Today's post has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with me. In advanced warning, this post will probably cover some pretty intimate topics and there are things I'll have to be blunt with. I also want to point out that I deal with my pain through sarcasm, so please understand I'm not making light of what happened to me, I'm trying to cope with it.
I've mentioned a few times on public media that I battled cancer and I survived. Never before have I had the strength to do more than say that. I've never talked about the casualty, the near-death experience, or what kind of cancer I had. This is going to be a longer post than I usually write, so make sure you have taken your bathroom break and grabbed a snack or drink before you read this. Unless, of course, you want to use those as excuses to step away.
There are tons of places going on and on about cancer awareness right now. October is Cancer Awareness Month they say here, there, and everywhere. But not many people are aware of the cancer I had. Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia. Even I had never heard of it before when the doctors finally admitted what I had. Oh, quick note, if you are one of those avid supporters of the military, you might not want to read this. I'm going to say some pretty mean things about their medical services. Click the close button and walk away if this is going to offend you.
For eight months my husband and I attempted pregnancy despite his "Here today, gone for a month" lifestyle with the Navy. When we finally received our good news, we were absolutely overjoyed. Everything went fine for the first 12 weeks. Except, even then, I knew something was wrong. I didn't get sick. Not once did I have morning sickness. Normally I am the queen of the Porcelain Kingdom if I'm pregnant. When I went to my check up for my fourth month, we were elated. We were going to hear the baby's heartbeat for the first time. The nice doctor-lady put the magic little wand against my stomach and we waited...
She checked my blood labs and confirmed that my HcG levels were indeed high enough to indicate a baby developed enough to have a heartbeat. Confused, she called in an ultrasound machine and performed an emergency ultrasound. Our baby was dead, right before our eyes.
It was explained to me I would have a miscarriage and there was nothing they could do. I was instructed to go home and let nature take it's course. In shock, we went home... I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried. What else can you do when you are told your baby is already dead?
Two weeks later I finally began bleeding as my husband walked out the door to disappear at sea for weeks on end. I bled so bad I wanted to go to the hospital, but I knew if I got in my car I would ruin the seats and I was in no condition to drive. I bled until my vision blurred, and there was no one there to hold my hand or tell me they loved me. For hours I sat on the toilet, unable to move, because I was bleeding so much I literally couldn't.
What followed was months of bleeding. It was like having a constant, heavy period--and that was on a good day. Then there were those random moments were blood would gush down my legs like someone had busted a large water balloon filled with red-food coloring. I called the doctor's office multiple times throughout those months. I begged and pleaded for them to fix me. I explained to them something was wrong. I watched other people go through miscarriages and within a month they were happily all done and trying to get pregnant again. Why was I still bleeding? Every appointment they told me the same thing, "Let nature take it's course. It's different for everyone."
They put me on a strict regime of blood tests. 1-3 times a week I was expected to drive on base to the local hospital so they could take two vials of blood from me and check my HcG levels. I'm highly phobic of needles so this was a whole new world of senseless hell to me. Why that often, I would ask, only to be ignore. When I started skipping weeks, I would receive angry phone calls from the hospital, yet they still refused to tell me why I was going for constant blood tests and monitoring when no one else I knew experiencing a miscarriage was going through this. And mind you, during all of this, I continued to bleed.
As the months passed, I quit going out in public. I feared going to the grocery store in case one of the gushing episodes happened. I feared taking a walk in my neighborhood. My sex life with my husband disappeared, and my self esteem went down in flames. I knew something more profound was going on than a simple miscarriage, but no matter how I asked, begged, pleaded, or cajoled, the hospital refused to give me more than their "Natures' course" bullshit.
Between the grief of losing our baby, the constant sea tours, the loss of any intimacy, and my depression, my husband succumbed to his own depression and asked for a divorce. I snapped. Now, before you judge, it wasn't that my husband asked for a divorce that caused me to snap. It was a cullimation of literally years worth of major catastrophic events. Let me highlight some of them:
In November 2009 my vehicle was struck by a dumb ass teenager who blew his stop sign at excessive speeds. My vehicle was totally and I received a moderate concussion and short term memory loss. I was pretty well bedridden with concussion symptoms (blackouts, amnesia) for six weeks.
In February 2010 my husband was assigned to a ship and left for deployment after we'd only been married for a month and a half.
In March 2010 I was diagnosed with a perforated uterus from a faulty IUD and had to have a painful emergency extraction performed. The next morning my mother died unexpectedly. She was my best friend and I lived across the road from her for years. Due to this, I had to make an unexpected move halfway across the US without my husband. I suffered drastic depression.
In July 2010 my husband returned home and instead of being elated, it was frightening. We'd been married six months and had no idea how to run a family or household together at this point.
