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  • Writer's pictureSara Popp

Uncertain Malignant Potential

I'm hungry. I'm ravenous, actually, but well into abdominal surgery prep funsies so it's a clear liquid diet for me. After midnight tonight, no more water, so I'm nice and shriveled up when they poke around for a vein tomorrow early tomorrow morning. I'm a hard stick, though lucky to have no fear of needles, nor much anxiety around pain. I've been down this road a few times now - STUMP is back. Stromal Tumors of Uncertain Malignant Potential.

Morning creeps in and I'm ready and waiting for the dark drive in to the hospital. One minute I'm bright-siding along, confident that this will be nothing like That Other Time. Then they ask if I've ever had complications, like reactions to anesthesia or unexpected transfusions. I pause. Watching the nurse's face, I say I had 24 units of blood & plasma transfused in 6 hrs, but that was two surgeries ago. Her hands stop. She faces me.

"Sweetheart, gosh, I'm sorry. Have you had bleeding problems before?"

Before I lost all my blood twice over in surgery, or before the massive hemorrhage in the recovery bay? Before I woke up in the ICU with an IV still in my neck and a ventilator by my bed, just in case? Maybe before I heard the words, "This is terminal. I'm sorry. We worked hard to save you so you could say goodbye to your family."

My throat is thick at the flood of memories welling up, what happened, what almost happened. The crazy roller coaster that launched from a February 2017 trip to the ER is making another trip around, fueled by the confusion and trauma of the experience.

I never know whether to downplay it or just lay it all out there. She's a nurse, she can handle it. She'll know what to say.

"No, the surgery was just very... intense. That's why we're going in again like this. We weren't able to get everything out - my body couldn't handle the trauma. We're hoping these recurrences are those leftovers continuing to grow, and the lymph nodes are safe. Maybe this time, if we take our time and really look everywhere, we can remove it for good."

"We will," she says brightly, firmly. I never know how to respond to relentless positivity in the face of relentless uncertainty.

So I smile on the outside, but the fear has settled into a hard, hot lump in my throat and I'm afraid to say anything at all out loud. Two years ago, I was struck by a train and lived, but I can't seem to get off the tracks.

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