I hate going to see the gynecologist, like most women do. I’d gotten lazy since the birth of my last child because I’d had my tubes tied, an ablation done the year before, and I didn’t depend on the yearly birth control prescription, so if I didn’t make it every year, that was just fine because *I* didn’t need to. There’s never been a history of anything being wrong with me or any woman in my family.
In the fall of 2007 I began figuring when the last time I’d had my pap smear done. It had only been a little over a year so normally I’d just forget about it for a few more months. But this time was different. It’s hard to explain but I kept having this great sense of urgency to go get it taken care of. This was my first red flag. I fought it for a couple months before breaking down and deciding to go see a doctor. The one I’d had after having my daughter had moved as had the one that saw me before the ablation the year before. So I went to a nurse practitioner/midwife. She is the one who discovered the problem.
Fast forward a week. I’m sitting in the parking lot, killing time for a few minutes waiting for class to start and my phone rings. It’s the nurse practitioner/midwife’s nurse. She tells me what the pap results said and that I need to go see a doctor. I have HPV and my cells are suspicious. That’s all I got. The word cancer was brought up but she said to not worry yet, to wait and talk with the doctor. It’s not time to panic, but don’t put it off, either. If I had a penny for every time someone said not to panic, I’d be rich. They were able to get me in to see the doctor in a couple days. That was my second red flag. You never get in that quick.
He performed another pap smear and decided to biopsy. I think I lost 5 pounds that week from all the worry. They put a rush on the results and it still took almost a week to get them back. Another red flag was waived when they didn’t wait for the card to come in the mail, they called and said I needed to come in to have a colposcopy done and talk about the results. My mom took off work to go with me to the doctor on the day I went to get the results. I didn’t want her with me, but she wanted to go, so she sat patiently out in the waiting room while I went back and fought one of the biggest emotional battles yet. It was cancer.
Ya’ know how in the movies when someone receives bad news, the camera shows them sitting still while everything moves slowly away, like they’re moving through an emotional tunnel backwards and all the sounds get muffled and their eyes look dazed? That was me. One half of my brain was telling the other half to focus and listen because I know myself, I’ll walk away stunned and an hour later wonder what he said. The other half of my brain pictured my children, my future husband Chris, my mom, my sister and brothers, my dad, the rest of my family and friends. I saw myself sick, having to break the news to them, wondering what would happen if it spread. My clarity came and went. I would go between being able to listen attentively and understand what he was saying to thinking of what would happen if this goes bad.
I picked up my jacket and purse and walked out of his office in stunned disbelief. I scheduled the freezing like he said to. I went out to the waiting room and all I am aware of at that moment is looking at my mom and being sad that I had to tell her the news no parent wants to hear. At that moment, the fear and sadness shifted from myself to her as I whispered, “It’s cancer.” She quickly grabs her stuff, not even taking the time to put on her coat, and said, “Let’s go out to the car.” We get in the car and I work hard to recall all that the doctor had said, knowing I’d missed a lot. My mom is a deeply religious person, but not the hell-fire-and brimstone type. She sweetly took my hand and said she wanted to pray with me, so she did. It was the sweetest, most heartfelt prayer I had ever heard in my life and it brought me to tears. Seeing my mom begin to cry made me hurt for her even more.
I called my boss, barely able to hold it together, and asked if I could have the rest of the day off and told her what the diagnosis was. It was no problem. I then called Chris. He was very quiet and asked if I was okay. Yes, I was. Then mom drove me home. The next couple hours are a blur. I know I looked things up on the internet, shocked at what I read. Shocked at the mortality rate.
That afternoon my middle son had a doctor’s appointment. During this appointment, they found an irregular heartbeat and wanted blood work done. Again, his was expedited. Within 24 hours, our healthy home turned upside down. We get a call the following Monday that his liver wasn’t functioning properly and he’s anemic. I was just a few days away from having the freezing done and now we didn’t know what would happen with Will, they needed more blood work and some tests run. I looked at Chris and told him that if he wants to leave, now is his chance. He didn’t take the out I handed to him (which I’m very thankful for!). I didn’t know how severe my cancer was and now my son was sick. I could handle myself being sick. I can’t handle the thought of something serious being wrong with my child.
They say you’re never given more in life than you can handle. I no longer believe that to be true. At that moment, it was too much. I had never been lower in my life. But at the same time, I now looked at everything through a different mental and emotional lens. I appreciated everything more. I no longer cared about things such as if I have the best clothes, perfect nails, the latest gadgets. Things no longer mattered, the people in my life did. And my life did.
The freezing seemed to be a success and they ended up finding nothing wrong with my son. We got the latest results from both right before Christmas. It was the only present I needed. I didn’t need or want anything else, I had it all. I had struggled through the Thanksgiving holiday but now I was able to enjoy Christmas and what a good Christmas it was! Some say things just work out. Some attribute it to the prayers people said for us. I think it’s both. I’m not a deeply religious person, but I am spiritual and I believe that prayer worked this time.
At the end of March I went back for the 3 month checkup and pap smear. The nurse called and said things were suspicious and he wanted to try another kind of pap smear, so he did. Again I was asked to come in, had a colposcopy done, another biopsy, and asked me to meet him in his office. He said I fell into the roughly 15% recurrence rate. It appears as though it had come back but we needed to wait for the biopsy results to know for sure. We talked about the next course of action. I walked out of there being told the cancer had returned. A week later I get the call saying that it was all clear. So I grilled the nurse asking how it could look like cancer is back but then suddenly there’s nothing wrong? The pap smear wasn’t normal and he saw something on the colposcopy. None of it made sense but she insisted it was fine and I didn’t need to come back until October (it was April by this point, so he put me off for 6 months). I hope she’s right, but I’m not confident.
So here I sit. Seventeen days away from my next appointment, wondering if I shouldn’t find a new doctor, nervous about what will happen, almost convinced that they screwed up the last time. It’s not uncommon for labs to mix up results and specimens. I have yet to make good on the decision to make this my life’s mission, raising awareness of cervical cancer. Everything may not happen for a reason, but I do think that everything that happens should teach us lessons and we should never come out the same. We should never take what we’ve learned and keep it to ourselves.
One thing this experience has done is help me narrow my focus in education. I’m a psychology student. When I started down this path, I wanted to be your typical psychologist. The more I deal with people and read and see what’s going on around me, the more I know my life’s purpose is to help those that are hurting. I want to help others as they go through the most painful and terrifying times of their lives. Everyone should attempt to leave the world in a better place than when they were brought into it. My life will matter. One day my day for being a cancer advocate will come. For now, I’ve come to realize that I must wait my turn. There is simply not enough of me to spread around; but during this time, I am educating myself and finding that my passion for others and for cancer is far deeper than I would have ever guessed. It’s on a small scale now, educating and informing those I know. One day, it will be on a much broader scale.