My name is Bridget Stillwell and I am 35-years-old. I am a nurse practitioner that lives in Overland Park, Kansas with my husband Ryan and two beautiful babies Penelope (8) and Abe (6). Our family has one of the largest documented histories of breast and ovarian cancer dating back to 1863. It is not the claim to fame we were hoping for, but it did land us in a research study conducted by Creighton University in the early 1990s. I was tested at age 5 before the BRCA gene mutation was even isolated. Due to the stipulations of the research study we could not find out the results until we were 18. I was lucky because I had much of my life to prepare for what I already intuitively knew. I was, in fact, positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. My mother was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer at age 32. She survived. When I found out I carried the mutation, I knew exactly what I needed to do. At the young age of 22 I had my breasts removed. I married the best man on earth, and he supported me every step of the way.
It used to be that if I were to title a book after my life it would be “How Many Ways Can I be Humbled.” I’m strongly considering changing this to “My Tragic Comedy.”
What was supposed to be my super speedy recovery after my laparoscopic oophorectomy in early 2018 took a turn for the worst and I ended up in the ER at my local hospital. The CT tech asked me if there was any chance of pregnancy before my scan. Um sir, I’m a 34-year-old woman in menopause, on birth control, and have no ovaries. So naturally I shrugged my shoulders and said, “maybe.”
My ER visit bought me an ambulance ride to a bigger hospital in downtown Kansas City. Not even the cool looking ambulance, the van ambulance. At KU, the security guard wanded my body with a metal detector as I was being brought into the hospital on a stretcher. I’m clinging to life: How could I have time to be concealing a weapon or the energy to do anything with it if I had one? I get it, he was doing his job. Also, I wasn’t clinging to life. I’m just being dramatic.
I woke up in my hospital bed surrounded by my doctor and 27 med students. Fine, 10 med students. I hadn’t slept in 48 hours. I had gone to bed with my hair wet the night before, so you can imagine what that looked like. Nonetheless, I’m just glad I’m not a 24-year-old girl and looking for a handsome, young med student to bat my eyes at. Because whoa, I was a sight to see. The phlebotomist then came to draw my blood. She told me that she never gets down about her life when she looks at patients like me. I’m not kidding. Eh, ok, lady.
You might be wondering what my “small complication” was. Well, let’s just say my uterus was missing her two friends the ovaries, and went AWOL. She abandoned her duties to my body and retaliated by hemorrhaging. It was damn scary. Apparently, my body experienced a rare complication from surgery. However, when anyone in my family hears “rare complication” we just raise our hands and say that will be me. (See Nipples Optional for Kathryn’s hospital admission from her “rare complication” post fertility treatment and Maureen’s delivery of Teddy due to a “rare complication” of pregnancy.) I’m starting to think complications aren’t so rare after all.
I’m normally not one to brag about my husband or publicly display my love for him on social media. Mostly because I’m a firm believer in verbal communication with my spouse. As in, I can tell it to his face at home, not have him read it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. However, I cannot say enough about how incredible he was during my journey, surgery, and recent complication. He was a better nurse to me that any nurse I had. He helped me do things no man should have to do (that’s because they are men, they won the gender lottery.)
He busted into the CT scan room because he thought the tech was hurting me. He wouldn’t eat or drink all day because I couldn’t (he did the same thing when I was in labor.) He even tried to French braid my hair after we watched a “how to” YouTube video on French braiding. I actually think he just felt bad that I looked like Albert Einstein. He was so wonderful I told him I’d never get mad at him for anything ever again. Then we both laughed because we know that’s not true.
It was silly to think I could get through this with no bumps in the road. That’s just not how this thing called life works. I’m just very thankful for an amazing spouse, family and friends that will drop anything to help out in any way possible. I’m really ovary all of this though. And if my uterus doesn’t get her act together, she’s going to find herself out on the streets as well. You hear me, uterus!?
At the age of 34 I made the very difficult decision to have my ovaries removed. This decision was gut wrenching for us because we had always dreamed of having a large family. However, mysteriously after two easy and wonderful pregnancies with Penelope and Abe I was never able to carry another pregnancy -- suffering from four consecutive miscarriages because of unknown causes. Removing my ovaries meant removing my ability to ever have another baby. Nonetheless, it is what I needed to do to save my life and stay here on earth with the two beautiful children that I had to hold in my arms.
Life is weird and seems to be a series of never-ending punches in the gut, yet it is also so exquisitely beautiful and so fulfilling that I can’t seem to get enough. I’ve learned to take the good with the bad. I know that for every crummy day or life event, there are double that of beautiful, soul lifting days ahead. Life has been full of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change a single moment of it for anything in this world. This is my lovely/messy/remarkable/ugly/heartbreaking/incredible/tough/unbelievable journey and, damn, I love it.