Backhanded by Infertility

Yesterday was my birthday, and all the sweet Facebook messages from people I haven’t interacted with since my last birthday made me realize just how lonely I’ve been lately.

For the last few years I’ve developed more and more female problems. Last November, my doctors scheduled a surgery for January that led them to schedule another surgery for April. Based on pathology and radiology results, they believed (incorrectly, it would turn out) that I had ovarian cancer.

I vividly remember the October morning when the Today Show reported on a then-new study that had found infertile women who undergo treatment are 60% more likely to have ovarian cancer. The risk is even higher for the women in that group who never have a live birth, they said.

That report made an impression on me, maybe because it came out on Barren among the Fruitful‘s first anniversary. It left me thinking how unfair it is that women who suffer the physical pain, emotional drain, and financial stress of fertility treatments are then more likely to fight the most fatal of gynecological cancers

For 3 months I thought I was one of those women. My team of gynecologists had me visit a psychologist and scheduled an oncologist to be present at the second surgery. The hospital requested that I update my will and designate a power of attorney. 

David and I didn’t want to tell anyone what was happening until we had definite answers ourselves, but as time went on, circumstances caused us to tell family members and a few close friends. We ended up with about 40 people praying that I would be healed and spared months of chemotherapy.

When David and I spoke with my primary gynecologist about the April surgery’s results, she showed us pictures from the endoscopy and talked for about 10 minutes about the ugliness they had removed from inside me; but she never said, “You have Stage thus-and-such cancer.”

David finally asked her directly, “Does Amanda have cancer?”

“No,” she laughed. “I would have led with that!” 

As she left the room to schedule me for more post-op tests and whatnot, David and I sat in stunned silence for 20 minutes.

I had spent the previous 3 months preparing to be sick. Yes, I had updated our wills, but I had also repointed the house, replaced a toilet, painted my office, replaced the tires on our Subaru, bought a new guest-bedroom mattress, wrote a blog announcing my cancer (at the psychologist’s suggestion), and contracted a company to tear down and rebuild the entire exterior of our house’s 1920 addition. In hindsight, I wasn’t planning to be sick. I was planning to disappear.

In spite of the prayers of our loved ones and an expressed belief in God’s healing power, I never actually thought I’d be cancer free after seeing January’s images and test results. I was hoping to be Stage II or lower and expecting to survive because those same doctors who once told me, “you’re too old to get pregnant,” were now saying, “you’re too young to have ovarian cancer.”

The shock turned into guilt–why had we worried everyone unnecessarily?–and then embarrassment.

I don’t think we had a moment of joy or thankfulness. It was weeks before it occurred to me that maybe God had actually answered all those prayers. Maybe He literally transformed malignant cells into benign cells.

I would argue there is precedence for this; I am not the first woman to endure years of gynecological pain:

Now a certain woman [traditionally called Veronica] had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”

But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”

And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25-34, NKJV)

Thanksgiving 2017 will mark 4 years since my present physical troubles began. But I don’t have even a third of the faith of Veronica, who endured three times as much pain as I have. And the loneliness, guilt, and embarrassment I’ve felt have been self-induced whereas hers was culturally motivated. I now realize the tragedy of my situation is not the illness itself but the lack of faith that illness has exposed.

The 2 surgeries have not helped–the constant anemia is physically debilitating and socially awkward–and I expect to schedule a final surgery at my appointment in July. Between now and then I won’t be able to literally touch Jesus’ clothes, but I desire to have Veronica’s faith that He will heal me when I reach out to Him.

Fourth-Day Flood (part 3): Tiles and the Tub Man

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Wolf in sheep’s clothing: this beautiful, period-appropriate bath renovation hid water damage behind cheap unpainted beadboard and rust under DIY porcelain reglazing.

Maybe the problem was the wall and ceiling color. Both the guest bathroom and the dining room were painted with a drab, flat crimson paint that clashed with everything else in the house…and looked like dried blood.

I see it now: these rooms were ready to make our bank account bleed.

It took 8 months to finish the dining room repairs, and in that time, we still didn’t have a fix for our bathtub.

The first plumber (that genius who had filled the bathtub and reflooded our dining room just “to see what had happened”) said we had a simple problem with seals between the tub and the plumbing. Later when he came to fix it–and the water continued to flow around the pipes after his repair–he informed me that the plumbing was perfect. Instead, we had a hole all the way through the cast iron tub near the drain.

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I don’t do anything halfway. While the tub was in the middle of the room, I removed the vanity, pulled off all the beadboard and moldings, repaired the walls, and tiled floor-to-ceiling.

How do you repair a cast iron tub? I asked around, and the historical society told me about the Bathtub Man. All he does is restore claw foot tubs. It took several weeks to get him out to our house, and when he arrived, he showed me that there was no hole. The problem was the plumbing, not the tub.

So I hired a new plumber–the one the Bathtub Man recommended–and we began 6 more months of imperfect repair after imperfect repair. The plumber would reattach the feet (3 of which had the strange habit of falling off, leaving only 1 foot and the plumbing supporting the tub) and redo the plumbing connections. All would be well for 1 or 2 guests’ showers, and then the feet would slip and fall off again.

As exasperation gripped everyone involved, I decided to call the Bathtub Man back. Armed with more “symptoms,” he was able to diagnose the problem: 3 of the 4 feet did not fit the tub. They looked as if they fit, but they were actually 1/16th of an inch too small. As a result, the combined weight of the tub, water, and an adult would slowly push the feet out from under the tub, breaking the plumbing seals. He could fix it, but it would require welding nickel onto the iron feet to make them the right shape for the tub. (Sounds like a cheap fix, right? Ugh.)

