in the absence of anyone else made her a bit apprehensive, almost like she was being watched on candid camera, but she pushed it anyway and waited...and waited...and waited.

She was pretty certain the phlebotomists weren't too busy behind the closed doors considering there wasn't a single soul in the waiting room. Working up some courage, she decided to take a peek to see for herself what exactly was going on back there. To her unsurprised dismay, no one was on the other side. Why would they schedule me for a 6:45 a.m. draw if there wouldn't be anyone around? the woman thought to herself, still not realizing that she had actually misread her appointment schedule.

Determined to get her blood drawn, she walked over to another outpatient center across the street, thinking perhaps it would be open since it was connected to the hospital. Unfortunately, the attempt was just as successful as her first, and now she was becoming a little more agitated. To her luck, someone from the staff was able to direct her to where she could go, though she would need to drive there.

The woman walked back to her car, got inside, buckled-up, and drove a mile down the road to an affiliate hospital. Inside was a small outpatient office that also serviced the emergency room patients, so it was most definitely open that day. Relieved to finally accomplish her three-minute appointment with a needle (after her forty-five minute adventure), she left and headed home, stopping for a coffee on the way. She only hoped it had all been worth the fuss.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Part 31: Good Medicine

Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes while her abdominal muscles tightened, forcing an involuntary voiced breath with each glottal release. When all usable air had escaped, she'd gasp deeply and run through the whole cycle all over again. She hadn't laughed this hard in months. An evening of family game night was just the diversion she needed, though it took her a little convincing at first to participate. While looking at the faces joining her around the table she thought to herself how thankful she was to be a part of a family that knew how to laugh.

Christmas vacation was turning out to be somewhat emotional for the woman, something which she hadn't prepared herself for. She found herself reliving some of the deeper emotions that had plagued her early on and she couldn't fully understand why. Disappointment, denial, and despair had all made their rounds wearing heavy on her heart. The woman carried with her a sadness that occasionally unleashed mini crying sessions throughout the day. She had just started her period that week, so her hormones were most certainly out of whack, but she knew that couldn't have been the sole cause.

Laughter, however, managed to break her free from the depressing funk. The others' laughter only fueled her own. The longer it continued, the lighter her soul became, as if to disperse little stress relief bubbles throughout her entire body, indeed so proving the time tested saying: a joyful heart is good medicine.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Part 30: Unexpected Blessings

The woman's pager rumbled against the desktop surface beneath her flat-screen monitor. More often than not, she forgot to bring it out of the side drawer, let alone actually turn it on, and when she did finally did, there would usually be at least three unanswered pages waiting for her from the days before. But today was different for no good reason. She turned to the coworker sitting beside her and excused herself as she reached for the little vibrating box. An unfamiliar number displayed on the screen, which all the more validated in the woman's mind the need to return the call.

She lifted the receiver and dialed the number. After two rings, a familiar voice answered from the other end. It was the woman's oncologist.

"Hello," the woman greeted back, a bit perplexed to be receiving a page at work from her doctor. True, they both worked for the same institution, so it was not an impossible notion, nor was it unwelcome. She just anticipated a more conventional means of doctor-to-patient communication, considering she wasn't even expecting anything in the first place since she just had her appointment the day before and had already started her sixth round of chemo.

"I have been speaking with the lab director about your HCG results," the oncologist began. "When it gets into the lower numbers, the results can get a little tricky. The main instrument that performs the HCG testing has a negative reference value of less than 0.8. Your HCG result when run on this instrument was a 2.0, so it is still positive. However, an alternative instrument that performs similar testing has a negative reference value of less than 2.0. On this instrument, your HCG was less than 2.0, which means it is negative."

"What is the difference between the two tests?" the woman asked.

"The first instrument detects more isoforms of HCG. However, the second instrumentthe one you tested negative onwhile it detects fewer, is what has been used in various literature discussing Gestational Trophoblastic Disease."

"So, what does this mean?" asked the woman.

"Well, we will see what happens in two weeks when you get your next blood draw. Depending on the result at that time, I may count this week as your first negative."

Her first negative!? The woman could hardly believe it! There was, of course, some odd stipulation: if her level remained at 2.0, the doctor would count it as negative, but if her value went lower, then she wouldn't. It had something to do with the fact that every person's "negative" is different; not everyone has a 0.0 level HCG. The woman wasn't sure what to wish for. A part of her wanted the level to go completely down to zero; remnants of the hormone made her feel tainted. However, staying at the same level meant no more chemotherapy shots, something equally or more so desired.

The doctor ended the phone call by giving the woman her cell phone number. She would be on vacation when the woman had her next draw, and in case the doctor didn't call her with the results, she wanted the woman to be able to get a hold of her.

The woman felt showered with blessings. Not only did she have a doctor who went above and beyond, but also she received an early Christmas present of half-negative. The unexpected surprise brightened her future outlook and the woman hoped for the best in the weeks to come.