After I had my fourth baby in 2002, my OB/GYN looked at me and said, “Katrina, you should not have any more babies. Your uterus is very, very tired.” But she had this adorable speech impediment, so imagine all her r’s sounding like w’s. It’s one of my favorite stories—my tired uterus. When friends would ask me to go out, I’d say, “I can’t. My uterus is tired.” When I wanted ice cream, I’d say, “My uterus is tired. All she wants is some Graeter’s mint chocolate chip. Is that too much to ask?”
On Monday, my tired uterus was finally laid to rest as the result of a total hysterectomy. The old girl had a good run. My surgery was supposed to be laparoscopic, but the doc ended up having to cut me open instead. It was like having a 5th c-section, but there was no baby to hold at the end. So, I bought myself a Squishmallow instead. I named her Hester. Hester Ectomy. Sissy is still trying to determine if she’s trustworthy or not.
I was more than ready for my hysterectomy. I know some women might grieve the loss of such a unique and special part of them, but mine had done her job, and it was past time for her to retire. She was like the old, white-haired lady in the office who keeps asking you how to “Select All.” She took a lot of fibroids and a few cysts and too much bleeding along with her, and for that, I’m grateful. I thanked her for the gorgeous kids she’d given me and wished her well. When a relationship is over, there’s no use holding on. She and I were ready to go our separate ways.
Before my hysterectomy, I took a tumble on the pickleball court. I felt something give in my left knee, and I’ve been limping around ever since. On the Friday before my surgery, I had an MRI. My doctor called yesterday and said, “I have your MRI results. You have arthritis in your knee, and you definitely tore your meniscus.” That’s what I was expecting, thanks to Dr. Google.
But she wasn’t finished.
“Katrina,” she said, in her cute Puerto Rican accent, “There’s something else. I don’t like to have these conversations on the phone, but I know you just had surgery, and I don’t want to wait.” She paused. “There’s something else on your MRI that I’m concerned about. It’s a mass at the top of your tibia with ill-defined margins. I’m ordering another MRI with contrast for you ASAP, and I’m sending you to an orthopedic oncologist.”
The rest of the call became blurry. I was sitting in the rig with Julie and our friend, Gail, and we all sat in silence, looking at my phone with its speaker turned on.
“We’ll figure this out, and I’m going to take good care of you,” my doctor said warmly. It was her kindness that broke something in me. When I hung up the phone, I had an overwhelming desire to call my mom.
And then I cried because I couldn’t.
I once had a friend who said she hoped she never got cancer. I thought it was because cancer is such an asshole; that it’s prolific and unpredictable and upends so many lives. But this particular friend didn’t want cancer because “everyone gets cancer.” (She’s no longer a friend.) I can assure her from afar, however, that when you hear the possibility of the “C” word growing in your body, it doesn’t matter if the rest of the world has it. It only matters that you might. It only matters that cancer stole your sister’s ability to speak at the end, when she was only 58.
Suddenly, everything seems urgent. I have books to write. I have traveling to do. My credit score just got back to “Excellent” after a long, post-divorce battle. I haven’t seen the Eiffel Tower. I haven’t ridden my bike through Amsterdam. Can you even ride a bike with one leg? These are things I’ve never thought about because I’ve never had to think about them.
“If I lose a leg, I’ll probably wear an eye patch, too,” I joked with Sam.
“Well, you might as well stop eating oranges so you can get scurvy, too,” he said.
“I’ll ask for a parrot for my birthday.”
What else do you do but make pirate jokes in the unexpected face of bone cancer?
Today, I’m going to tend to my angry, black and blue belly incision while I wait for a call from the orthopedic oncologist. I’d post a picture of my stomach, but there aren’t enough trigger warnings for that kind of nastiness. Let’s just say, it’s big. And colorful.
I’m going to keep Googling bone cancer and osteosarcoma and ill-defined margins and MRI results because I can’t help myself. I know I shouldn’t, but I will. I know I shouldn’t eat an entire package of Oreos, but I’ve been known to do that, too. Maybe I’ll do it tonight.
At 2:00, I’m getting more blood drawn because they haven’t taken enough of it in the past 72 hours. My poor arms are begging for mercy, but they can take it. They’re strong. I’m strong. Except when I want my mom. Then I’m not so strong.
After my appointment, I’m going to take Hester outside, hold her gently against my belly, turn my face to the sun, and remember how big this world is, how little I am within it, and how much love I have in my heart and in my life.
And for that moment, all will be well.