We had a solution, but we also had a deadline. My sister-in-law and her family were going to move in for 3 weeks while they were between houses. I knew there was no way 4 adults and a child could share our master bath for 3 weeks and continue loving one another!

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I went for a classic look: floor-to-ceiling white subway tile with a Carrara marble accent.

The Bathtub Man scheduled the 2-day repair. First he would come out, flip over the tub, take measurements, and take the feet back to his shop for welding. While the tub was upside down in the middle of the room, I would tile. Everything. Second he would return the following week to attach the feet and flip the tub. Then I would hire the plumber to come back and reconnect everything. Easy-peasy!

Hiccup 1: When the Bathtub Man flipped over the tub, we discovered the bottom was covered in rust. Mostly surface rust, but some more serious. The 2005 family who had flipped our house had clearly found this tub somewhere, picked out a few feet that looked good, painted the bottom with (I kid you not!) white Krylon, and reglazed the inside themselves with some DIY product…without bothering to remove the drain cover first. Rust, rust, everywhere. I was told to clean and paint the bottom with marine-grade Rustoleum, and the Bathtub Man adjusted his timeline to include some spot reglazing (we just couldn’t afford to redo the whole thing).

Hiccup 2: It takes a long time to lay over 2,000 tiles. I gave myself a week, but it took me almost 4 weeks AND the help of David and Melinda thanks to volume, unlevel walls and floor, and missing insulation. It’s done, and it’s beautiful. And waterproof! But I reinjured my right rotator cuff (torn way back when I was a swimmer), and it will be many months before the pain, swelling, and tingling subside.

Hiccup 3: The plumber couldn’t come out for more than a week after the rest of the repairs had finished, so our family still had to share the master bathroom for awhile. But we love each other!

a2a51134d42831112e0b9f76e4fb95ba-uncropped_scaled_within_1536_1152The bathroom is still a work in progress. I’ve installed a standing shower (upgraded for my tall brother-in-law!); but I still need to paint the crown molding, change the lighting and mirror so they are proportionate with the 9-foot ceilings, and replace the ridiculous vanity. (The back of it is dry rotted and literally crumbled as I pulled it away from the wall, and the top is poorly-sealed wood that holds water.)  But that will require hiring an electrician and calling out the plumber again…but I’m not ready to wash more blood-money down that tub’s drain just yet!

Fourth-Day Flood (part 2): Baseboards and Brass

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For 5 days you couldn’t hear yourself think anywhere in our house as the industrial fans dried out the walls and ceiling space. The effected baseboards were removed to be dried and straightened off-site, but we never saw them again.

If you’ve ever dealt with structural damage–be it from water or termites or what-have-you–then you know that fixing the secondary damage is more costly than eliminating the problem. In the days following the flood, we were led to believe that our biggest headache would be the dining room repair, not the bathroom plumbing itself. (This, of course, would prove incorrect.)

As soon as it started raining from our dining room rafters, I was on the phone with our home warranty company (thoughtfully and thankfully provided by the sellers). Unfortunately, the contractors they provided were worse than worthless. The plumber they made us use recreated the flood the next day, and then declared he could not help because “there might be mold.” The water abatement company they made us hire tried to overcharge us by thousands of dollars and threw away the 110-year-old baseboard moldings they were supposed to dry and straighten off-site. (The baseboards would be the most costly repair: a carpenter had to make a mold and then fabricate them to match the rest of the house.)

The warranty company then refused to pay for ANY repairs; they decided “the plumbing issue was preexisting,” so subsequent damage was not covered by our home warranty. And they didn’t care that it was “their” subcontractors who caused the most expensive damage after the initial flood.

There we were–just one week after moving into our house–with a huge hole in our ceiling, no baseboards, a nonfunctioning guest bathroom, and mounting bills. And so our house remained for 8 months, until we were able to hire carpenters and painters.

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For 5 days you couldn’t hear yourself think anywhere in our house as the industrial fans dried out the walls and ceiling space. The effected baseboards were removed to be dried and straightened off-site, but we never saw them again.

Finally it was time to have some fun! I chose grey-and-teal thermal draperies for the dining room windows then coordinated the room’s paint colors. My mother (and probably everyone else) thought I was crazy when I decided I’d be painting my ceiling teal. Grey walls, teal ceiling, white trim. This was a bold choice because the room can be seen from most angles downstairs.

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It took me hours to polish each piece, but the results are gorgeous. I love how the tarnish remains in the tiny crevices and adds dimension to the pattern, as it does in my equally beloved sterlingware.

Less controversial, but equally impactful to my detail-oriented eye, is my continuing restoration of the room’s hardware. This house is FULL of solid brass, unlacquered hardware–door knobs, casement hinges, window latches, you name it!–that have been covered with paint over the decades.

Until we moved here, I was a vocal brass hater. In our first house, I spent years slowly replacing every monkey-metal doorknob, hinge, and faucet with brushed-nickel fixtures. That cheap yellow metal they produce these days makes me cringe and “colored” my impression of brass. But I’ve done a 180. It thrills my soul that these solid metal beauties are hiding under sloppy DIY projects waiting for me to, quite literally, make them shine again.

I acknowledge that I am strange. I paint ceilings teal, and I LOVE polishing. In college we AOIIs would clean the house once per month, and I was the only person who wanted silver duty. Back then I did it all by hand; this time I had help.

A few weeks before I started this polishing project, David and I bought a nail grinder for Copper that is made by Dremel. I soon realized that the nail grinder could accept almost any Dremel accessory–including polishing wheels! I burned through 30 polishing wheels getting the dining room hardware clean, but the result is worth the time, effort, and cost.

So at the 8-month mark, we had our dining room back. But the upstairs bathroom? Still out of commission with undiagnosed bathtub problems…