It was an early morning in July 2021 when I visited my OB-Gynecologist. A bump has been growing in my belly for months.
I’m a perfectly healthy 35-year-old working (at home) professional in Manila.
I’m physically active. Every morning, I go to the market for hot bread, fruits, or vegetables. Then, I walk the dogs around our neighborhood. In the afternoon, I practice yoga for an hour or more. My diet is mostly plant-based.
When that bump started growing, I worried about how it might affect my plan to get pregnant. What if I had cancer? What if I can’t have kids anymore?
On that fateful morning, my doctor found a big, solid mass on the right side of my stomach. I went for an ultrasound on the same day.
One impression from the lab report said ‘possible malignancy according to IOTA Simple Rules’. The mass is about 14 centimeters in size, possibly in my right ovary. I was a candidate for ovarian cancer.
Immediately, I went to see a Gynecologist-Oncologist who I would consult with for the next few weeks. My OB-Gyn recommended I see a cancer expert.
I took more tests to check for cancer: CA125, LDH, AFP, HE-Protein 4, and a second transvaginal ultrasound. All came up to be negative. There were no signs of cancer.
Relieved as I was, worrying about my future won’t leave me.
What if both of my ovaries need to be taken out? What if the doctors see more complications?
We scheduled my surgery for mid-August. Before then, I didn’t stop working and kept my daily routine.
In fact, I was on my yoga mat an hour before the hospital called to tell me my room was ready.
Despite the calm demeanor, I had many questions. What if that ultrasound didn’t capture other tumors?
In the mornings, I thought about the possibility of getting chemotherapy. Can I afford all the expenses? What will I look like when I lose all my hair?
It might compromise my future with my husband-to-be. Will he leave me when I’m sick and can’t bear children anymore?
My mother was with me on the day of my surgery. If she had a choice, she would stay home. It was my first time in a hospital so I asked her to be there.
By 10 AM, a male nurse came to my room to fetch me and bring me to the Operating Room.
As I said goodbye to her and my bed was wheeled down to the OR, I was in a relaxed state. A few minutes after, he injected a clear fluid into my IV that made me groggy.
My eyes were dropping, but I could feel the commotion happening around me.
I remember meeting the anesthesiologist, Dr. Papa. My doctor, Dr. De Castro, waved to me as well. I looked around to see how the OR looked like. It had bright lights, medical tools, and a small window. Then I fell into a deep sleep.
I remember being conscious about hands touching my belly — not the skin but my internal organs. I was aware of being operated on. Surely I wasn’t dreaming.
By abdominal surgery, a team of doctors took out 2 pieces of myoma that grew on the left and right sides of my uterus. I had twins growing in my stomach. Myoma is known to be benign.
I opened my eyes and immediately knew I wasn’t in my room at home, nor my room in the hospital. Turns out I was in the Recovery Room where post-op patients stay. I was there for a couple of hours.
For those 2 hours, I was dizzy, vomiting saliva and air until my stomach hurt. The nurses took turns in placing the kidney basin under my chin. Afterward, I tried to go back to sleep only to get woken up by my disturbed stomach.
They said it’s the anesthesia. I also felt two of them securing a binder around my hips. Patients who went through any abdominal surgery or moms who went through the caesarian section use this too.
I heard the nurse speaking to my father on the phone. I figured he was asking her where I was, as I wasn’t back in my room yet.
My parents cried in the car when they found out the mass was benign. They couldn’t believe it.
My mother told me the complete story — from the time the doctor called her in the OR to tell her the good news, to the time my father picked her up from the hospital and told him the good news.
I felt everyone’s excitement as soon as I slowly stepped out of the car. The dogs went crazy. They were probably wondering where I was and why they didn’t go outside for a few days.
They didn’t know we won’t be walking for another month.
For the next couple of weeks, my appetite was weak. I needed help to get up and off my bed. My parents transferred it from the second floor to the first so I can get to the bathroom and kitchen in a few steps.
Without yoga, biking, and long walks, I’ve lost 4kg. My shirts hang on my shoulders. I’ve lost the muscles I gained from an active lifestyle.
I couldn’t lift my arms or lift any heavy object at all. Practicing yoga was out of the question.
It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
By the 3rd week, I took my 11-year-old dog Peanut outside. She walked and pulled me. I was sluggish and got easily tired.
A few more days of walking and I adapted to a faster pace thanks to Peanut’s sturdy legs and love of walking.
My appetite has gotten back to normal. I didn’t notice it right away, but I found myself looking at food delivery apps a lot. I missed eating for real.
For now, I’m proud I can do the following: washing dishes, clearing the table, sweeping the floor and cleaning my room.
In the next few weeks, I expect to be strong enough to be taking longer walks, using the vacuum cleaner, and driving.
A friend of mine told me that going through a major operation is like ending a chapter of my life and that I can now start afresh. Another friend said my scar — it’s a long one — is a battle scar.
When I see it every time I shower, I get reminded of how, just a few weeks ago, I was too weak to even bathe myself. Just a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stand up without support. I couldn’t bend to kiss our dogs.
Day by day, I’m gaining strength. Little by little, I’m seeing parts of my old self again.
My family has become my pillar of strength throughout the entire ordeal. I feel their concern and love with every message. My parents are happier for me than I was for myself.
It’s true that we’ve had our difficulties at home. Nobel Laureate, author, and spiritual teacher, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in his book God Has A Dream, "You don’t choose your family".
They never chose to be caught in a frightening situation with me, yet they stood by me and never left my side.
I did feel like a warrior setting up for battle.
My armor was the strength my family gave me. I put all my trust in my doctors. Yes, it’s their job to do what they need to do, but I knew they were genuinely rooting for me.
I took advantage of the mental and physical soundness from years of practicing yoga.
No matter what happens, the same people around me today will love me and never abandon me.
Without them, I couldn’t have won the war.
It doesn’t matter if we are with the family with are born into, or the one we chose to call our family. How we relate to each other by blood doesn’t say much about how powerful our bonds can be.
When you have people who take care of you, look after you, and love you without question, try to reciprocate as much as you can. It’s worth taking the time to do little things for them while they are still around.
A small act of kindness, a word of affirmation, and a loving touch here and there make a big difference.
Odyssa is the author of two poetry collections on love and travel. This article was first published in Medium.
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