In May 2011 I was diagnosed with a miscarriage.
In August 2011 my husband asked for a divorce. (Remember, I'm still bleeding and suffering the miscarriage)
Who in their right mind wouldn't snap?
On September 9th I decided to put an end to the constant hell I'd been going through. I was beaten and exhausted emotionally and physically. I couldn't take anymore. 24 pills later I did my best to die. My husband (who had decided maybe he didn't want a divorce afterall) rushed me to the emergency room, but I don't remember much of anything. What I do know is they put me in a psych ward. I didn't go willingly, and my husband didn't sign me over. Apparently, if you are a suicide attempt, the cops can actually force you to go to a "Mental Health Facility." I won't go into my visit, but let's just say I was bleeding so heavily that even the Psych Ward threw a fit they didn't want me because they didn't have the medical facilities to properly care for me. For some strange reason, the words "Health Liability" were used often in how to address my situation and the next day I was sent home with a statement saying my husband would keep constant watch over me. The military, needless to say, were not pleased they had to let him stay home for a month while they took yet another sea tour.
On September 14th I went in for my blood tests. By now, I was on first name basis with the technicians in the lab, and called them my favorite vampires. I hated going, but I knew it wasn't their fault and so I tried my hardest not to lash out at everyone for my constant fear and pain, not to mention shame at this point.
Within an hour the hospital called, telling us calmly we needed to come back at once. My blood ran like ice in my veins and I knew, absolutely knew shit had hit the fan. I was scared and I was relieved, because finally, someone was going to tell me what was wrong.
"Your HcG levels are rising." The doctor handed me a pamphlet with Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia written all over it. "We need to send you to an Oncologist. This is out of our hands."
"Wait, Oncologist? Those are...cancer doctors, right?" I demanded.
"Yes. We were hoping your body would just get rid of it on it's own, but the cancer is now spreading faster than you can flush it all."
"So all these months of bleeding, all this misery, you knew what was wrong with me?"
"Neoplasia is difficult to treat. The patient runs high risk of hemorrhaging to death. We couldn't even have tested for it, much less treated it, without running risk of you dying. We had to wait until the risk of leaving it alone was greater than the risk of treating it," the doctor said, dancing around the subject.
"But all this time you knew what was wrong with me?!" (Note, by now I'm doing that low, hissing-talk that means I'm seriously contemplating murder.)
"We've made an appointment at this other Naval hospital. They are waiting to get you in now to discuss options like radiation. I'd hurry." And the bitch walked out.
We went to the new hospital and I wasn't nice. It has been my experience that doctors are a lazy, dismissive lot and I didn't expect this place to be any different. I'll admit it, I was jaded. The new hospital took me in a room, and the new Mr. Doctor looked at my results...and said some really naughty words.
"How long has this been going on? 7 months? Why the hell was this allowed to go on this long? You could have died." To our shock, he scheduled emergency surgery for that very afternoon.
This was all a surprise to us as the other facilities "Wait and see" attitude caused us to believe I wasn't in imminent danger. During that session, it was explained to us just how dangerous the cancer was. I'm still not completely certain of all the dynamics, but it was explained to me Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia was cancer of the placental cells, and they had drown out our baby and were not multiplying so fast that even my body couldn't keep up. Our new doctor cautioned us that the surgery was a damned if we don't and possibly damned if we do situation. If we didn't do the surgery, I would end up bleeding to death. If we did, there was high risk of bleeding to death.
Later that evening my husband held my hand as they injected my IV bag with anesthesia. He kissed my lips knowing there was a good chance it might be the last time he ever saw me alive and told me he was sorry. I vaguely remember the doctor yelling my name at one point. I remember hearing a voice in the darkness saying, "I can't get her heart to stabilize."
Obviously, against the odds, I survived. Portsmouth Naval Hospital saved my life, but the other local hospital nearly killed me and I will never have anything nice to say about them. I'm still not completely better. I gained a major amount of weight (roughly 40 pounds) that I can't get off, so I'm going to an endocrinologist at the end of the month. We've also found that no matter how hard we try, I can't get pregnant. Oh, and the good doctor handed us a paper when it was all over. If our baby had survived, we would have had a beautiful daughter. We named her Astridia Krieger and I miss her in a way only a parent can miss an unborn child. Every baby I see brings tears to my eyes. Every infant crying breaks my heart. And though I have two little boys I love, my arms still feel completely empty. As much as I know it's horrible to say, Facebook has become a mountain of agony for me. Everyone and their cousin are pregnant these days, and I can't help but tell them congrats even while on the inside I'm crying.
My cancer is gone. I survived but my daughter didn't and that is a pain I live with everyday.