“Normally by now, all the gifts are wrapped and under the tree. Christmas is only days away, and I haven’t even wrapped one gift yet. Christmas feels different this year and I’m having a really hard time getting into the holiday spirit.
‘I feel off. I’m not saying anything major is wrong with me, it could be minor. I don’t know. I just know something is off.’
That’s what I’ve been saying to my friends and husband over the last several weeks. You want to know what they told me? ‘Tracey, you are getting older.’ I was like, ‘I’m not that old!’
Old age or not, I decided to schedule an appointment with my doctor to see if we could figure it out.
She quickly diagnosed me with perimenopause. Peri what? Yup, perimenopause at just 36 years old. That wasn’t on my radar or even part of my vocabulary yet. I wasn’t even sure how to spell it when I googled it for the first time.
When she told me what I was dealing with, there was a sense of relief. Relief she didn’t think anything was seriously wrong with me, or at least anything that warranted further testing.
She seemed so sure that perimenopause was what I was dealing with. I sat on this diagnosis for a few days but something inside me kept nagging at me and saying, ‘perimenopause is not what I’m dealing with.’ I started to do some research about it and my symptoms did not match up.
You know that small voice inside of you? The one that is so quiet, almost faint to the point if you’re not still enough, you can’t hear? The one that is your own personal compass trying to guide you. That voice told me to make another appointment with a different doctor to get a second opinion. As much as I like and trusted my doctor, I have learned to trust that voice more. I made another appointment.
After talking through my symptoms with the new doctor, She too didn’t think what I was dealing with was perimenopause.
She ordered a pelvic ultrasound. I always say, ‘no news is good news.’
Just a few hours after getting my pelvic ultrasound done, my phone rang. My doctor’s voice was on the other end. Immediately, I knew this couldn’t be good. You see, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve had major health issues in the past so I kind of know how it all goes, and when your doctor calls you personally, it’s not to tell you that your results are normal.
You never want to hear words like complex, stat, and concern from your doctor.
She told me I had some fibroids in my uterus. But that’s not what concerned her. She then began to tell me I had two cysts on my ovaries. She called them complex cysts. I asked her what complex meant and she said a cyst with shadowing. I still didn’t understand what that meant, but knew I would google it once we got off the phone.
She then began to tell me the one on my left ovary was small, like the size of a grape. But the one on the right ovary was large, about the size of a large lemon. And it’s the large one she’s concerned about. She said she wanted me to see her gynecologist, stat.
This was Friday night, and I had to sit on this for a whole weekend! I hit the internet to learn more about what I was told over the phone. What I found took me from worried to flat out terror.
I decided to not tell a soul. I thought I was being brave. I thought I was saving others from getting all worked up. I thought I was being selfless.
I didn’t want anyone else to feel the way I was. My emotions were all over the place. From feeling fine to feeling completely out of control.
I kept thinking about my struggle formula and the reminders I use and even share with others. Especially the reminder that says, ‘You are not meant to go through this alone. Who are you leaning on that is helping you get through this?’ Um, me, myself, and I.
You see, Ryan was out of town on a hunting trip with his dad and he didn’t have good reception. I only received a few texts from him while he was gone. He wouldn’t be getting home till Sunday night. So, calling him wasn’t an option. Plus, I didn’t want to worry him, he was 14 hours away.
If there was something really wrong with me and this complex cyst is cancerous, that would probably be his last trip for a while, and I wanted him to enjoy it. I wanted him to enjoy his ride home with his dad. I didn’t want him to worry about me.
Right or wrong, that’s just how I felt. I thought about who else I could lean on, who I could trust. Who else will make me feel the way he does when I’m struggling? Well, no one will ever be as good as he is, but my mom is the next best person. I sent her a text asking, ‘What are you doing today and tomorrow?’ What I really wanted to ask was, ‘I need my mom, can you come stay with me till tomorrow?’
But I didn’t want to worry her either. She responded to my text telling me she was working, going home to make dinner for the kids, and then taking them to look at Christmas lights. She asked me why I wanted to know and what was going on.
I didn’t respond right away. I didn’t know what to say. Do I lie? Do I tell her the truth? She sounded busy so I thought maybe I should just let her do her thing. You see, my mom is raising two of her grandchildren and also watches a few more while their mom, my sister, is in school and working.
I know my mom has her hands full and I didn’t want to make her plate any fuller. I know how stressed out she can get with everything she has going on. I didn’t want to add to her stress.
