• Erin Zaranec

Tumor Markers... and other terrible things

When I decided to relaunch the blog this year, I swore off taking any breaks. I told myself that I'd publish weekly, no matter the circumstances. Then, I heard the word cancer.

A happy spoiler alert - I don't have it! But after a post-MRI consult with my doctor, my whole world was temporarily turned upside down.

In early December, I had an endometriosis-mapping MRI with contrast. I was equally thrilled and nervous for this test - I was dreading 45 minutes in a clanky tube, but I was excited to finally get answers. Going into this test, I truly expected one result: endometriosis.

On December 16, I got a result that no one was expecting. A mass that had been spotted in a previous ultrasound more than doubled in size in less than 6 months. My MRI results described the mass as having "mural thickening and enhancing septation suspicious of the neoplastic process."

Now , I'll save you all a Google... neoplastic process = tumor. Or, at least the process of a tumor forming.

In a virtual appointment with spotty Wi-Fi at my childhood kitchen table, I heard the words "your test was sent over to an oncologist" and "we need you to go in for tumor marker testing."

And, with that, my world stopped.

MRI day vs.MRI results. In yellow, my bladder is highlighted for size reference. In red, you see the mass that required tumor marker testing.

I vaguely remember asking when I would have results back and if my doctor could save my ovary, but I just kept hearing the phrase "tumor marker" over and over in my head.

I hung up the phone and cried.

I woke up the next morning, went to a meeting, and tried to tell myself this wouldn't be the last meeting I hosted before finding out I had cancer. A bit of personal info - I work for a cancer-related non-profit, so I spent the hour before my tumor marker testing speaking to a wonderful 8th grade student who is hoping to raise funds for cancer research. I was sharing so many mission statistics, stories of survivors, and information about cancer-related-resources all while imagining becoming a statistic myself.

Suddenly, there was my life before tumor marker testing and my life after tumor marker testing. The blood draws took maybe 90 seconds total and it just didn't seem fair that that 90 seconds determined the rest of my future.

I drew blood for four tests that day, the most important of which was a CA 125 blood test which specifically looks for markers related to ovarian cancer.

The days after that are a blur. I was scared to tell people, scared to not tell people, scared to do anything. Everything became the potential to be "the last time before I go to the grocery story / karaoke / a play / the gym / etc. before finding out I have cancer."

I didn't want to worry anyone, so I made a lot of jokes and told everyone that everything would be okay... then I'd go home and obsessively check my medical chart at all hours.

When the first test result came in, I got physically sick. I wanted to open it, but couldn't. No amount of jokes in the world could prepare me for the results of a tumor marker test.

It took a full week for the rest of the results to come in. On Christmas Eve morning, I logged into my medical chart one final time to clear my conscious before the holiday. I saw that all of my test were in and had been marked as updated, which was a new development.

I clicked the one that seemed the least scary, a hormonal test that I'd had run before. Thank goodness I did because my wonderful doctor spent her Christmas Eve morning writing me notes in all of my labs to tell me everything came back normal!

So, big big big YAY for not having ovarian cancer!! That's awesome, pretty great news. Made a lot of things seem a lot more manageable.

But, good labs don't mean no problems. So, the next step was to talk about getting this bad boy out of me.

My mass (which I've lovingly named Sheila since we've been together for quite a while now) runs the risk of continuously growing. Sheila has already caused some major issues for me, so it's time she goes away before she makes my problem list grow longer.

I went in this week to talk all things surgery and will be getting a laparoscopic ovarian cystectomy with the risk of an oophorectomy. What these big words mean is that I'll be having a camera-based surgery that removes the ovarian cyst and runs the risk of becoming a complete removal of the right ovary.

Right now, my doctor feels pretty good about keeping the right ovary in-tact, but she won't know the full extent of that risk until surgery day. So, I may be the Lance Armstrong of ovaries, who knows.

We'll also (well, not me... I'll be knocked out on a surgical table) do some additional mapping for any traces of endometriosis, along with a general visual capture of my major organs looking for any inflammation, muscle knots, or anything out of the norm.

This is still a bit scary, but at least it's not cancer!

I've even requested an image of Sheila post-procedure. Yes... I'm one of THOSE patients. Surgery gets scheduled soon so expect a full post on that soon!

The Invisible Illness series will be published on Mondays, detailing my journey with chronic pelvic pain and the various treatments I am prescribed.

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