Where’s Mariska?

Some of our students have been asking where I’ve been lately, so I thought I’d take to the blog and catch you up. In late May, I had a CT-scan for a weird bulge in my abdomen. It came back showing two tumors on my liver. I spent a couple of weeks worrying that I had something terminal and knowing that whatever it was, it wasn’t good. If you told any funny jokes during that time and I didn’t laugh, that was why.

That bulging bit is not muscle; it's the tumor.

I met with doctors at Georgetown University Hospital to learn that these were most likely benign tumors called hemangiomas, but the larger of the two needed to come out ASAP because it was at high risk for rupture, and it had caused something called “portal vein hypertension,” which makes your spleen swell and blood platelets drop. Untreated, it can cause life-threatening internal bleeding or heart failure. Surgery was scheduled for June 10. I celebrated the preliminary diagnosis of “most likely benign” and realized that this tumor had been smashing my stomach as if I had lap-band surgery. It was likely the reason I had stomachaches all the time (not to mention a slow but significant weight loss over the past couple of years). On the day of the surgery, doctors from the Liver Transplant Team at Georgetown transplanted a massive 18 cm wide by 14 cm high by 4 cm in depth tumor into the trashcan, along with the left lobe of my liver where it had taken up residence. To get to a tumor of that size, they do an open incision and use spreaders to separate your ribs.

The technical name for the device that spreads your ribs: Finochietto Retractor. And you thought the Reformer looked like a torture device.

Post-op, it feels like I would imagine it feels to be run over by a truck… a couple of times. They opted to leave the second smaller tumor in, with the idea that it wouldn’t cause future problems and the surgery to remove it would be more dangerous than it was worth. For size reference for the larger tumor, a bagel is 10 cm wide and tall. This tumor was the largest many on the surgical team at Georgetown had ever removed (I am an overachiever, after all). Although I had planned to be back at work teaching in two weeks (?!?), that was not meant to be. First, because it is pure madness to think recovery could be so quick since it turns out liver surgery is more serious and painful than the appendectomy I had when I was in 8th grade. Second, because I like to keep things exciting, I had a second, emergency surgery about a week after the first. Two days following my release from the hospital, I was back in the ER with a high fever and terrible pain under my ribs. The doctors ran a lot of tests (CT-scans, chest and abdominal X-rays, blood work, etc.) and found that there was a kink in my small intestine near my liver. They opted to try to fix this non-surgically first by inserting an NG tube and pumping my stomach. I’ll spare you the details, but you can look that up (and then say a little prayer of thanks if you’ve never had to have one).

Looking thrilled about the NG tube.

They tried this stomach pumping for three days, but it didn’t fix the problem. On the 18th of June, they opted to do a second procedure called an exploratory laparotomy. They re-cut along the first surgical incision (which extended from my sternum to above my belly button), cut a couple more inches below my belly button, and started looking through my guts for where the blockage was. Luckily, the only one was the one that showed up on X-ray. A section of my small intestine had become stuck on my liver, and they had to separate them. To give my digestive system a break from having to do any work, they kept pumping my stomach for an additional six days.

Hangry level: extreme.

Stomach pumping is perhaps the most effective weight loss plan in the world. I lost 12 pounds in two weeks. I look worse than I’ve looked maybe ever. I’m like ballerina-on-a-fast skinny. Oddly, my skin looks amazing. Two weeks without really washing my face has evened out my complexion better than a series of microdermabrasion. I was finally released from the hospital late last week. So, where am I now? I am at home until August, practicing this thing called “rest.” I am also unable to do any core exercise until September. Of everything, that is the toughest to take. No Pilates. No Fuse. 🙁 As I always try to look for the good in tough things, this is what I know now that I didn’t know before: 1.     You can have huge things growing inside you and not even really notice, so if you have weird medical stuff going on, don’t stop searching until you have answers. 2.     Hospitals have terrible food, but when you’re put on “NPO” status and can’t even have ice chips, you would do some damage to get access to that green Jell-O (even though green is the grossest flavor of them all). 3.     The friend that brings you a portable hotspot so you can have good streaming Internet service in the hospital will be your favorite person in the world. 4.     Even if you hate to wash your hair, you will really want to wash your hair if you have to go several weeks without a proper shower. 5.     One of the best benefits about living in a city like Washington, D.C. is that they have specialists for pretty much anything that can be wrong with you. 6.     Napping is awesome.

Live and learn.

7.     If you miss the news for a couple of weeks, you can come back to find every Republican in America running for president! 8.     If you are getting cut in half from your sternum down, they have to do a turn around your belly button or else you would have NO BELLY BUTTON AFTER SURGERY!! How creepy is that?! Shocking, right?!? Hands down the most fascinating thing about having surgery on your abdomen.

The incision to leave the belly button in place (along with a badass scar).

9.     Your liver can regenerate, which is happening to me as I type, which is practically a superhero-like ability. 10. I went from Pilates bad-ass to can’t do a roll-up if you’re dangling a million dollars in front of me after ONE surgery. Two surgeries, and I am convinced that the lesson I’m meant to be getting here is “beginner mind.” When I get back to Pilates, it will be as if I’m brand new. And, the doctors say I may never get as strong as I was before the surgery. I hope to be back teaching in August. In the meantime, check out some of our amazing teachers who are subbing my classes. They really are the best! And, I’ll keep you up-to-date on what it’s like to be a brand new Fuse Pilates student. I have this feeling that it’s going to be tough, but I’m going to love it! Slightly-less-hardcore-than-before, Mariska

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Posted in Fuse Pilates, Lifelong learning, Mariska...Uncut, Pilates, Pilates DC and tagged , ,

All Comments (8)

  1. Sarah R. says:


  2. Caroline Cunningham says:

    Mariska – I am so very sorry for you and all that you have been through, although I guess having this all behind you is better than not knowing at all. You are one bad ass chick, and will return just as bad ass when it is time to heal. Enjoy binge watching, reading (highly recommend All the Light You Cannot See and Undaunted Courage) and writing, for which you have a great talent. Sending healing thoughts!

    Caroline Cunningham

  3. Natski says:

    OMG, Mariska!
    When I was recovering from a hernia op in late May, I would watch your videos on Pilates Anytime to get my physical strength back. I missed Fuse so much then. I know you will get your strength back and will be even stronger than before. Thank you very much for sharing a very personal story. I wish you a quick full recovery. Look forward to seeing you back in Fuse! Take a good care.

  4. Lamar (ODU) says:


    Praying for you girl! You will be back on your feet..er..stomach..er … side..um..back, well, lets just say you will be back in action before you know it!
    (BTW, I will never look at a bagel the same.)

  5. Denee Dow says:

    Hi Mariska, Well you certainly have a sense of humor! Our bodies are amazing along w/their capabilities to heal. Our spirits heal right along w/our bodies. And you are a special spirit. Take one day at a time. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  6. HollyS says:

    I only know you from YouTube, but I’m so happy that you’re OK!! I found you by looking for MS pilates videos, I’ve told all of my friends and my neuro about you. I do Pilates in Brooklyn with Rotem. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and I can’t wait to hear when you are back to teaching.