Feature: Cochran teacher faces kidney removal, shares faith

Melanie Cravey

COCHRAN, GEORGIA: Melanie Cravey, age 45, is a typical mom, wife and teacher. She has been married for 20 years, and has a 13-year-old son.

She attended Middle Georgia College after high school, and later “went to Mercer University for my bachelor of science in education degree, then went for my master degree with math and gifted endorsements from Georgia Southern University.”

A seventh grade math teacher, Melanie said, “I didn’t start teaching until I was 30, after working in the cosmetics industry, then at a small insurance company as the comptroller, and executive assistant to the president.”

She continued, “I finished my degree while working there, and started teaching at the elementary level the fall after I graduated. I have loved it ever since.”

“Seventh graders are really awesome, but challenging,” Melanie said. “I’ve been told it’s the hardest age to teach, and it may be, but every day is rewarding in some way. I remember me as a seventh grader.”

Melanie added, “I think that was my first experience challenging authority, and putting myself out there socially. I’m thankful I had parents and teachers who taught me along the way and helped guide me through those years.”

She said, “One thing I love most about seventh graders is that I can be real with them, and that’s what they want.”

Several years ago, Melanie was diagnosed with a health issue – endometriosis.

“I have dealt with endometriosis for as long as I can remember dealing with ‘female things.’ No one really knew as much about it 30 years ago. I just had extremely painful ‘monthly visits,’ and thought it was normal,” she said.

Melanie continued, “I had my son in 2006 when I was 31, and after that, it got worse. Without too many details, I ended up having an exploratory laparotomy in 2009 because the endo got so bad, and I lost one ovary at that time.”

“My doctor told me it was the worst he had ever seen. He also told me I needed six weeks to heal, then I could try to have another baby. Two years later, no baby and the endo was worse. I had a total hysterectomy in 2011, at the age of 36.”

She said, “At that point, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 endometriosis and told that a hysterectomy was needed for treatment – to stop it from growing. I was immediately put on an estrogen patch as I started going through menopause at that point. I did have two other unrelated surgeries in 2012 (appendectomy) and 2014 (ventral hernia repair).”

Melanie added, “Since then, I’ve been doing fine…or so I thought.”

“On October 13, 2019, I got sick, which is rare – I had fever and my stomach was sore to the touch … like, really sore. I also felt like I had a UTI. I texted my doctor, who is also a dear friend, and she said to see her first thing in the morning (Monday).”

She said, “I had blood in my urine, and had an UTI and when she examined me, she saw how sore my stomach was, so she sent me for an ultrasound of my abdomen the next morning.”

Melanie stated, “She thought it was kidney stones, which I’ve never had before. That seemed to be everyone’s thought. Weirdly, it felt like my left ovary (which I don’t have) was sore, like it felt when I had one and I was menstruating.”

She continued to explain, “The results showed that I had some type of mass, so I was sent for a CT scan. Those results showed that I have a large mass (10cm x 8cm) in my lower left pelvic area where my ureter is (the thing that connects the kidney to the bladder), and my left kidney was in bad shape and very enlarged. I then had to go back the hospital to have a nephrostomy catheter inserted (that’s a tube coming out of my side/back connecting my kidney to a bag – that was a hoot!”

“I was carrying around a urine bag,” Melanie said. “ I got on Etsy.com to find something to conceal it so I could go back to work with this thing. It was crazy. While the radiologist did that, they did a needle biopsy of the mass and took five samples. Oh, so sore after that!”

She was then referred to a urologist and she saw him October 21. He looked at the CT scan and showed “my husband and me what was going on.”

“Basically, this mass had grown around my ureter, and had it crimped or constricted so urine could not flow from kidney to bladder. We don’t know for how long, but my left kidney was extremely enlarged and he used the word hydronephrosis and said it was severe.”

Melanie said, “He scheduled me for a ureter stent to hopefully get some urine to flow and allow my kidney to heal and function again. I didn’t produce much urine in my bag. In a week, I may have emptied two ounces. So, while he was putting in the stent, he saw some ‘ugly cells’ in my ureter and did a biopsy himself.”

“The first biopsy I mentioned earlier was inconclusive. His biopsy came back as abnormal cells, so he sent it to Johns Hopkins for further analysis,” she said. “A week later, he called me and said, ‘You are not going to believe this. It’s endometriosis.’ I was relieved it wasn’t cancer because I know that’s what everyone was thinking.”

“But, a yucky feeling came over me, having dealt with this stuff before, and now it being back. But how is it back? I had a total hysterectomy and they removed everything. That was supposed to be the end of it. You see, endometriosis is fed by estrogen. Ovaries produce estrogen. I have no ovaries,” Melanie stated. “Well, there was speculation of an ovarian remnant or that hormone replacement therapy caused the regrowth, which can occur if only one cell is left behind when they try to remove it all. I was referred to a specialist in Atlanta because both of my doctors felt he was the best to handle my situation.”

She explained, “He is a renowned robotics surgeon and gynecologic oncologist, and I met with him early November. He was very nice and knowledgeable. He said my situation was extremely complex and quite rare. He ordered an MRI of my pelvic region, then the next week, he ordered a renal nuclear scan. He called me and told me my left kidney is not functioning at all.”

“He said the endometriosis had completely destroyed it and I need to have it removed. He used the words ureteral endometriosis. At that point, I had a diagnosis and began to research case studies, because when you research endometriosis, most of the information found is related to women who still have a uterus.”

She said, “What I have is even more rare than I initially thought and under-diagnosed because there are no symptoms until it destroys the kidney. It is a silent disorder that can lead to renal failure if untreated.”

