COLUMN: Three words: It was benign

Going to Weightwatchers back in November of last year was without doubt the best idea that I have ever had.

Going to Weightwatchers back in November of last year was without doubt the best idea that I have ever had.

That weekly weigh in and motivational talk from the wonderful Anna Doody in Newbridge did the trick. In a few months I had finally done what I had set out to do, lose the baby weight that had been hanging around for fifteen years.

Those women reading this who have done the same know that wonderful sense of familiarity when your old shape comes back. Two stone lighter and it was a case of out with the old and in with the new as I went out and shopped for new clothes.

But the best thing about losing that spare tyre around my tummy was that it meant that one day, as I was tucking in a new shirt, I felt a lump.

“Don’t worry, it’s probably an old bit of placenta that got left behind years ago,” a friend lightheartedly reassured me, sensing my panic.

It was a small, painless lump near my ovary. A few trips up to Dublin and last week, five months later, I found myself in the Coombe hospital for surgery to have it removed.

“It’s a complex cyst,” the gynaecologist told me a few weeks before as he performed an ultrasound; “We need to take it out”. It turns out that these ‘complex ovarian cysts’ can, if untreated, create problems. Google painted a worrying picture.

Cysts like mine can make the ovary twist if not treated. Worryingly, in women over forty, if left or undetected they can become malignant. Cancer. That ‘C’ word that killed my own mother who was exactly my age when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s when I looked at the computer screen and said the ‘F’ word out-loud.

I arrived at the Coombe at half past seven and got ready for the operation. The pretty floral nightie that I had packed stayed in my bag as I slipped instead, into the hospital’s more practical paper gown and delightful matching paper knickers.

As I waited, I heard the cries of newborn babies as they were delivered by caesarean section nearby. It wasn’t exactly one born every minute (like on the telly) but more like one born every hour.

Soon it was my time came to go to theatre. Surgery today is similar to a Ryanair flight. Hospitals have pared things down to the bare minimum in terms of staff.

Gone are the days of a sedative to ease your nerves and a trolley, a porter and a kindly nurse to hold your hand and an ante-room where you are anaesthetised and told to count backwards whilst the ice cold drugs do their work in your veins. Now it is all very ‘DIY’.

With no pre-surgery sedation to calm those jangling nerves, my husband came and walked me to the theatre door. There, like I was about to emigrate to Australia, we kissed and tried not to cry.

The doors closed and in front of me, the operating table. The slab. Doctors and nurses gowned up in scrubs stood around and watched as I climbed up onto to the shiny black plasticised surface trying my best to look dignified in my paper clothes, the gown flapping open at the back.

Through a window I could see the surgeon washing his hands and arms. An anaesthetist appeared from nowhere, his head hanging over mine, our noses almost touching.

“How are you feeling?” he asked. How was I feeling? Where should I begin?

I was feeling terrified that the drugs wouldn’t work; I saw it happen to a woman on Oprah.

That I would feel every single pull and poke as they probed about with the cameras, lasers, scissors and whatever else they were about to stick into my belly.

I was feeling terrified that I would wake up half way through, sit up and all the surgical paraphernalia would be sticking out of me like something out of a horror film, worse still that I might not wake up at all.

Then what? But I didn’t say any of this, I said “Fine” because it was simpler.

He continued, “You know what we are doing today don’t you Annie?”

Why was he asking that? Didn’t he know?

I could feel my ovary throbbing with fear. What if I woke up with a leg missing?

What if they take out my gallbladder or give me a new heart?

What if they get confused and I end up donating a kidney?

What if they accidently give me a sex change and I wake up as Alan not Annie?

The paranoia had set in. Just as I was about to make a run for it, the mask was on my face, my arm went ice cold and I was asleep.

It was like a dream when I woke up two hours later.

Yet another baby had been born and next to me, in the recovery room, a new mum was holding a tiny little bundle.

Back home a few days later, a little sore and with six bullet-like holes in my belly, friends call asking me about the Coombe.

About the food, the ward, the bed – was it comfortable?

I didn’t pay any attention to my surroundings at all because in that recovery room the surgeon came over to me and whispered three little words into my ear. Three little words that make everything else seem totally and utterly insignificant; three words better than sedation, better than a room at the Ritz, better than a three-course meal at the finest restaurant in Dublin.

“It was benign”.

The weight of worry that I had been subconsciously carrying for months was suddenly lifted and replaced with feelings of euphoria. I had found my lump early and it would not develop into a problem (unlike my poor mother) and I now feel ecstatic.

Weightwatchers may well have just saved my life.

- Annie Morris writes the ‘Chatty Woman’ column every two weeks in the Leinster Leader