Everything’s Gonna Be Fine: A Space Writer’s Journey Back To Health

Trigger warning: mentions of women’s health issues. Anyone squeamish about these topics may not want to read further.

Photo by Thomas Allsop on Unsplash

I seriously considered not writing this, but a writer writes, so I decided why not tackle this subject? But I felt it bears mentioning given that I’ll be largely absent from this blog and my other endeavors throughout this month. Especially because it has become increasingly obvious to me that women’s health issues aren’t considered “serious,” or time-sensitive. There are still taboos that need to be broken.

I’ll cut to the chase: a few years back, I started feeling increasingly unwell and fatigued, especially during my menstrual cycles; I bled very heavily, and was experiencing a lot of pain — beyond the scope of previous, “normal” cramping. I also appeared to gain weight in my midsection suddenly. My jeans didn’t quite fit anymore, and I had to buy a size up. (First world problem, I know.)

I did discuss this with a few urgent care doctors, but I heard things such as “Women tend to have pain during periods,” “You need more exercise,” and “A certain amount of bleeding is normal.” I felt embarrassed. Maybe I was just being a hypochondriac? I chalked it up to a previously diagnosed blood disease (that, to be fair, had the potential to cause heavy bleeding), and tried to “push through” the exhaustion. Thus, I was embarrassed into silence.

Around 2019, I was having trouble walking during my periods, and it became obvious that something wasn’t normal. Again, I was assured that period pain was normal, and I was probably fine. But by the end of the year, I was beginning to feel desperate, and at the very least wanted diagnostics to ensure that everything was okay. I had an appointment scheduled with a local gynecologist for early 2020. Then, the pandemic hit. All of my medical appointments were canceled, and I learned to live on an Advil a day for the next year or so. I now realize that not seeking out help sooner was a mistake. But the seriousness of the pandemic and my fear of even leaving the house kept me from pursuing a diagnosis that year. After all, I was probably fine, right?

By March 2021, things had “calmed down” enough for me to reschedule my doctors’ appointments, and I went to my gynecologist’s office to schedule diagnostics. During the routine pelvic examination, it was noted my abdomen was swollen, and an ultrasound was ordered to take place in the coming weeks (the office’s ultrasound technician was out of town for a while). I was terrified it was something horrendous, and I told no one about it save for my husband — I did not want to send my family or closest friends into a panic.

The ultrasound revealed a (thankfully benign) ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit.

A standard grapefruit is roughly 9–10 centimeters in diameter, to give you an idea. While most women experience ovarian cysts during their lifetimes, I apparently “lucked out” and hit the jackpot of having mine super-sized.

Despite my condition, I resumed my regular schedule and events that summer, “business as usual” — at least on the exterior. But every time I boarded a plane, I was nervous that the monster inside me would pop like a balloon pricked by a sewing needle, and I’d be temporarily incarcerated in a hospital in an unfamiliar city. If you look at many photos of me from summer 2021, the smile was through gritted teeth. I was scheduled for surgery in September, but again, the pandemic forced that on the back burner.

Now, it’s March 2022, and the condition that has plagued me likely for several years is finally being addressed on Monday.

If there’s a lesson in all this, please listen to your body, and insist on a consultation with a specialist if you are experiencing any strange symptoms or problems. While the sheer size of my left ovary proves I’ve never done anything “small,” I am very fortunate it wasn’t something more calamitous. I will always be grateful to my doctor that it was discovered, and now I can have it removed, recover, and move forward with the rest of my life without pain. I even ordered a sequined dress for my return to the events circuit, which will (hopefully) happen in April.

*****

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Emily Carney

Space historian and podcaster. Space Hipster. Named one of the Top Ten Space Influencers by the National Space Society. Co-host of Space and Things podcast.