THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS

Photo by Regina Walker

“It is in the upper right quadrant, a stitch kind of feeling sometimes”, I told the doctor, “like a cramp.”

She pushed and had me breath but couldn’t summon the response I was describing. “It happens when I am turning or bending sometimes.”

My doctor is young but serious. I thought she would write me off as a worrying middle aged woman but she didn’t. “Let’s set you up for an ultrasound and see what we find.”

Medicine fascinates me. I am amazed by the technology. Years of working in the field have not deadened me to some of the miraculousness of it all. My sons are engrossed by stories of space flight; I am enamored with the intricacies of an MRI machine and robot surgery.

I am laying on my back, my abdomen covered with the warm goop I remember from sonograms during my pregnancies. “Deep breath in, hold it.” I follow directions and my mind wanders. I imagine I am pregnant again. In my mind I can see my oldest son for the first time “There he is! His thumb is in his mouth”.

“Roll over onto your left side for me.” I obey the technician. I have always been an obedient patient. A patient patient.

She tosses me a few hand towels to wipe off the goop and I am good to go. I get that stitch feeling as I climb off the table.

A few days later my doctor informs me they found a cyst on the tail of my pancreas. Her advice, “let’s wait 5 months and do another ultrasound.” I google the shit out of “pancreatic cysts.” I decide I am ok and will just forget about it for now. And I do that. I usually can’t. My thoughts are often like the monkey mind meditation teachers speak of. Scary, worst case scenario thoughts flood my mind like the monkeys clammering in their cages. But I calm my monkeys for 5 months. They rarely clang at their cage.

“It has gotten considerably bigger. I am recommending an MRI with contrast.” I am hearing my doctor but not quite taking it all in. I had almost forgotten to go back for the second ultrasound and I made the appointment closer to six months later. “What does that mean?” I ask the question I assume everyone asks and my doctor said “let’s find out.”

I have never had an MRI before. With contrast means they will inject me during the test with a dye that will allow them to better see my organs. “It is a big magnet” the technician tells me as he senses my fear. “You will be fine. It is noisy, like 7th Avenue.” That is a New Yorker joke that I would otherwise have laughed at but this is me. I am used to being the reassurer not the reassured.

I am prepped, strapped in with the IV in my arm and slowly fed into the MRI machine. It is loud; clanging and banging, and nothing like the noise of 7th Avenue. I am being given instructions through headphones to “breath deep, hold your breath, let it out.” I feel entombed and I can’t see out. My monkeys start jumping, chattering, clanging at the cage.

I pretend I am an astronaut. Specifically, I pretend I am Matt Damon from the movie The Martian. I am getting claustrophobic and I don’t want to squeeze the little ball the technician has placed in my hand that will stop the test. I have to get through this so I am Matt Damon. I am on Mars.

The results come quickly, “a progressively enhancing solid nodule within the gastrohepatic ligament interposed between the left lobe of liver and adherent to the medial wall of the body of stomach….”

“Do I have cancer?” The question slips off my tongue without thought. My doctor explains that more testing needs to be done, she has referrals, I need a biopsy. She doesn’t answer my question and my fear and anxiety rise. She asks me if I want a prescription for Klonopin or Ativan.

Over the weekend I determine I am going to “get healthy.” I walk 12 miles on Saturday, 8 miles on Sunday, and 7 miles on Monday. I drink lemon water and take a turmeric supplement daily. I take vitamins and drink plenty of water and listen to guided visualizations throughout the day. I eat greens and beets and get my sleep. I diffuse essential oils, stay away from google, and have some of the worst nightmares I can remember.

The MRI was Friday now this is Tuesday and I am in the office of an oncology surgeon. He is warm and friendly, very different than what I have believed surgeons to be. He explains his recommendations and spells out more clearly possible outcomes. This upcoming Friday I will have a biopsy done through an endoscope. If “all is well” from the biopsy, then the surgery will be simple. He will go in and remove the tumor and I will go on with my life. If the biopsy is what I don’t want it to be, the surgery will be more difficult. A larger margin around the tumor will need to be taken. Other organs will need to be cut into. My mind wanders. My monkeys are agitated. I am on Mars…..

Regina Walker