Culver City Observer -

By Sandra Coopersmith
Features Writer 

"Recalculating . . ." A Thanksgiving Gratitude


November 22, 2018

Since I am very thankful to be alive and able to write this story, Thanksgiving seems an appropriate time to share an experience that happened this summer.

I was going to call it “A Tutorial in Terror” until my publisher, Steve Hadland, expressed his relief that I was well and said he had felt like running a headline saying “She’s baaaack!” I thought that was catchier and I was going to steal it without a smidgeon of guilt.

However, a similarly captioned article in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 23rd heralding the return of Murphy Brown (one of my favorite TV shows) dissuaded me, as I didn’t want to be duplicative.

Later that same day I was riding with a friend who was using a GPS device to assist him in getting us to our destination. Every now and then the narrator would say “recalculating,” and it struck me that this would be an apt title for the story of what had happened to me. Here I’d thought my life’s direction was fairly straightforward and then – whammo! On a Saturday in June it careened off course and left me heading onto a path littered with detours. Talk about “recalculating” big time . . .

But regarding my original title, “A Tutorial in Terror,” let me tell you what terror is. Following a week during which I experienced what I thought was the worst stomach flu of my life, terror was waking up screaming on Saturday morning, June 23rd, feeling as if my lower abdomen were being ripped open by a fiery knife.

I called my doctor and the on-call physician urged me to go to the ER. In a panic I then called my friend, Gail Sullivan, who dropped everything and spent the day with me at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, an amazing facility.

Several tests were performed, one scan disclosing a large mass the size of a softball involving my right ovary and pushing on my bladder, almost folding it into the shape of a fortune cookie, one probably bearing a message I didn’t want to read, i.e., “You have ovarian cancer – good luck and goodbye.” Unfortunately, having had breast cancer I also had a greater likelihood of developing ovarian cancer, so my concern was not unrealistic.

I was given the card of Dr. Steven Vasilev, Medical Director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology, and told to call him Monday, June 25th for an appointment that week. During my time in the ER multiple doses of morphine were administered to try to control the pain, and we left quite late with an opioid prescription.

During the meeting a few days later with Dr. Vasilev and Lisa Beedle, PA, Gail and I were tremendously impressed by their expertise and manner. They listened without interruption, as if I were the only patient in the world. Surgery was scheduled for July 20th and I was instructed regarding pre-op requirements. The medical not-so-merry-go-round was starting, and various doctor visits, tests and clearances had to be attended to within the next few days.

During the final pre-op meeting I learned that a special blood test I’d been given showed significant elevations that likely were indicative of ovarian cancer, and catastrophic thinking kicked in with a wallop. While my surgeon tried to allay my fears by telling me it was possible this could be a false positive or reflective of a borderline situation, the elephant was definitely not only in the room but sprawled on top of me, and that pachyderm wasn’t moving, not an inch. Still, a tiny light managed to pierce the gloom because of my gratitude, no matter how my prognosis turned out, that I was in this particular facility with this particular medical team and had the support of wonderful friends.

Many hospitals and practitioners are certainly adept at providing excellent care, but what distinguished this experience for me was the extraordinary abundance of what came across as genuine caring and compassion. I also had a terrific anesthesiologist, Dr. Ken Sacks of Bayside Anesthesia Medical Group. I felt I was definitely in the right place and with the right people to help me navigate a terrifying situation.

On July 26th Gail, who had me stay with her for several days to recover following my discharge on July 21st, took me for my post-op visit. We then learned that all four of the biopsies ordered by my scrupulous surgeon had come back benign! After I wrapped my head around that glorious news the healing began in earnest and, bit by bit, I started getting back to normal, extremely thankful for the many prayers and positive thoughts that were offered up for me during this scary time.

I started this story with gratitude and my definition of terror, and I’ll end with one of terror’s opposites, joy, a feeling that continues to enfold me. I am swathed in heartfelt gratitude for dodging the cancer bullet, for the wonderful care I received, and for having friends who were so supportive. I learned that even people I’d never met were praying for me, which touched me deeply.

For a long time I’ve maintained that from every awful experience something good can be gleaned. My takeaway from this one is that I am not alone and people care, and that means more to me than words can express.

Finally, no matter how bleak things may look, it’s important to never give up hope. I remember receiving a magnet years ago that made quite an impression on me: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

And the flowers have never looked so beautiful . . .

Happy Thanksgiving!


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