By Caitlyn Hennessy
I’ll start by saying this has a happy ending. It won’t seem like it at first at first, but it’ll get better and eventually it will be a happy story. But for now, it’ll be a story full of pain and heartache.
I’ve had my fair share of medical problems throughout my life. Between broken bones, sprains and chest pains, I’ve had many encounters with emergency rooms. However, nothing was ever that serious. I always went home with instructions to rest, maybe an ace bandage, or the occasional pair of crutches. Every time I went to the ER, I knew everything was going to be fine. I was never left wondering what was wrong with me or what might happen with it in the future. You can imagine the fear I felt on that windy November morning when I realized this would not be one of these times.
I woke up in pain, specifically in my lower abdomen. I brushed it off at first; I mean, I was on my period anyway, so I initially assumed they were just some intense cramps. I started to get dressed as I would on any other normal day and that’s when things seemed to go downhill. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with feelings of nausea and heat. I took off running, thinking I was about to vomit, but when I got to the bathroom, everything went black. It felt like only a couple of seconds, but I was on the floor, crying, when I came to. I still felt as though I might throw up, so I stayed on the bathroom floor until my mom came in, looking more concerned than I had seen in a long time. She was trying to figure out what was wrong, but I didn’t know how to explain it when I wasn’t even sure myself. The rest is kind of a blur, as I’m pretty sure I tried to block out a lot of that car ride to the ER. I was immediately put into a room and onto the list for an ultrasound to be done. If you’ve ever been to an ER, you know that it takes a while, sometimes hours, to get the things you need.
It was a little funny when I got to the ultrasound, actually.
When she put the wand on my lower abdomen and turned on the machine, the picture from the last woman was still one, which was a baby. My mom gasped loudly, the technician was quick to reassure her of what was going on.
“You thought I had a whole ass baby in me?,” I asked her.
With her face buried in her hands, she replied, “I feel like I just died.”
Ultimately, they didn’t find anything in the ultrasound and I still didn’t have an explanation for why I was in pain. They decided they wanted me to see a gynecologist the next day, to just make sure that everything was okay. So for the first time ever, I went home in pain, without answers, and worried about the next day. I slept for the rest of that day, just trying to get through the pain. The strangest part is, I woke up the next morning feeling completely fine. I almost didn’t go to my appointment, but every day I’m thankful that we still decided to go. I had never been to a gynecologist before and definitely did not expect to be going for this reason. By the end of the appointment, the doctor told me I was fine, that it was most likely an abnormal period, but even to this day we’re still unsure of exactly what happened that day. He told me, however, that he wanted to do a breast examination before I left, as he did for everyone when they came. Everything was fine, until he got to my left breast, and stopped. He asked me if I had ever noticed anything weird and I said I hadn’t. He simply nodded, grabbed his clipboard and started writing. I put my shirt back on and was itching to leave when he cleared his throat. He broke the news to me simply, like ripping off a bandage.
He had found a lump in my left breast.
I could tell at that moment that he was trying not to scare me – I was only fifteen years old after all. In my head, I was trying to tell myself to believe him, to believe that this was just a cyst and that it would all be okay. But something in the back of my head was nagging at me that this was something more complicated than that. He made arrangements for me to go to Albany Med the next day, and once again, I went home without any answers and more afraid than before. We were all panicked, I could just tell that night during dinner and as the night went on. Even into the next day, the air was just tense as I went to my next appointment. Another ultrasound was needed, but this time on my breast. This time, the story didn’t turn out so funny.
I knew something was wrong because the technician began saying things like “It’s a really good thing your doctor found this” and “It’s really good that you came in today.” These didn’t really help me in remaining calm, but I tried to take deep breaths and think positively. She told me that if we didn’t hear from them that night, that everything was fine and they would call in the next couple days with results; but if it was something serious they would call later that night.
An hour later, the phone rang.
My mom started crying during the phone call and I can remember this moment very well. I sat on the floor, letting my dog crawl into my lap and hugging him as I shook in fear. When my mom finally hung up after what felt like a year, I looked up at her, and asked,
“Is it bad?”
