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.


Reoccurrence reassurance

So I guess the general rule for this blog is that when I say, ‘I’ll write about this tomorrow’, it really means, ‘I’ll write about this in a day or two or three’ because things get busy. Yesterday morning I woke up with the intention of doing three things: Washing the dishes. Making Lunch. Writing  a post about my trip to the hospital.

Two out of three isn’t bad. And here we are today – somehow more dishes have sprung up overnight and lunch will need making again. However, they had their chance yesterday. Today is for the writing.

On Monday I went to my GP and asked her to refer me to the hospital. Apparently this was an unnecessary step – I could have contacted a breast care nurse at the hospital directly, but it was good to catch up with Dr Kind (plus I needed to refill my prescription).

Tuesday morning I had a call from the hospital, “Hello Mrs Brunelle, we’ve got a space for you tomorrow morning. Can you make it?”

Yes.  I could make it. This call came just as I was entering my acupuncturist’s office, but not even she could help me relax after that point. There was something she did with my eyebrows that was divine and always knocks me out, but five minutes later I was thinking about that breast exam and getting wound up again.

[Zsolt is sitting here on the bed as I write this post, eating some yogurt. Every twenty seconds he asks a question: are you a biolife? Are you a chumbawumba? Are you a konyec? But I have no clue what a konyec is, apparently it means ‘the end’.]

Anyhow! It was nerve racking. My body revolted against me later in the day and served up a killer stomach ache, which was subsequently blamed on a leftover Valentine’s day dish of cabbage and pork, but was likely also due to stress.

Wednesday I went to the hospital. They sent me to the clinic that contains all things cancer – this is where the oncologists, surgeons and radiation doctors meet and mingle. Passing us in the waiting area was my surgeon who nodded to Zsolt (I was absorbed by my magazine), and as we were shown into a consultation room my oncologist passed by and waved hello too.

Again the nurse asked me to remove my top and put on the cape. You do not have to put on that terrible cape. Maybe if it takes five minutes to remove your clothing, do what they ask, but so long as you can whip off your shirt – why bother with an ugly, cold, and awkward cape?

Generally we wait about 30 to 45 minutes in those consultation rooms, but this time things were quick. In walked a doctor, a student (baby doctor) and – ugh!the same breast care nurse who was in the room when I was first given my diagnosis. Panic threatened to set in, but then I thought to myself, ‘why would they bring a baby doctor along if they had bad news?’ which was logical. It turned out they couldn’t have given me bad news, because they literally had no idea why I was there. A file had landed on their desk (with most of the contents missing because my original file was lost) and they knew I was worried about lumps. But that was all.

After retelling my breast cancer story, showing off the tidy scar, and having my breast checked by yet another doctor, I was assured this was probably nothing, ‘but we’ll send you for a scan anyhow.’

The breast care nurse was very generous in telling me that my fear was normal. ‘If you didn’t feel this way, then we’d be worried.’ I suspect that isn’t true, but it was kind of her to say.

And one hour later I had my ultrasound.

Fast, no?

Again they shot cold gel onto my chest. Again some slippery rubbery thing glided around my breast. Again it probed the lumps. ‘I can feel what you mean,’ said the doctor, ‘but everything looks normal.’

Whew. This was a relief. One – I hadn’t imagined the problem. Two – it wasn’t cancer.


And now I can finally enjoy how much better my body feels. Wednesday afternoon I ran up the stairs at work, and only realized half way through that I was RUNNING. My face has regained colour (blood), and my energy is picking up. True, my finger nails are still dying, but significant progress has been made in all areas.

There’s so much to look forward to now; the next six months will be wonderful. Hard in some ways because we’ll leave our home, but amazing in others (travelling, spa-going, resting, hanging with husband, graduation, Zsolt turns THIRTY).  I’m finally free to enjoy, boob bumps and all.

So there you have it! I admire women who get past the fear of reoccurrence. It’s something that I need to learn. But at least until my next scan I have this release. It feels really good, amazingly good, and I’m thankful.