Scene: A virtually empty Southwest Airways 737 begins its descent into San Jose Airport just outside of San Francisco, California. Three sleepy, cranky passengers – myself, my mother and my father – snooze uncomfortably in our seats. A flight attendent comes over the intercom to announce: “We are now beginning our descent into the Bay Area. The time is 8:34 am.”
Fantastic, I half-think, half-dream to myself. My appointment at Stanford Women’s Cancer Center isn’t until 1:30 pm, but here we are in Palo Alto at prime Starbucks hour because my dad insisted on a 7am flight.
I would love to bitch more about my 5:45 in the morning wakeup call for a daytrip to San Francisco to see a doctor we could never realistically choose as my oncologist because it would mean traveling all the way to Stanford twice every three weeks for a year, but the truth is, things converged in one of those kind of magical, coincidental ways that make you think God is looking out for you and cares about you even though He slipped up and dumped this cancer thing on you at 25, which was totally not cool, God.
I started my period in the San Jose airport. I’d spent about 10 days waffling in painful indecision about whether or not to freeze my eggs. Would the hormones pose a risk? Four separate oncologists had assured me they would not, but I couldn’t understand how that was possible. I imagined injecting myself with a hormone that would go straight to a cancer cell, which would then hulk out, latch onto one of my vertebrae and explode it, crippling me for life slash killing me, depending on my mood during said daydream (daymare?).
Was I even going to get my period? My monthly visitor was AWOL, thanks to the stress of surgery, anesthesia and a really unexpected cancer diagnosis. Contrary to what the movies will have you believe, fellas, I don’t have violent mood swings or chocolate cravings that herald the appearance of menses like shining trumpets of bitchiness playing Reveille to my vagina. So I was just as surprised as anyone when I discovered that of course, 350 miles away from the fertility clinic, my uterus finally decided that now was the time to make the most important decision I’d ever been asked to make in my short 25 years of life.
I wouldn’t, however, have to make said decision before speaking to the oncologist at Stanford. In my head, I was already composing the lengthy list of questions I would ask him about whether or not egg freezing was safe. I knew that I needed to pester him with a hundred queries about the biology of my cancer and why, exactly, feeding it with tons of hormones wasn’t going to cause it to grow out of control like a science fair project gone horribly, horribly wrong.
When we finally did get in to see him, after a morning of exploring Palo Alto’s cute downtown and eating omelettes filled with avocados and cheese (which probably explains how I’ve gained two pounds since my last doctor’s appointment on Friday), it was exactly how I expected it would be. And here’s where that silly sometimes-God-gives-me-a-deadly-illness-but-then-sometimes-he-is-kinda-nice-to-me thing comes in, because I swear, this doctor did and said and was everything that I needed someone to do and say and be at that exact moment in my life. He was like my own cancer oracle, come to assuage my final fears and set me on the right path before fading back into the closets full of folded blue scrubs and whirring centrifuges of a research hospital.
The four weeks of elevated hormones that happen during egg retrieval are nothing to a cancer cell, he said. It takes years for a tumor to reach a harmful size, and four weeks is less than the time it takes even one single cancerous cell to split into two cancerous cells. Even if a cell or two did divide during the treatment, chemotherapy would crush it once the cycle was over. I can’t explain why this explanation calmed my fears while others had failed to do so, but it did. Having this decorated, intelligent medical professional look me in the eye and tell me with 100% clarity and certainty that undergoing fertility preservation would pose exactly zero risk to me as a cancer patient, even though (or maybe because) he was the fifth doctor to do it, finally galvanized me to woman-up and get this thing done. Operation Oocytes is a go, and begins tomorrow at 7:15 am.
He also said something important to me, something other doctors have also said but that somehow carried extra weight coming out of his mouth. “We’re aiming to cure you,” he said. “I believe that the odds that we can cure you are greater than 90 percent. Our goal is not to manage this. It’s to cure it.”
While I was in the mood for making big decisions, I also chose my oncologist. Dr. R will be taking care of me during my treatment. We’re working towards a chemo start date of February 26 – a Tuesday instead of a Monday for school reasons. With that date, I’ll complete treatment on June 11, and have my implant exchange surgery by July 30.
Can’t wait for August!