It wasn’t cancer, that much was a sigh of relief. Sorry to keep you in suspense for so long, but for those couple hours, I felt like I was going crazy. Even though it wasn’t cancer, it wasn’t the best news we could have gotten. It was a benign tumor and had to be removed by surgery. I cried that night, but I wasn’t sure if it was from fear or relief. I knew I was relieved that it wasn’t cancer, but I had never had surgery or any major injuries.
By this point, I had told only one of my friends what was going on. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of nothing and I didn’t want anyone to worry in case everything turned out to be okay. It was really difficult for me to have to tell them something was wrong because I didn’t want them to be worried about me. They were super supportive and really were there for me, helping me to relax and telling me things would be okay.
This started a very long series of doctors appointments. I had to pick a surgeon, pick a hospital, get examined by my pediatrician, etc. I’ll spare you all the boring details of those long doctors appointments, but it took at least a month for me to get through all of this, and finally pick a surgeon and set up a date for surgery. I was pretty content with the fact that I had to get surgery, until the day before, when I really lost it.
I had been pretty okay, trying not to focus on the next day. I was at track practice with my two best friends, in the middle of a workout, when I broke. I started crying uncontrollably and was suddenly more scared about the surgery than ever before. My friends told me they hadn’t been scared for me until this point either. It seems we all realized the severity of the situation simultaneously. They were really able to help me calm down after this, and try and relax about the day ahead, promising to visit me as soon as they could and bring me ice cream.
Finally, it was the day of my surgery. I don’t remember that on Wednesday very well. I remember not being nervous, which was super weird because of the day before. According to my mom, when they were wheeling me away, I dabbed at them as a goodbye. Nice one, Caitlyn. When I was wheeled away and into the surgery room, that’s when I became extremely nervous. Of course, I don’t remember any of that.
This is when things went wrong. My surgery was supposed to take at most an hour, as the tumor was only supposed to be about 1.5 centimeters. My parents went to get lunch, and when they came back, I was still in surgery. Apparently, the tumor was about three times larger than they originally thought, which made the surgery take twice as long than it should of. The rest of it went fine and I wasn’t in a whole lot of pain when I woke up. It was funny when I woke up actually, they had leg compressors on me, keeping the blood flowing. I had no idea what they were and turned to my mom in a nervous panic.
“Mom, they put me in the wrong room. They did surgery on my legs! They did something to them!” I freaked out. My mom couldn’t help but giggle and had to reassure me that I was okay and that I had had the surgery I was meant to have. I did some other funny things apparently, like forgetting my dad was even there and being completely surprised when he came back into the room. I was discharged that same day and sent home to rest and recover.
However, since the tumor was so big, my recovery was going to take a lot longer. I was only supposed to miss about two days of school and ended up not being able to get up for about a week. I had to have help showering, help eating, help doing just about everything. I could only move my arm about halfway up, and couldn’t carry anything over five pounds for about a month. That part really sucked, as my brother was two at the time and I couldn’t even hold him. Everything was awful. I felt like there was nothing that I could do and felt really defeated by everything.
This is where the story gets happy, I promise. I promised a happy ending and I will deliver on my promise. Laying in bed is pretty boring, as you can imagine. I had to find something to occupy my mind and this is where I found my love of writing. I have always been a writer; I had always used it as something to do when I was bored. Being bored in bed, I decided to use it as a distraction from the pain. I poured everything I had into what I was writing and found an outlet for all my frustration and defeat. I still carry a love for writing today, in fact. I love writing fiction, making up my own characters, and using words to escape the world for a little while. I have written a ton of short stories, won a couple of creative writing competitions, had my works featured, and am currently in the middle of writing my first novel.
So while I did have to endure the pain of getting a tumor removed, I was able to find something I love. My story of heartache turned into one with a happy ending and something that I can still use and do to this day. While that was the hardest time of my life, a light was able to shine through and bring something wonderful to my life.