When I didn’t respond back to her, she called me and left a message telling me she responded to my text but hasn’t heard back from me, and that if I need something, to let her know. My mom knows me well. She knows when I’m acting funny or different. She knows when I need something, I need something. She knows I’m not one to overreact or freak out unless there is cause.
I finally responded to her text message. I just couldn’t bring myself to telling her anything, so I told her I just wanted to get Noah out of the house because I wasn’t feeling well. I mean, not all a lie. I asked her if Noah could go with them to look at Christmas lights.
I needed time to myself to work through my emotions and process my thoughts. One thing I know about myself, is when my emotions are running high, I need to let them calm down before allowing others into my space.
I decided to hop in the shower because I knew it would make me feel better. I took my phone into the bathroom and played some Christian music from Pandora. Peace washed over me and I started to feel better.
Saturday was filled with more crash course style research. I wanted to be as prepared as possible when I went to see the gynecologist. I wanted to be able to understand all the terminology she might use.
Ryan called me Sunday morning to catch up and let me know what time he would be home. I hadn’t spoken to him once while he was on his trip, so it was nice to hear his voice again. He asked me how the doctor appointment went and what they said about the ultrasound. I told him everything, but totally downplayed the anxiety I had over the whole ordeal.
He said, ‘Well I guess we can’t worry if we don’t know anything, right?’ Bless his sweet soul.
Can you tell he is a man who has never had any major health issues before? Little did he know his woman was in tears and so worried about it all just the day before. I can’t blame him for saying that though. After all, I did downplay it. I know his response was from how I came across over the phone.
It wasn’t till he got home that I filled him in on it all and expressed my true concern. No doubt, he knew I was worried. What I didn’t know at that time though, was how worried he was too.
I asked for a blessing from him. If you aren’t LDS, the best way I can explain this is, it’s like saying a prayer over someone. It’s inspired from God. The only thing I can remember from the blessing he gave me was this, ‘whatever the outcome, it’s the will of the Lord.’ I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a very comforting blessing.
The next day I went to see the gynecologist, she said she was also concerned about the large cyst on my right ovary. Well, the exact word she used was ‘suspicious.’ I mean, but whose getting technical over words? I am!
Then she started using words like ovarian cancer, staging, surgery, rupture, severe pain, ER, ovary torsion, CA125, and a gynecologic oncologist. All words I was now familiar with due to all the research I had done, but also because back in ’06 I had to see a gynecologic oncologist due to a molar pregnancy.
She said, regardless, it had to be removed and I needed to be very careful when teaching my group fitness classes. She then referred me to a gynecologic oncologist nearby. But this girl only trusts one hospital for something like this, yup, MD Anderson Cancer Center. Because they are the ones who saved my life 18 years ago when I was pregnant and diagnosed with osteosarcoma, aka bone cancer. They are the only ones I trust when the word cancer is being thrown around.
My doctor ordered some blood work, like the CA125 test they run for ovarian cancer, along with some other stuff and she sent me downstairs to have my blood drawn.
I could feel the tears coming on but didn’t want to lose it. Now I’m not someone who minds crying. But I knew if I let those tears out, that was opening the flood gates and there would be no closing them. I didn’t want to lose it and I didn’t want those stares from people. You know, the ones that say, what’s wrong with her, is she ok, did she get bad news?
As I was waiting to be called back for blood work, I sent my husband a text and told him he may want to come home early because we would need to call MD Anderson to get me in. He asked me if I could talk and I told him no, I was waiting to do blood work and needed to keep my sh*t together.
Then I sent my studio manager a text telling her I wouldn’t be able to teach my class that night and I would call her in just a little bit to fill her in with what was going on.
You want to know what I kept repeating over and over in my head? ‘Tracey, keep your sh*t together.’
Cusser or not, which I’m really not one, that’s what helped me keep it together. Oh, and taking some deep breaths.
Once I got to the car, I called Ryan and filled him in on everything. He said he needed to get a few things done but would be on his way shortly.
My second phone call was to my studio manager. Over the phone she was very understanding and told me not to worry about anything because she would cover my class for me. That was a huge relief, because I didn’t have the brain capacity to deal with finding someone to cover it and I certainly was in no condition to be teaching.
I was dang proud of myself I was able to keep my wits long enough to have a calm conversation with my doctor, understand what she was saying, do my blood work, and make those two phone calls. I mean, on the phone I did cry a little bit, but not in a hysterical way or anything.
When I got home, I called my mom to tell her what was going on. I figured maybe it was time to let her know. I started the conversation terribly by saying, ‘Don’t freak out or anything, ok?’ Of course, she asked, ‘are you ok?’ Then the tears started. I recounted everything to her I had been dealing with. No matter how old you get, a girl always needs her mama.
