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I flew to Washington to baby sit my niece, because my little sister had surgery yesterday.
She had a tumor on her ovary. They thought it was a cyst at first because it grew so fast, probably spurred by her recent pregnancy. But it was a tumor, and for a while there they thought there were tumors on her uterus and other ovary too. They mentioned the possibility of a partial hysterectomy. She is only 29.
She didn't want to tell us at first, and I think we all understood why. There are some legacies that are passed from generation to generation that are happy - like grandma's favorite china. But this is one legacy that hangs over all the women in my family like a gray cloud. My grandmother died of ovarian cancer. My mother had a hysterectomy as a result of similar problems, and both of her sisters had a lot of complications. My sisters and I hold our breath each time we go for that yearly exam. Other women may dread mammograms. The women in my family fear pap smears because of what they might tell us - that what lurks in our family history will come back to haunt us.
She could have asked a friend to help out that day, but she didn't. She told no one but her family, and she asked my mom and I if we could come up to help with her daughter while she was in the hospital. Fiona is about three and a half months now. Plenty old enough to wrap mature adults around her chubby little fingers. She coos and giggles and has this wide, open-mouthed grin that shows off all her dimples to best advantage. It's been too many years since I've changed a diaper. They used to have sticky tape. The ones Fiona sports have a velcro sort of fastener which is, of course, much more convenient but it took a while to figure it out, especially when huddled over a squirmy, giggly baby at the time. My mom and I worked out a system. She did the bottle-feeding, and when Fiona got fussy, I plopped her on my hip in this really weird sack-of-potatoes position that she adored, and walked her around until the giggles returned. We eyed the phone and didn't talk about what could or couldn't be happening in the surgery. We discussed where to order pizza, job stress, whether Fiona looks more like her mom or her dad, the new man in my life. But we didn't talk about our worries about the surgery. We whispered them to each other on the plane to Washington the night before. But it was as if speaking aloud in her house might make them come true.
She's just fine. Everything turned out well and we're all breathing huge sighs of relief. She's in pain from the surgery but that will pass. Now that everything is fine, she and her husband could joke about their worries - about it being more serious; about her not being able to see Fiona grow up. They were more animated, even as their exhaustion finally showed. They can focus on happier things now, like the house they just put a bid on, and on their beautiful daughter. My mom and I left them alone to rest and recover and flew home, back to life as normal. We didn't really talk about it on the way home. We didn't need to.