It was about 2 a.m. I woke to a pain like someone had thrust a hand in my gut, grabbed my internal organs and started twisting. I was covered in sweat. Vomit rose in my throat.
“Chris,” I said to my new husband, uttering his name with a long, rising pitch like the beginning of panic. He reflected later that he understood, before he was fully awake, that something was terribly wrong.
“I need help.” An understatement. I thought I might be dying.
We got up, quickly dressed and Chris drove me to the ER. There was a flurry of activity. I was whisked behind a curtain. My husband was kept outside and questioned — embarrassing questions.
We had only been married six weeks. One of the happy parts of this story is that just six weeks earlier I didn’t have insurance.
Before our wedding in the 1990s, I had been working three jobs with no benefits and no health insurance. Those were the days before universal health care. If I felt ill, I just pushed on without seeing a doctor, unless absolutely necessary.
In fact, I did have similar symptoms about a year before — not quite as severe, also in the middle of the night. I just lay in bed, sweating and feverish and worried, hoping it would pass.
Luckily, it did. Luckily, now married, I had insurance.
Behind the ER curtain, the doctors asked me my sexual history. The word “chlamydia” was thrown around. Yay, chlamydia.
For a Catholic couple who had practiced abstinence until the wedding night, this was a bit insulting. Could we have a little credit, here, guys?
So with my gut gripped in a giant’s fistful of pain, being probed by strangers, I was imagining my Dudley-do-right husband at some wild bachelor party with a lapful of strippers.
I was given an ultrasound. A large, grapefruit-sized mass was found on my right ovary.
Things got a little quieter. There was no more talk of VD. I was instructed in grave tones to see a gynecologist the next morning. Well, it was morning. In a few hours.
A few hours later the OB-GYN greeted me warmly. “It’s not often ovarian cancer in someone your age, but I did just have a 20-year-old patient die of it.”