Health & Wellness · Ovarian Cancer

It Begins: From Thoracentesis to Peeing in Bags [Teal Ribbon Road Pt. 1]

It was an early Friday afternoon.

My husband and I were driving to the next town over with our then 3-year-old daughter (this was back when there were only three of us).

My mom called me on my cellphone to tell me she wasn’t feeling well.

She runs her own business so, when she’s not well, she usually sucks it up and goes to work. When she really can’t make it, she asks me for my help.

But unfortunately, at this particular moment, we were heading in another direction and likely wouldn’t be back for hours.

I asked her what was wrong.

She pretty much just summed up that she wasn’t feeling well, but couldn’t leave work or she’d fall behind.

I told her that if she thought it was serious, she should really head to the emergency room or dial 9-1-1.

She said she’d just come home early so I could check on her. We hung up, and went about the day’s business.

A few hours later

We had all just gotten home.

I had my first-aid kit, my thermometer and my step-dad’s blood pressure reader (my dad was in hospital in a coma but we still had a lot of his medical equipment at home).

I took her blood pressure.

It was 200+/100+.


This has got to be a mistake, I thought.

I took my own blood pressure.


I took my husband’s blood pressure.


I took my mom’s blood pressure again, four times on each arm.


Okay. I knew that a reading of 180+ systolic OR 110+ diastolic was considered a hypertensive emergency and required immediate medical attention so when BOTH numbers were elevated, I knew we had to rush to the hospital.

I didn’t want to panic her so, I calmly took my husband aside and told him that despite the fact that my mom looked totally normal (she didn’t have a droopy face and she wasn’t slurring her words) I thought she may be having a stroke or a heart attack and needed to go to the ER.

We all agreed to take her to the hospital where my step-dad was currently staying but I made her promise to go to the ER before she went to visit him. She agreed.

We got in the car and I took the fastest way there. I went as quick as I could.

When we got there, my mom told me she was having trouble getting from the parking lot (which was immediately in front of the hospital doors) to the emergency room. She told me that she was having trouble breathing, her left arm was tingling and her left foot was going numb.

When we finally got to the ER, she went to triage and was immediately admitted.

The best ER experience ever

In the beginning, I thought we were getting THE BEST ER SERVICE EVER.

In a short time, my mom had seen all sorts of doctors. She had a chest x-ray done, a CT and an ultrasound. She got to see the ER doctor immediately, followed by a doctor from general medicine and a number of other specialists.

Then it dawned on me that they were paying very close attention to her abdomen.

It really started to sink in when I realized that in addition to a cardio and neuro consult, they also called for a urologist, a pulmonologist, a gynaecologist and another doctor to perform a thoracentesis.

A few hours later, the ER doctor came back and asked me to join him in the hallway.

This is a CT similar to the one the ER doctor showed me. This is a smaller ovarian clear-cell carcinoma (same as the kind my mom was eventually diagnosed with).

On a computer, he showed me a picture of a white blob on a black screen. He explained to me that this was a CT of a massive tumour in my mom’s abdomen — likely cancer, likely ovarian. He explained that her bowels had been pushed aside and this THING was putting pressure on her lungs, which is likely causing fluid to build up in the lining. That’s why she couldn’t breathe.

Oh, and yes, she had a stroke, too. She had an ischemic stroke: Shower emboli affecting her cerebellum, likely as a result of the cancer.

Her kidneys, while healthy, were slightly larger than normal due to a backup in her ureters. The tumour had been putting pressure on both ureters so they needed bilateral nephrostomy bags inserted as soon as possible.

The Diagnoses

  • Shower emboli: Ischemic stroke in cerebellum
  • Pleural effusion in both lungs, requiring a thoracentesis
  • Hydronephrosis, requiring bilateral nephrostomy tubes inserted
  • Large pelvic abdominal mass measuring 6.3 inches in largest diamter, cystic solid components, elevated cancer marker, likely Stage IV Ovarian Cancer

To be continued…


Hypertensive crisis or emergency: When your systolic is 180+ and your diastolic is 110+.

Thoracentesis: Procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lungs and the lining.

Hydronephrosis: Enlarged kidney.

Bilateral nephrostomy tubes: Catheter inserted into both ureters with a cap outside the body (in the back in my mom’s case) that can be connected to bags. So, rather than urinating the normal way, my mom’s pee came out into bags.

Ischemic stroke: Where a blockage, usually a clot, stops the flow of blood to an area of the brain, depleting it of oxygen.


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