Before surgery

Doctor Beth Karlan (left) says, "Your dad is with us, from above," to Anna Gorman in the pre-op before her hysterectomy/ oophorectomy. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / November 1, 2006)

Two weeks after my blood was drawn, a nurse from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center called me with the results. I was in my car.

"Honey, it's positive," she said.

I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't that. I started crying and pulled over. I knew it didn't mean I had cancer, but that's how it felt. I somehow registered her saying that I could be part of a research program for high-risk women.

I immediately called Coll. We had been dating more than two years and although we hadn't talked about it much, I thought we would eventually get married. He was on the same path but not as far along. In fact, he had been reluctant to buy a couch together because of the commitment.

He was filming a documentary in Rwanda. After reaching him through his translator's cellphone, I started to speak, but tears came first.

"I'm scared," I said, rattling off the risks and describing the recommended timeline for surgery.

I was nervous about how he would react, but I gave him a deadline for putting an engagement ring on my finger -- five months later, by the time I turned 29. I knew it wasn't fair. I hated pushing him. Even I didn't feel ready to have children.

He listened and tried to comfort me, telling me everything would be OK and that we would talk more when he got home.

Weeks later, my sister took her test. The results were negative. I was relieved for her, but I couldn't help feeling envious. She didn't have to worry about sprinting toward marriage and starting a family.

That fall, I went to Cedars-Sinai for my first mammogram. After changing into a hospital gown and walking into the screening room, I suddenly became dizzy. I had trouble catching my breath. A nurse tried to calm me. I tried to calm myself. Every time I thought I was OK and stood up, I felt faint again. I rescheduled the appointment.

My birthday came and went without a marriage proposal. I felt hurt and angry.

Six weeks later, we traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam on vacation. As we stood at the ruins of Angkor Wat at sunset, all I could think was, "What is he waiting for?"

On the last day, we went out to dinner in Hanoi, both of us in our last clean clothes, exhausted from our travels. It was Valentine's Day. Coll knelt and held out a ring.

We eloped to Fiji that summer.

Immediately, I wanted to start trying to get pregnant, but Coll persuaded me to wait three months. He wanted to get used to being a husband before becoming a father.

By March of 2004, he was back in Rwanda, finishing his film. While he was away, I took a home pregnancy test. Just to be sure of what I was seeing, I took three more.

"I think I'm ppp ... pregnant!" I e-mailed Coll.

A few weeks later, I was in a hospital gown, waiting to see the doctor for my first prenatal appointment. My sister called my cellphone, crying so hard I could barely understand her.

"Dad has pancreatic cancer," she told me. "And it has spread to his liver. He isn't going to live more than a year."

I remember thinking that couldn't be right. The doctors had said it was just pancreatitis.