Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ovarian Cancer Awareness

Earlier this month, I had my first checkup with the orthodontist. I thought they were just going to check things out (since that's what they told me) but it turned out that I was ready for a new wire. So, Jill the Torturer handed me the box of bracket rubber band thingys so I could pick out a new color while she did whatever it is orthodontist assistants do when they are preparing to torture you.

My eyes immediately fell to the teal ones and I chose those without a second of hesitation. This is definitely a bold statement for someone like me who would much rather not do anything to draw attention to herself. I did it for my best friend.

I met my best friend on the school bus in April of 1989. I was a freshman and she was in the 8th grade. We had both just moved to the Sandpoint (Idaho) area. It was my second week on the bus when I saw and didn't recognize her. I remember going up to her and asking if she was new too, praying she would say yes and not look at me like I was a complete idiot who should have known she had lived there her entire life. It turns out she had moved to the area a week after I did. I hadn't seen her before because I moved there the week before Spring Break; she moved there during Spring Break and had just started riding the bus.

We have been through a lot in the 19 years we have known each other. Life has a way of handing you its share of ups and downs and we have celebrated and commiserated over each one. We also have this special bond in which we instinctively know when there is something wrong with the other one. So, earlier this summer, I could tell she was trying to hide something from me and I was right. She was hedging, so I immediately suspected the worst case scenario, and I was right. Sort of.

She had been having some female problems since around February, but was trying to ignore them. She should have gone in for an exam in January but she put it off because really, what woman looks forward to that appointment? Finally, her doctor told her that her asthma medication prescription would not be refilled until she had a physical. Well, my best friend kind of likes to breathe so off to the doctor she begrugingly went.

The doctor found that she had an "atypical" cyst on her left ovary. He told her they could monitor it with periodic ultrasounds but that would not really tell them anything. She has had cancer scares before and always felt everything was fine; this time she felt bothered so after reviewing all her options she decided to have a partial hysterectomy. She just knew something was wrong-she could feel it.

At her pre-op appointment, the doctor told her he was only going to take out the uterus. After surgery, the doctor told her that he took out the uterus and the left ovary as there were cells present he couldn't identify under the scope. Of course, this led us to all kinds of questions we did not have answers to, which is really not a good thing for two women who do not like to be kept waiting! Finally, a week later, she was told that the cells were "non-invasive with borderline malignant potential." Um, okay. A quick Google search had me more confused than ever and I decided that was the "used car sales pitch" of a medical diagnosis. She had to wait several more days before finally seeing her doctor, in which time I grew more and more impatient, convinced my best friend was next to die. (When you have 7 family members die in 4 years, it kind of makes you wonder who's next after each funeral). She handled this much better than I did-much, much better.

The doctor told her she is special. That cancer is black and white and she is very gray. Part of what took so long for her to see him again after her surgery is that he was basically consulting with everyone in Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington. He wanted to be sure, which is a good quality for a doctor to have.

The cells they found inside the tumor were cancerous. The cells had not attached themselves to the tissue yet, which is what kept her from being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In other words, they couldn't have caught it much earlier. I believe having asthma may have saved her life. The cells were so slow growing that if she had made her appointment in January, like she should have, they would not have caught it. If nothing else, she definitely has a guardian angel, and a very strong sense of woman's intuition.

The type of cells she had feed of estrogen, which is why the doctor left the right ovary. Because she is only 33, if he had taken that one too, she would have most likely needed hormone replacement therapy, and the estrogen levels in that put her at a much greater risk if there are any cells left than just having one ovary will. She will be monitored every 6 months indefinitely and if one ultrasound or test comes back the slightest bit off, she will have the other ovary removed. She is at peace with this. I, being the overly emotional irrational one in this relationship, think she should just have all her organs removed and replaced with fake ones. I am a numbers girl and even the 5%-7% chance she is looking at of a reoccurrence is 5%-7% too great for my liking.

She found all this out the 10th of September. She also found out that September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and that the awareness color is teal. That is why I have a mouth full of teal rubber bands. And if anyone comments on them, I tell them my best friend's story. Some people I just point them out to and tell them. Ovarian cancer tends to be found when it is too late. Listen to your bodies ladies. And be sure to find a doctor who will listen too. We know our bodies-we know when something isn't right. My best friend did and thankfully, she listened to the little voice telling her this cancer scare was different. I told her she definitely did her part-we are now very much aware of ovarian cancer! I also told her that I have always known she is special and asked that next time, she please find a less dramatic way to prove it. :o)