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)

Standing before our friends and family at the funeral, I read a story he had written for me when I was little. Sadie was in the front row, sleeping in my husband's arms.

In the weeks afterward, I became almost paranoid about my health.

As part of the cancer detection program, I had regular blood tests to measure my protein levels. Increased levels can mean ovarian cancer. Mine had never gone above 10. But suddenly they were at 22.

Even though anything under 35 was considered normal by the lab, I became alarmed. I called oncologists around the country. Was it cancer? Could they catch it in time? The experts all echoed what my own doctor had told me, that the results could be skewed by pregnancy.

A few months later, the results dropped to 10.

A second scare came after I weaned Sadie. On a family trip, while putting on a bathing suit, I felt a lump in my right breast. My God, I thought. This is it. My eyes welled up and I could barely breathe. I paged a nurse. She told me it was probably a plugged milk duct; if it was still there in two days, I should call a breast oncologist. The next day, the lump went away.

But the uneasiness lingered. Cancer seemingly was everywhere. I kept hearing about somebody else getting diagnosed or dying.

When Sadie was 6 months old, Coll and I started trying to have another baby. Each month I didn't get pregnant, I became more anxious. My mom kept asking me how long I was going to wait. My sister even offered to be a surrogate.

Coll wanted me to have the surgery too, but he kept reminding me that I was only 31, four years shy of the doctor's recommended deadline.

But I didn't want to wait anymore. I knew how deadly ovarian cancer was, how difficult it was to detect early. I told Coll that if I wasn't pregnant in five months, that was it. I was having the operation.

My anxiety took a toll on our marriage. Coll wanted another baby of his own. He was adopted; Sadie, who had his curly hair and broad forehead, was the first blood relative he knew. If I had the surgery now, would he forever resent me? What if I waited and got cancer?

In November, I took out yet another pregnancy test from the bathroom cabinet. As I held the stick, my hand shook. Coll looked over my shoulder.

"I think there are two lines," I told Coll, my heart beating faster. "No, there are definitely two lines."

"Wow," he said, as he kissed me.

I gave birth to Twyla in July. We gave her a middle name that started with I -- Isalei.

A few weeks later, I set the date for surgery.

ONE month before the operation, as Coll and I walked into the cancer center for an appointment, I looked around at the other women in the waiting room. It didn't take much to imagine the worst: Would I be coming here for chemotherapy?

My doctor, Beth Karlan, explained the surgery. While I was under, she and a pathologist would look for signs of cancer before removing my ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes. Later, they would dissect the organs thinly to make sure there were no abnormal cells. In 10% of women with BRCA mutations who have this surgery, she told me, doctors discover cancer.

"I don't like that statistic," Coll said.

I didn't either. I started worrying that I had waited too long. Now I had my daughters, but would I be there for them?