My American Idol eggs

“What a beautiful uterus,” says Shannon the technician. “All dressed up in her Sunday best.”

Yep, that’s my uterus – a real girly girl, getting all dolled up before trips to the fertility clinic. I tell her it’s no big deal, just wear sweat pants like me and my lulu’s – but no, she likes turning heads when she leaves the house.

So my uterus is on the display screen and looking good. Having established that ( and having taken a picture with her fancy machine) the technician takes a short break in her ultra sound scanning so I can go to the washroom. One hour before the appointment I drank about half a litre of water. Zsolt was pushing for the full litre, “Come on, drink more!” and I pushed back, saying, “I’m full! I can’t manage another drop!” What I didn’t mention was that I was mainly full because (only two minutes before) I’d stuffed two cookies down my throat in a bit of a ‘need a snack, oh, there’s a snack’ quick-fix indulgence. But nevertheless, I drank the minimum required amount of liquid one hour before my ultra sound, which meant by the time we arrived at the fertility clinic and were escorted in for the scan, I was bursting to use the washroom.

A minute later and I’m back in the scan room, relieved of holding it in, and with a sheet wrapped around my lower body (trousers and pants removed) as the technician has me sit back on the table.

Earlier, as Zsolt and I waited to be called for the test, Shannon (the technician) came out into the waiting lounge and asked, “Catherine?” To which I replied, “That’s me!” and hurried over to her side. She then asked, “aren’t you taking him with you?” So Zsolt, who is used to not accompanying me on my tests because generally speaking, nurses at the hospitals here in Ottawa are not keen on a second person in the room, put away the Playbook and joined us for the scanning. Today he was allowed to hold my hand as Shannon investigated the status of my ovaries, and I’m really thankful for that. It means we both know more about the situation.

(I’m strong in my belief that a patient ought to be allowed a source of support during tests and procedures. Even if they are sitting across the room, it so helps to have a loved one nearby during those challenging moments.)

So I’m on the table, and we’re getting down to the real stuff here. In goes the ultra sound wand. (In where? You guess.) After a few uncomfortable attempts to capture my left ovary, where she pushed down on my abdomen and prods upwards with the wand, we have a clear picture.

Basically, we are examining my ovaries today to learn about the eggs. Now, Shannon is not a doctor, so the results of my scan cannot be 100% confirmed until someone trained for years up on years in ultra sounding has examined the images, but she does explain what she sees.

“Basically your eggs are like contestants for American Idol. There are so many, that you can’t see the individual people (i.e. eggs) on a scan. But every month there are try outs, and the people who succeed for those try outs (i.e. eggs that try to ovulate) and get through to the competition are given costumes and makeovers – and then we can see them. (i.e. the follicles change in a way that makes them apparent in an ultra sound).”

So, looking at my left ovary . . . not too many contestants made it to the try outs. The blob that represents my ovary is small, and she counts only three follicles. That is a low number. (But better than zero, in my opinion.)

Onto Ms Right. Moving to the other side, with more compression and squeezing of my abdomen, she takes a picture of my right ovary and then explains what she sees.

“See how it’s so much larger?”

And it is – it’s like three times larger than my left ovary. Apparently, according to Shannon, the left ovary often takes the hit when it comes to declining fertility. Mine certainly has. But in my right there are seven follicles. That’s not horrible.

Apparently, the minimum number of follicles (eggs that made the competition) the doctors are happy to see in women when combining numbers from both left and right is eleven. Eleven. My combined number was ten. Ten.

Therefore, I have low fertility levels . . . but . . . well, ten is almost eleven, right?

“You might have to get on that earlier than other women,” she suggests. What Shannon means is, I ought to be trying for a baby now as opposed to later.

Which is more easily said than done, considering I’m only one year out of treatment. But Zsolt and I have a plan, and it involves waiting at least another year before trying. And in the meanwhile, I’m on tamoxifen and trying to keep this body healthy.

The truth is, there are more tests they could run, more scans they can take – because knowing the state of my eggs is really only a starting point. But I promised Dr Canada to abstain from the fertility yellow brick road . . . and though I agreed to have my eggs tested (because I WANT to know), there will be no further investigations for quite a while. Yes, I have to go back and get my blood taken on day “21” of my period, so we can know whether I’m actually ovulating those American Idol eggs . . . but that’ll be the end of things for now.

Fertility can become so confusing, so overwhelming, and so panic-inducing after having had chemotherapy. Last summer when I thought I couldn’t have children, that was totally crushing. This past Autumn when the doctor gave me some hope – that was relieving. But one way or another, things are going to work out, and I have faith in that eventuality. Chasing down this information is a good thing: I look forward to learning the results because then, finally, I can plan for the future with a clear picture of the options. But there are times to step back too, and after this upcoming consultation – that’ll be my time to step away from the babies and just focus on here and now.

Maybe you know what it’s like to run this fertility race? If you want to share, please do  – it will help others reading this post who are hoping to learn what comes next.

What was your experience?

And in the meanwhile, have yourself a lovely loved-filled day. See you next week.


Eggs in many baskets

Monday morning. Have spilled orange juice all over myself, but thanks to a damp sponge and a (once) clean tea towel, have cleaned up mess. Weather: cloudy. Apartment: messy. Allergies: active. Temperament: not so bad.

