Saturday, June 24, 2017

Backhanded by Infertility

Teal ribbons represent ovarian cancer awareness.
Yesterday was my birthday, and all the sweet Facebook messages from people I haven't interacted with since my last birthday made me realize just how lonely I've been lately.

For the last few years I've developed  more and more female problems. Last November, my doctors scheduled a surgery for January that led them to schedule another surgery for April. Based on pathology and radiology results, they believed (incorrectly, it would turn out) that I had ovarian cancer.

I vividly remember the October morning when the Today Show reported on a then-new study that had found infertile women who undergo treatment are 60% more likely to have ovarian cancer. The risk is even higher for the women in that group who never have a live birth, they said.

That report made an impression on me, maybe because it came out on Barren's 1-year anniversary. It left me thinking how unfair it is that women who suffer the physical pain, emotional drain, and financial stress of fertility treatments are then more likely to fight the most fatal of gynecological cancers.

For 3 months I thought I was one of those women. My team of gynecologists had me visit a psychologist and scheduled an oncologist to be present at the second surgery. The hospital requested that I update my will and designate a power of attorney.

We didn't want to tell anyone what was happening until we had definite answers ourselves, but as time went on, circumstances caused us to tell family members and a few close friends. We ended up with about 40 people praying that I would be healed and spared months of chemotherapy.

When David and I spoke with my primary gynecologist about April's results, she showed us pictures from the surgery and talked for about 10 minutes about the ugliness they had removed from inside me, but she never said, "You have Stage thus-and-such cancer."

David finally asked her directly, "Does Amanda have cancer?"

"No," she laughed. "I would have led with that!"

When she left the room to schedule me for more post-op tests and whatnot, David and I sat in stunned silence for 20 minutes.

I had spent the previous 3 months preparing to be sick. Yes, I had updated our wills, but I had also repointed the house, replaced a toilet, painted my office, replaced the tires on our Subaru, bought a new guest mattress, wrote a blog announcing my cancer (at the psychologist's suggestion), and contracted a company to tear down and rebuild the entire exterior of our addition (that should finally start any day now). In hindsight, I wasn't planning to be sick. I was planning to disappear.

In spite of the prayers of our loved ones and an expressed belief in God's healing power, I never actually expected to be cancer free. I was hoping to be Stage II or lower and expecting to survive because those same doctors who once told me, "you're too old to get pregnant," were now saying, "you're too young to have ovarian cancer."

The shock turned into guilt--why had we worried everyone unnecessarily?--and then embarrassment.

I don't think we had a moment of joy or thankfulness. It was weeks before it occurred to me that maybe God had actually answered all those prayers. Maybe He literally transformed malignant cells into benign cells.

I would argue there is precedence for this; I am not the first woman to endure years of gynecological pain:

Now a certain woman [traditionally called Veronica] had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.” 
Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?” 
But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 
And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25-34, NKJV)

Thanksgiving 2017 will mark 4 years since all this began. But I don't have even a third of the faith of Veronica, who endured three times as much pain as I have. And the loneliness, guilt, and embarrassment I've felt has been self-induced whereas hers was culturally motivated. I now realize the tragedy of my situation is not the illness itself but the lack of faith and abundance of self-consciousness that illness has exposed.

The surgeries have not helped--the constant anemia is physically debilitating and socially awkward--and I expect to schedule a final surgery at my appointment in July. Between now and then I won't be able to literally touch Jesus' clothes, but I desire to have Veronica's faith that He will heal me when I reach out to Him.

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