When Ryan got home, I called MDACC to get the ball rolling. This time around the process seemed a bit slower, but I’m sure it was because Christmas was fast approaching. The only sure way to know if its cancer or not, is to remove it and do a biopsy. At this point I have no idea when that will take place. Hopefully soon!
The next day I got a phone call about my blood results, it was the nurse on the other line, and I knew it had to be good news. She said all my blood work came back normal and she also wanted to know the status on reaching out to MDACC. I let her know I already reached out and I was in the process of getting in with them.
When the nurse gave me the news about my test results, I was so relieved, and it was just what I was hoping for. But because I have done my research, I also knew it doesn’t mean I don’t have cancer. The CA125 is routine when a doctor thinks you might have cancer, but it’s not what they use to diagnosis a woman with it.
Why? Because there are some women who have ovarian cancer and their CA125, isn’t elevated. There are also some women who don’t have cancer and their CA125 is elevated. An elevated result can also mean you have health issues unrelated to cancer. They also use the CA125, if elevated, as a reference point to know if chemotherapy is working. A normal result can also mean early stages of ovarian cancer. So, now you can see why they can’t use it as a sure way to diagnosis someone.
Ryan and I have been talking about when to tell our kids or if we even should. We don’t want to worry them, but I also want them to be able to process it like we have been able to. I would hate to drop the worst case scenario on them when all they knew was mom needed to have surgery. I also don’t want them to think we held anything back or lied to them.
I don’t believe there is a right way or a wrong way to handle something like this. I believe it boils down to what feels right to each individual. We plan on telling them tonight. As a family, we need to pull together, and that’s really hard to do if they aren’t even in the know.
As optimistic as I would like to be, I have my concerns. I’m planning for the worst, but hoping for the best. I want to be as prepared as I can when I hear the results. I want to be as knowledgeable as possible so I can make educated and wise decisions.
For me, this is one of the hardest parts. The part where I don’t know anything. The part where I have to wait. At least knowing means I can make a plan, take action, and do what needs to be done to achieve the outcome I want.
This has been very difficult for me to deal with. Why? Because I know the reality of cancer. A reality I didn’t have the first time around, and that played in my favor. I know the reality of ovarian cancer. I know the reality of trying to give chemo to someone with stage 3 kidney disease. It was chemo the first time around that left my kidneys this way. I know the toll it takes on a family.
But, if I have to get back in the ring with cancer again, I will win. I did it once, I can do it again.
Just like all my other struggles I have been through, I will learn and grow from this. I mean, I already have. I am far more educated on this kind of cancer than I ever was before. I was reminded of the importance of listening to that still small voice. And I can use my newfound knowledge to inform others.
Of course, I hope it’s not cancer I’m dealing with. But all I can do right now is keep putting one foot in front of the other. Take deep breaths. Not ignore my feelings or try and brush them under the rug, but allow myself to work through them. Use my own advice on this struggle. Keep living and keep hoping.
Please, never ignore that voice inside you. No matter how much you like or trust your doctor, it is ok to trust but verify. Do your research! The white coats don’t know everything. Don’t forget, they are just as human as you and I are. They make mistakes and misdiagnose people. You know your body better than anyone does. Trust that.
You know, as I type all this out, I feel strong and I feel peace. I am so grateful for my husband, he has held me countless times to comfort me and let me cry on his chest. He has reassured me cancer or not, together we will get through this.
As I reflect on Christmas this year, I think about all my loved ones. I think about all the memories we have made together. I’ve got so much to live for. So much to fight for. I’ve got so much left to accomplish. I’ve got 4 amazing children who need me and a wonderful husband who loves me so perfectly.
All I want for Christmas this year……..is my health.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tracey Ferrin, 36, of Houston, Texas. Tracey’s new book “Up Struggle” is available now here. Follow her journey on Instagram here and Facebook here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Tracey here:
‘I was diagnosed with cancer, 6 months pregnant, married, with a 10-month-old daughter. I was under attack.’: Mom refuses to abort child despite doctor’s advice, ‘It was up to me to make an impossible decision’
‘My husband was frustrated I wasn’t meeting the frequency of how often he wants to have sex. I knew it was coming.’: Wife realizes physical touch is her husband’s top love language, insists ‘It’s not that I don’t desire him. Because I do!’
‘I wasn’t playing games. 4 weeks after meeting, he asked me to marry him! I said yes. Then, I tried to break it off.’: Single divorced mom of 2 gets engaged to man she met after 4 weeks, ‘He is worth the risk of another heart break’
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