Thursday, August 16, 2007

Menopause Chronicles-part 6: CA-125

My friends in the MSG are all about the same age. We are all doing this “thing” called surviving menopause together. We gather at each other’s houses or at restaurants or at the park, to laugh, bitch, moan, complain, kibbitz, revel, wonder and extol our problems. This has been a good thing. We need to know that what we are feeling is normal and all right. We are a group. We’re better than the Red Hat ladies. We don’t need a special costume. We don’t need to be retired. We don’t need to be mothers or wives. We just need to be women who are willing to talk to each other without fear that what we say, do or think, will go no farther.

One night we are going to Linda’s home. Linda has not had a good menopause. Is there such a thing as a “good menopause?” Linda has had all of the stuff happen to her. She had the first hot flashes. She talked about moodiness first. She also talked about her husband. This man just does not understand. He does not get it! He thinks that all he has to do is ignore her when she’s “doing her thing” as he calls it, and “it” will go away. Not so.

She needs to talk to him. She needs help to come up with solutions. He just goes on as though nothing different is happening to his wife of almost 30 years. I call these solutions “work arounds” a phrase stolen from computer technology. When I’m in a moody state, and I’m doing housework, it helps that everyone else does housework. If one of the boys (husband included) is sitting down, or playing a game, or heaven forbid, looking at TV, he knows he is in CAPITAL T TROUBLE! The work around however is easy. All he has to do is look at me. If it looks like steam is rising from the top of my head, then he had better look like he is working too. All it takes is moving to the vacuum cleaner closet, taking it out and plugging it in. That usually works. If one of the boys then does something as strange as start to push the vacuum around, while it is turned ON, now we have a break through. I will probably stop steaming and he is all right. Linda’s husband needs to learn how to “work around” perimenopausal issues. Life will be easier for everyone when it happens.

No, menopausal women are not princesses who need to be coddled (that would help sometimes, unless we’re really grouchy)…we just want it understood that we don’t understand what’s going on and why we are doing what we are doing. That’s a lot to ask for, but that’s the way it is.

Back to Linda. It’s more than just moodiness and hot flashes. Linda starts to have real problems. She always has dark circles under her eyes, even when she’s had a lot of sleep. She’s not interested in sex. She has a nagging backache—it’s constantly present. She has zero energy. Getting up and going to work is a major obstacle each morning. Finding the energy to get dressed is hard. She is bloated and has a tummy like she’s about 4 months pregnant. She is not a happy camper.

The MSG sees that she is not doing well. Something is wrong, so after months of lackluster behavior, we finally persuade her to see her GP by promising to go with her to the office. That works becuase Linda starts a long series of tests all with negative results and no progress. Finally, as a last resort, Linda has her yearly physical with our GYN and she tells her saga. By this time, all of us go to the same GYN. Our DOC collaborates with her GP and finds that a CA-125 blood test has not been given. This is an ovarian cancer test. It’s easy to administer and it might rule out cancer. Linda has the test and her answer comes the next week. The answer is one she does not want to hear. She has cancer. In fact, she is in stage 3-c of a 4 stage cancer. She’s had it for awhile. No wonder she has been feeling so bad.

There’s no one to blame for the situation. Her husband was not able to help. She was sure “it” would go away. Her GP did all the things that he could to find out the problem. Our DOC did the CA-125 test as a last resort because she truly thought it would be rule out cancer. DOC was just as surprised as Linda.

Linda’s surgery was scheduled on the first available day, which in her case was eleven days away. The MSG was there for everything. The MSG is good. Every woman needs an MSG. We took Linda and her husband to the hospital. We waited together in the hospital; we consoled each other; we even consoled her husband who finally “got it” and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when the surgery was over and the doctors said they thought they were able to get all of the cancer, but chemo-therapy was needed.

Again, the MSG took turns taking Linda to chemo. This is something that bonds a group…and we were becoming more bonded with each chemo session. Surgery, months of chemo-therapy, and Linda was given a one year release and best wishes from our DOC and the GP and the oncologist. Her husband had planned a surprise…the theater in London for a 3 week vacation. Linda is cancer free and we are thankful we know her.

What an ordeal! What a year! What a group! I have become a firm believer in one more thing: CA-125. Of course I still think the MSG, (those initials will never stand for a food additive again) is pretty good too. These can be added to my ever growing list that includes dark colors, jackets, large purses, women doctors, understanding mates and lots of patience for our not-so-gracefully-aging bodies.

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