BSO one year later

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A year ago at this time, I was preparing for an elective and life-altering surgery. I was, right up until the day before the surgery, certain it was the right choice for me. 

The day before, though, I was seized by the fear that this was not the right choice. I threatened to back out, to cancel the surgery, to keep my ovaries. Were you there? In that Nia class? You all talked me down. You promised to send prayers. 

It worked. From that moment on, I was calm. I had dinner with friends and we laughed and played games. 

I woke early the day of surgery. I went for my last run with all my parts and said my final goodbyes. I thanked my ovaries for all they’d done for me. 

I was calm as the nurse started my IV. I was calm talking with the anesthesiologist, the one who told me that the effects would wear off in hours. (I knew he was wrong, and he was. The short-term memory loss I experienced the next day freaked me out, but it wasn’t unusual and it went away soon after.)

Recovery from surgery is emotionally and physically tough. I didn’t need pain pills. It wasn’t that. My throat hurt from intubation. The anti-nausea medicine made me so dried out, and I stopped them as soon as I could. Turning over in bed hurt. I felt wounded, vulnerable. 

The night before my surgery, my daughter bought me warm, fuzzy jammies, which I wore day and night for the first week of recovery. When I pulled out my winter clothes last month and saw those jammies, I had a feeling of dread. My body and spirit reacted to the memory of what it was like to have been wounded. I had felt so supported after the surgery — and I was, incredibly nurtured and supported by friends and family — yet the sensations of that invasion, the memories of the woundedness — stay with me. I put the PJs in the giveaway bag. 

In the week following the surgery, I experienced a heart-breaking regret. I had hurt my body. I had taken out healthy, functioning organs. In the months that followed, the regret lessened but didn’t dissolve. I began to run again, but I was slower, and I got injured, again. I worried a lot that I didn’t have the testosterone I would need to build muscle. I was old. 

I started experiencing digestion trouble this past summer, and one of the symptoms was feeling bloated and feeling full too easily. This is one of the few symptoms that a woman with ovarian cancer might feel. I realized that if I still had my ovaries, the symptoms would have scared me terribly.  That felt like a win, that I had this intimate experience of knowing that the surgery was doing part of what I’d intended, which was to be free from my fear. 

Then Lisa died. There’s plenty of cancer in my immediate family — breast, lung, thymus, skin — but no ovarian cancer. Lisa was who I knew who had battled (and it is a battle) ovarian cancer. Lisa was funny and warm and caring and smart, but probably what drew me to her was that she, too, is Jewish. That shouldn’t matter much but it made me feel more connected. One reason I chose the surgery is that I knew what Lisa had faced. Another layer of regret about the surgery dissipated when Lisa died. It would be churlish and disrespectful to regret a surgery that could prevent what she’d gone through. 

A month or two after the surgery, a friend asked me how I was doing. What I felt was, eh, I’m okay. I said was, ask me in a year. I had the sense that it would take a full year before I would know. 

Now I know. I feel great. 

I still have a sense of loss. I still remember what it was like to be wounded. How strange it is to be unconscious while others handle us, cut into us. I still remember what it felt like to be so nurtured and cared for. I still remember how spiritually and emotionally lifted I was by that care. 

I still feel some regret. I still feel relief and at peace.

I still feel strong. Maybe I feel even stronger.