Last summer, I realized my lower stomach region was hard. Like there’s-something-behind-there hard. Being 20 at the time, I thought that serious health issues only happened to other people, so I didn’t bother going for a check-up. I had slight symptoms, like occasional painful sex and frequent peeing, but I chalked it up to not being aroused enough and being extremely hydrated. One night, while having a shower, I noticed that even as I squeezed my stomach in, a large bump still protruded. It got me worried that I might be pregnant (something I wasn’t trying to be), so the next day, I booked an appointment to see the doctor.
“I fear you might be pregnant,” said my general practitioner, confirming my concern in his usually comforting Irish accent. We did the pregnancy test that very same day, and it revealed that I was not, in fact, pregnant. So over the next couple of months, I had an ultrasound (did you know that ultrasounds go inside as well? I did not!), an MRI and blood work done. The results were clear: I had a (most likely) noncancerous lump growing outside my uterus, and it would need taking out. No biggie, right?
Perhaps. Except the lump was 13 by 11 by 8.5 centimeters large.
It had been growing in there for probably years and yet somehow it hadn’t ruptured or twisted, and I was still alive. Albeit, with a hard abdomen.
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Ovarian Tumors Are Common, and I Wish We Talked More About Them
I couldn’t help but berate myself a little for not doing something about the fibroma earlier. Even though I consciously knew that I had not been exposed to information about common reproductive system tumors, I still felt helpless to my own actions. But is this really fair? According to Patient, “30 percent of females with regular menses and 50 percent of females with irregular menses” get benign ovarian tumors, so why don’t more people know about them?
After my diagnosis, I spoke to a number of women who had, surprisingly, gone through the same thing. One day, I was on a train and the woman next to me and I had a brief exchange about something I can’t remember, which then turned into a full conversation. I mentioned my fibroma, expecting her to have no knowledge about what it was, only for her to casually remark that she had also had a cyst (another type of benign ovarian tumor) removed earlier in life. A classmate of mine told me about the cyst she had removed years ago too. The more women I spoke to, the more I realized that people did know about benign reproductive system tumors but only on the condition that they had experienced having one before. My male friends were also largely clueless about these tumors, and the one friend who did have an idea only did so because his girlfriend had dealt with something similar. Why should this be the way we find out about reproductive issues as common as these? Why wasn’t I taught about them in school? Could I have avoided what was to come with something as simple as knowledge?
Because the day after my surgery, I was informed that the mass had, essentially, eaten my fallopian tube and ovary. It wasn’t a case of my ovary having to be removed out of an inability to separate the two; it just wasn’t there. This mass that I had spent months worrying about had swallowed two of my organs whole because I didn’t go to get my symptoms checked out. Because I didn’t think they were “bad enough.”
Recovering from open surgery is a lot. You feel helpless and yet humbled by your body’s recovery as, while you can’t do much to speed it up, you get to appreciate how it works. My body went from torn muscles, skin and nerves to being almost completely the same as before, three months later. My other ovary now does my reproductive jobs, like producing my egg cells, where they are sent off down the fallopian tube to await fertilization. The only real downside to the surgery has been a loss of about a fifth of my fertility, which, I tell myself, could be worse. While I still worry about my other ovary in hopes that it won’t suffer a similar fate, I am grateful every day for being able to walk about without having to worry about ripping my stitched-up muscles or having to get stabbed with an anti-clotting needle in the stomach once a day.
I Now Have Greater Body Awareness
The thing I am grateful for the most, however, is the body awareness I have gained. Watching and feeling my body recover at its own unique pace showed me something we often forget, which is that we humans are no different from animals and the rest of nature in many ways. Sure, we are aware of the fact that we can think, but our bodies are still made of flesh and bone, and they work as nature intends, not us. This experience got me thinking about the concept of mind over matter. I have concluded that they work in complete tandem, but stories we and society tell ourselves can often come in the way of that crystal clear communication and cause a disconnect.
Intuition is a prime example of this. I have recently been using a neat little practice in which I consciously notice how my body feels when I make a decision. You tell yourself a truth and then a lie, and after each, you notice how your body feels. I found the best way to put it in an article I read recently: Does it feel constricting (for the lie) or expansive (for the truth)?
Here is an example of how I used this tool: I recently impulsively joined a theater production. It was a Shakespeare play, someone who I really struggle to understand, but I decided to join it because I knew it would take me out of my comfort zone and evoke some confidence in me. One day, however, I was really dreading going to the rehearsal, so I asked myself: Is this fear, or is it genuinely no longer in my interest to take part in this play? When I tuned in to how my body was reacting when I asked the question, “Do I want to take part in this play?” what I heard was no. It didn’t make sense to me at first, and I thought I might just be convincing myself of that answer and that I was actually just nervous because it was still an early rehearsal. But then, after thinking about it, I realized that I was already stepping out of my comfort zone in another thing I had recently picked up: sewing. My body knew this before I did. Had I only trusted my mind telling me, “It’ll boost your confidence, do it!” I would have been dishonoring the amount of energy I have to give to things. I would have been ignoring the fact that I only have a finite amount of energy to practice trying new things and the pushing past of fear that comes with that. And that’s OK because I am not superhuman, even if society tells me I can do anything.
Society’s stories are also why I believe I didn’t give my symptoms the proper attention they deserved. It glamorizes and fetishizes youth as the life stage in which we are perfect, so it makes total sense as to why I thought my health could also be nothing but in perfect shape. And yet, now I’m an ovary down. So listen to your body, folks. It’s always talking to you: You just need to learn how to listen. Whether it’s to avoid surgery or just to decide what you want to spend your time doing, it’ll never do you any harm.