I nearly forgot that Easter was coming. This year we’re staying at home for the sake of Zsolt’s study habits and the impending viva.  But I will miss having an Easter with family. In Canada we go to my grandmother’s home (Bonjour Lulu!), or someone’s home in Quebec, and share a lunch. My family is comprised of cooks and bakers, and people create excellent food. Like, lick your fingers and smack those lips excellent.  When we were younger (proper grandchildren rather than adult grandchildren) Lulu would always hand out these large chocolate bunnies with marshmallow filling. They were pretty to look at – I loved the idea of them, the idea of the chocolate and the bright pinks, yellows, blues on the wrapper . . .of a bunny who also collects painted eggs and carries a blue tinfoil basket. . .  but could never bring myself to love that marshmallow filling. Oh well.

In Hungary, Zsolt’s mother will hard boil about two dozen eggs, and his sister will prepare the dyes out in the garden. Then we’ll sit around for an hour or two and dye the eggs. I love it. After you have your egg dyed with whatever colour arrangement you choose (all red, half red, half blue, some purple in between, or yellow and blue with a green band, etc) you take some pork fat and rub into the egg shell to make it shine. On Easter morning people crack into the coloured eggs, but Zsolt’s mom saves the prettiest ones from hungry fingers.

And speaking of eggs, I have a fertility appointment this week. Wednesday.  It’ll be a family gathering of sorts. In that it’s about family, and there will be a gathering.  A good friend recommended I stop thinking about fertility and just give my body a break. Good reasoning. It’s on my ‘to do’ list (along with some meditation). But first there’s this appointment.

Right, back to Monday morning. Orange juice is under control. Time to make some breakfast if I can find a clean dish in this mess. Yesterday I made a fantastic meal of some curry chicken and a soup. But fantastic meals leave me knackered, and I can never bother with the dishes immediately. As a result my flat looks like a culinary Armageddon.

But that’s okay. 🙂  And now, onwards with the day.

The writing workshop: results

Good Monday to you! Whew, what a weekend. Totally exhausting. I’d say it was about 65% interesting and 35% frustrating, but that had more to do with the teachers rather than content. One of my teachers was brilliant, the other a little scattered – and so the result was a very productive start with a petering finish.  But it’s better in that order. No matter how much I wanted to vent and rant (and this opinion may be quite singular because other people seemed to find Sunday very productive – like very productive – but it wasn’t my cup of tea) there was the feeling that, yes, overall this weekend was valuable.

It’s exciting to be in a room with other writers  – feels like camp (the musty smell in the building contributed toward that atmosphere) where we’re all there to play games, learn about ourselves (our writing) and take home priceless memories (aka tips on finding an agent). And the opportunity to meet and chat was really helpful. Actually, I even met a fellow Canadian – so there you go! And she has an agent, is on her way to publication, and is crafting the second draft of her novel. Apparently she had gone to the Winchester’s Writer’s Conference and attracted her agent’s attention with just a synopsis and a thousand written words. Hello! That’s lovely.

So we were asked a question this weekend: why do you write? This wasn’t something to answer aloud, but to ask yourself. And I thought about it  – about the project I’d been working on (having shelved it for almost a year) before my breast cancer diagnosis, which is the same project I’m coming back to now . . . why am I writing it? Well, originally I began to write this story because I wanted to get pregnant. I had planned (for the fall of 2010) to start trying for a baby. That was the plan between Zsolt and I, which frankly left me feeling nervous as heck. So – what to do when nervous and uncertain? Write it out. And so I began this lovely story of nine women across nine generations. It was like I could pull on their strength  – their representation of those who have been there and done that – and this would make everything okay once it was finally my turn. Anyhow. Why did I write it? Because it was a coping process.

But now I can’t have children for at least two more years, and that’s assuming my ovulation resumes – and so far, no clear signs indicate that having happened (fingers crossed, please). Giving birth has become a question mark, but not becoming a mother. That will happen no matter what.

So . . . eleven months later (according to my blog archive of entries) and here is the question again: Why do I write?

Maybe I’m writing to heal (certainly blogging to heal, but this goes a little deeper). Plus, I take such pleasure in this story, it’d be an incredible shame not to grow the characters to the end. I guess they’re my responsibility now, so it’s time to step up and support them.  And besides, one day – someday – I’ll be a mother, so there’s still a reason to wade through the uncertainties of that change.

I think other writers sometimes read this blog (you know who you are!) . . . so it’s a good question to ask yourself: why do you write.

Actually, it could be expanded to any kind of project, couldn’t it? Maybe we often do things without realizing our internal motivation? Who knows. Why do you do what you’re doing right now?

This past weekend was really interesting and helpful in defining my story. It helped me create an overall understanding of the work – because this is a novel, not a short story collection. My fuse was shortening come Sunday, mostly because it was what I had feared (all exercises, all the time) and less tailored to our own work/style. But, there you go, not every workshop is perfect. It was certainly something to remember, however, if I’m ever asked to teach.

Wanna hear my one line pitch (still to be perfected)? “I’ve got a story about that uncertain time between pregnancy and motherhood, a coming of age across nine months and nine lives.” Add some explosions and fireworks, and that’ll be a real winner.

Anyhow, in the meanwhile I have a pile of clothes beside my bed asking to be sorted, Zsolt is still loving the post-thesis (pre viva) life, and the weather here had dropped from warming to cool.  Now it’s back to work for one more week and then… and THEN…. HOLIDAY IN FARO!!! Watch out Portugal, we’re coming to support your economy with our tourist dollars. Woohoo!