I didn’t mean to leave folks in such suspense with my last post. And while I’m not sure I can give all the answers in this next post – particularly since I’ve been postponing my surgery for months! – let me quickly describe the rest of the medical circus and put you all at ease. Or something like that.
My week at the ocean was one of the best ever. I read several books, ate well, swam every day, and focused all my energy into healing and surrounding myself with positive energy. Mindset was such a vital factor to all the subjects in Weil’s books – and of so many other people I had heard about over the years. Resignation is not an option. So for me it was all about getting into the right “mindset”.
Now single moms are true badasses, but our weakness is that we often feel we have to do everything ourselves, and asking for help is like asking someone to birth my child. It’s really not very easy. But I realized I needed to open up a bit. I started by sharing my adventure with my dear friend Wanda, who I knew would have to shoulder a bit of Aiden care in the coming weeks. Then I needed help with Spanish. My overconfidence with my Spanish skills during those first weeks was foolish, particularly when it came to understanding medical terminology. During those days Google translate was the only friend I allowed in, and even getting medical terminology translated to English did little for my actual comprehension (Oophorectomyanyone? Adenomyosis? And yes, it’s the same in Spanish AND English). So I also shared with a friend in my inner circle of new girlfriends who spoke brilliant Spanish. I did so mostly because I felt so much was being lost and I didn’t want to end up on some gurney having no idea what I was going in for. It was particularly crucial for my visit to the oncologist. I would need things to be crystal clear on the diagnosis and suggestions for how to proceed. My friend Poppy stepped up immediately.
My appointment was on a Friday evening, apparently a perfectly normal time for medical appointments in Mexico. There were several nervous-looking families in the waiting room with us, and I felt sure we were all sharing a commonality of compassion: people were here because things might be BAD.
The oncologist was a young 40-something guy from Queretaro who spoke English very well. Of course, the one time I brought translators none were needed…
He looked at the huge scans I had trucked in from my three separate radiological visits, commented on the growths and the size of my uterus, and said he wasn’t so concerned for cancer. And then who knows… Once he said he didn’t think the growths looked cancerous, I stopped listening. Not intentionally, of course, but that was all I needed to know, and I wanted to leave. Not because I didn’t want the information, but because my brain was exhausted and could only allow so much in. And it was full up. Then I heard him suggest I have a full hysterectomy as soon as possible. Excuse me? Why? For the growths, the bleeding, the size of my uterus. It would be best to do it right away. Next week? Whaat??
I had to go back to the US and clean out my mother’s home, which had recently sold. It would be a huge project and physically very strenuous (I had no idea just how strenuous). He looked weary and asked about my return date. What could possibly happen if I put this off for a month or two, I asked? (In fact he said I could start to bleed uncontrollably and I should take tons of iron supplements. By the time of my next blood test, my iron levels were so high someone actually suggested bloodletting. I swear, it started to get medieval!)
I was scheduled to go to France and visit with extended family. I hadn’t seen anyone since my mother’s funeral two years earlier. It was time to reconnect and remind Aiden of his extended family. I would clear the house, jump on a plane to France, return to New Mexico and then drive back down to Mexico with my two dogs. I needed energy for this and I didn’t see surgery as being conducive to all I had to accomplish in such a short time. It’s up to you, he said dramatically, but don’t wait too long. For now I think we can do it laparoscopically. That will shorten your healing time considerably. Later… who knows?
After considerable tequila shots at my friend Poppy’s house (all those dietary changes went right out the window) I sat wide awake all night trying to recalibrate my summer. Something would have to go. Since clearing my mother’s house wasn’t an option, it would have to be France. The next morning I cancelled our plane tickets, and ultimately got a full refund once the oncologist wrote a letter detailing his suggestions. Then I had to tell my French family what was happening – to the best of my ability. I wasn’t exactly sure what happened, or what needed to happen, just that I bought some time.
I realized a second opinion was in order. But because I had two highly-regarded doctors in my little area of Mexico, I wasn’t sure there was anyone else to ask. I ended up reaching out to a doctor and dear friend who was currently living in Switzerland, having just moved with his family from Ethiopia. I sent him the written diagnoses of my radiology and tried as best I could to explain the doctor’s health concerns. Using Google translate we pieced together that the growths were small and what were the characteristics anyway? Characteristics? If cancer was a concern then yes, move forward. If not, then take a pass on surgery and move forward with other ways to deal with fibroids and endometriosis.
By chance, my friend John had just joined forces with another expat doctor in a business that… drum roll… gave second opinions to expats in foreign countries who may or may not mistrust their local doctor’s diagnoses. John said he had once visited an orphanage in Ethiopia where a girl was awaiting a double mastectomy. The head of the orphanage asked John to review her scans and blood work only to learn that this girl had some fibroids that would surely pass. A mastectomy – much less a double mastectomy – was absolutely uncalled for. For many doctors, John learned, these diagnoses proved a way to get practice on vulnerable subjects — and money, particularly if NGOs were paying for the procedures. Oh my.
I was put at ease for the moment. I’d do another round of blood tests when I completed my summer’s work and schedule a surgery then, if I even felt it was necessary. I discovered that hysterectomies were the second most common surgery for reproductive-aged women. I began to ask around and the most common response from women who had undergone the procedure was “I wish I had done it earlier!” Despite these sunny reviews, I’m not one for any unnecessary medical intervention, and now that the fear of things more serious had passed, I wasn’t sure I wanted to become a victim of some hospital mishap or infection that would do far more damage in the long run. I’m a journalist, trust me; I’ve had to cover a lot of these stories!
With things coming into perspective, I also reached out to my group of close girlfriends here in San Miguel with a shortened version of all I’ve written here, but mostly explaining my odd behavior of late, and my total inability to think or plan long term. They were wonderful, and offered support in every area. I’d have food delivered, childcare and drivers when needed. I’d have shoulders to cry on and always a hug when needed.
I’m still parsing out the truth of this health situation but have decided that sleep, exercise and dear friends make all the difference to our health and happiness. I was in the right place and with the right people. For now, that was the most important thing. And no, I wouldn’t consider having my surgery in the US as I didn’t trust the US medical system any more than the doctors I had here in Mexico (I did seriously consider flying to France for the procedure as my cousin is a gynecologist, but my support network is here) My reservation was for anymedical intervention regardless the place or doctor.
While there remain so many unanswered questions, my takeaway for the moment is that one should not go through these things alone. I often assume I have no choice but to go it solo, but that’s not necessarily true. Even had I no friends in this dear little town, there is an American health advocate whose job is to parse out a diagnosis and help people decide how to proceed. Yes, ultimately the decision of any medical intervention rests with me. But having a helpful ear is essential, particularly when fear is so present. I’ve spent days rereading medical “conclusions” regarding my health, putting it all through Google translate and then starting over again. And while my diagnosis is ultimately good news — considering the other options on the table — it still made me stress to a point of near paralysis. So for other folks, and single moms especially, I recommend you find your network. Map your medical options wherever you’re traveling, and always, always reach out. For all the Facebook bashing I’ve seen of late, it provides an amazing opportunity to engage in conversations on any topic, wherever one might be in the world. Support groups and advice abound. Not all useful, of course, but the same could be said for the “real” world and your immediate friends. The point is that information is available. In fact, while I figure out the next step, my close companion is no longer Google search or WebMD, but rather a group comprised of thousands of women making up the website HysterSisters. Who’da thunk it?
Stay tuned: Time to schedule the surgery, and other unsavory decisions.