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Several years ago, I was standing in the shower making wild animal noises, reminiscent of a wolf. Despite the horrific pain I was in, I found it interesting that in the 34 years I had lived on the planet, I’d never heard such primordial sounds emanating from my throat. Needless to say, about twenty minutes later, an ambulance officer was preparing to dose me with some morphine in the front room.

I refused it, as the pain had settled down a bit, so he packed up his gear while we waited for the next ambulance to arrive, which would ferry me to hospital. I don’t remember the ride in however I do remember waiting in hospital for three days until I could have emergency abdominal surgery, which was harrowing to put it mildly. They thought I might have had ovarian cancer, so I had to wait for the ‘top guy’ in Sydney to perform the operation (in other words, a specialist-specialist).

Unfortunately, for the patients sharing my ward, including a guy with liver cancer, who was incredibly resilient and brave, more howling ensued. We both made a lot of awful noises, but I knew I would get better, so it put things into perspective for me. I am honoured to have met him and his courage and sense of humour during a very poignant, difficult and sad time will stay with me forever.

After a thorough work-up on the morning of the operation (heart monitor, blood pressure, etc.), they wheeled me down to theatre and the whole team were compassionate and professional. Unlike other surgeries, I remember being placed on the operating table which was shaped like a shallow half-pipe and somehow comforting.

However, when I came-to in recovery, I was screaming like a banshee. They’d just removed a grapefruit sized dermoid cyst from my right ovary which contained bone and other hard material and a lemon sized haemorrhagic cyst from my left ovary. The dermoid cyst had burst in surgery, so they’d had to ‘wash out’ my insides to get rid of any lurking bits.

After trying several painkillers which had no effect, they tried oxycodone, which made a huge difference. This allowed me to go back to the ward and from then on, I was put on oxygen, a drip and pain meds which could be self-administered with the push of a button. I’d had keyhole surgery, which meant that my bellybutton had been opened up, as well as two areas on either side of it. I’d also had a bladder biopsy, which resulted in a keloid scar that disintegrated over time.

I was incredibly grateful that I didn’t have ovarian cancer (dermoid cysts are mostly benign) and cannot speak highly enough about the nursing staff, but after I got out of hospital, I was a little traumatised to find out how rare and unusual dermoid cysts actually are. I will spare you the details here, but if you have the stomach for it, click on the link below. These cysts are very slow growing, so most women don’t have any obvious symptoms until their early thirties.

As such, in spite of my relief, I began feeling very strange. Perhaps it was the anaesthetic or the painkillers or maybe it was the intern’s excitement over finding a tooth inside my cyst, so I spoke to one of the nurses who said ‘It’s just your body’s cells’. Despite her reassurances, I continued to feel disconcerted, and even a tiny bit sad. I’d just lost something that had been growing inside me all my life and now I had to find some way of saying good bye.

Strangely enough, a micro-fiction short-story competition came up a few years later, hosted by the Australian Writers’ Centre, so I decided to enter. It had to contain ‘violin’ and ‘victory’ and we were only allowed 25 words. Here is what I wrote:

Sad violin, deep in the night.
Lasers of pain, daggers of light.
Monster, I called him, banished is he,
Victory for surgeons, haunting for me.

If you would like to find out more about ovarian cancer, which is very difficult to detect (especially in its early stages), click on the link. In addition, if you’d like to find out more about dermoid cysts, click on this link.

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