Melanie said that the only treatment now is surgery. As of this article, she was set to go for pre-op. “I go in on January 21 to have the left kidney and the mass removed along with robotic exploratory laparoscopy to remove any other endometriosis tissue.”

“If all goes as planned, it will be done in this manner, but an open incision may be necessary if needed. The procedure will take four hours. I was told to expect six to eight weeks for recovery.”

On January 16, Melanie reached out, after this interview to update The Murphy Gazette on her pre-op. “Today was pre-op. It has been a long day, and involved a lot of things like surgery consult, exam, financial consult, chest X-ray, EKG and blood work. Everyone I dealt with was so kind and encouraging and professional. I needed that today as I was very anxious.”

She wrote in a message, “Based on encouraging words they shared, I believe each one was a Christian. God is where I need Him. We are planning for and praying for this all to be able to be done laparoscopic with robotics. If so, my hospital stay and recovery will be much less. Of course, if they open me, that doubles from four weeks to eight weeks.”

Melanie said, “I think the more closely the surgery date approaches, the more anxiety I feel. I’m pretty positive in my outlook, but I’ve had my sad moments and my mad moments. I keep those private mostly. I have a family and students who need me, and I stress more about them.”

“My family is so supportive of me. My dad is a pastor, and I have many people praying for me from all over – some I know and some I don’t know, but we are all family in Christ. My husband is my rock on this earth. He takes care of me. He has been there for me, just like he promised, and that means so much! My faith is what gets me through everything, especially things like this.”

Melanie said, “I call out verses I find or that people share with me to let God know I’m claiming that for me. I definitely have financial obstacles now more than the normal amount I usually have.”

“I incurred $5,000 of medical expenses from October to December (my $2,000 deductible and $5,000 out-of-pocket maximum). I tried so hard to have my surgery in December before the end of the year so it would not cost anything more,” she said.

“Well, coordinating two surgeons (gynecologic and urologic) and the robotic OR is not so easy apparently, so I have to wait until January 21. That means I have to start over with my benefits and meet the deductible and out-of-pocket maximum again. This broke my heart.”

What gets her through each moment? Melanie didn’t have to think. “I do believe in prayer very strongly as that is our direct communication with God. That is so awesome to even think about! The Bible gives us many examples of prayers and how people prayed and how Jesus prayed. Prayers can be for praise or for petition,” she said.

“It builds our relationship with God, like communicating with our spouse builds that relationship. I remember being extremely anxious the night, before I was having the biopsy, and I laid in bed and was quietly crying, and I just cried out to God (in my heart) and said, ‘God, You said You’d never leave me nor forsake me and I am Your child, and I need you, so please let me know You are with me.”

She commented, “I said that a few times and immediately a hush came over me and I felt peace-a complete calmness. It was quiet. Dead quiet. It scared me a little. But I knew it was God, and I had never experienced that before. The words from John 14:27 came to mind, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you,’ and I fell asleep.”

There are ways that Melanie’s friends and family can do to help. She said, “The most important thing anyone can do is to pray for me and my circle. I worry more about my son and students than myself. I want them to be taken care of.”

“I know they will be because I have an amazing group of friends and family and co-workers who totally have me on this. Someone encouraged me to set up a Venmo (melacra-1) or PayPal (paypal.me/mcravey) in case anyone wanted to donate money to help with expenses since I’ll be having surgery and be in a hospital three hours from home, and having to wait until the new year to have the procedure which directly caused me to incur more medical financial responsibility.”

“My husband will be with me, and my son will be taken care of. Some frozen casseroles have already been given to me to help when I get home, and I have prepared some meals and frozen them myself. I may have special dietary restrictions following, so people keep asking me what they can do. It’s hard to say. I don’t want to do a donation page because they charge extra fees and stuff,” Melanie said.

“This whole process has been hard. I joke about things always seeming to be complicated with me, but that gets old. And complications which are rare are scary. So, yeah, I am scared. It’s hard to admit, but I’m human and it’s okay to feel that way,” Melanie said, “I have to depend on God to get me through this. He is my refuge and strength. I need God more than I realized. Head knowledge vs. heart knowledge. Right?”

She added, “We get so independent in our thinking, we forget that we need Him. We say it and know it, but until we truly experience it, Wow! I need Him! Things I’ve known my whole Christian life sometimes don’t make sense until there’s a need. Belief is part of being a Christian, but it’s a relationship with Jesus that makes the difference.”

“And a relationship with Jesus is not one-sided. He wants that relationship with us too. But I’ve learned that our relationship with Jesus is actually more than personal, it’s communal. This means we are not alone in this world to experience things: good and bad. God designed us to be communal with each other to share His love and support each other. This gives me comfort.”

“God made me. I certainly made a mess of me, but God controls what happens in my life. I cannot explain why this is happening to me. I don’t know. I don’t understand God and why He made some women with this crazy condition nor why my condition has to be so complicated and rare,” Melanie said, “But no matter how bleak, God wants us to pray bold prayers over our circumstances. So I do, and I pray believing using Scripture. It gives me hope and it draws me closer to Him. Regardless of my circumstances, is there anywhere better to be?”

She said humbly, “I am not sure why you would want to write a story about me … maybe someone will be encouraged by it?”

Melanie has exhibited a positive, honest and very faithful outlook on her condition – and this writer saw that on Melanie’s social media. Even though she is going through her valley right now, Melanie says she knows God is there, she trusts Him, in this day and time, that is something we all need to be reminded of.

We are praying for you, Melanie!


Author: rlhwrites

Curator of prose and such.

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