Dear Cervical Cancer and Radiation After-Effects
Thank you, sincerely, for helping me get over my aversion to pooping in public. The often unexpected urgency you have bestowed upon me in the most public of places, including but not limited to Target, cafes and my office, has necessitated my very quick acceptance that I can - and must - broaden my Number 2 Network to outside the home. I don’t think I could’ve done it without you.
Following Up on Followups
My first followup pap smear two weeks ago was unexpectedly anxiety-inducing. I couldn’t figure out why I wanted to cry as we approached the UCSF cancer center, or why this little voice in my head whined, “I don’t want to BE here” as we sat in the waiting room.
It wasn’t until we were back home after the 14-hour day that I realized this was the first time I’d been to that center and didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. Every other time we took the familiar route to Divasadero Street, I’d already had cancer—we were just making a plan to get rid of it. This time, I was back to that unknown state. The scariest state.
My gyn onc took a biopsy of some tissue she noticed. She said it looked like scar tissue, but wanted to take the sample because we live so far away and weren’t scheduled to see her again for three months. It’s funny, but I’m way more in tune with my body now.
"Is it up and to your left?" I called down to her from my perch on the exam table.
"Yep," she answered as she snipped a bit of tissue.
I knew exactly what she was talking about. Wish I’d had that ability when a tumor was growing in there, but hey, what’reyougonnado, right?
After all that, the news is amazing. The best news. Biopsy came back clear, as did my pap smear. I have another three months and then will go back in June for a second followup. I have a feeling it won’t be as anxiety-inducing the next time around. By the fourth it’ll probably be old hat. By the eighth, I’ll be past that magical date when most cervical cancers recur.
But I won’t count down those dates now. Instead, I’ll just enjoy the little milestones that are getting me back to “good.” Working full time hours and not needing to take an extra day off for rest. Enjoying my magnificent display of apple blossoms cut fresh from the backyard. Having friends over for John’s incredible pho.
Not letting cancer or the memory thereof rule my day-to-day life. It’s a struggle still, but I know in time I’ll be strong enough to move on.
Because they are often so bizarre, my dreams rarely directly correlate to what’s going on in my waking life. I usually have to sit with them for a couple days and delve into what my subconscious is trying to make out. The recurring driving-at-night-but-unable-to-see dream, for example. Or the dream that has me on the highway or another busy road, feet or hands pumping furiously while I kneel or lay stomach-first on a skateboard—wholly believing this is my preferred mode of transportation—while cars zoom all around me.
(These are manifestations of my feelings of not being in control, obvs. Took me a while, but I figured it out.)
Twice, however, I’ve had cancer nightmares that are SO vivid, that really all my brain is telling me is that we are scared shitless. I alluded to the first one a while ago, which happened right before my infamous vagina tattooing appointment. Nightmares of doctors coming at me with long needles (even if it was in a Civil War era sick tent) don’t take much figuring out.
The second one was last night, just two days before my very first followup pap smear. I’m now in the observation phase of recovery, where they’ll test me every three months to see if any cells have begun to go rogue again. I’ve not thought much about it, other than the sometimes disaffected reminder that pap smears didn’t catch my cancer the first time around, so I have waning faith that even if it were to recur, these expensive trips to San Francisco will actually find it in time.
So last night’s dream had me at the appointment, getting a scan instead of a pap smear (for reasons I can’t remember). The tech was very matter of fact. “You have a 1.5cm tumor, deeper in your body than what a pap smear would’ve found… closer to your back,” she told me.
"But that can’t be," I told her. "We got it all with the treatment!"
"Obviously, you didn’t," she said. Then she recommended I cancel the pap smear scheduled for the next day.
Clearly, though I haven’t really expressed it in real time, I am afraid of recurrence. There is a nagging fear, choosing to raise its head when I’m asleep, that there were individual, non-clustered cancer cells tooling around my body at the time of the “all-clear!” PET scan that have now bonded together to attempt their assault on my body again.
I don’t like putting it into words, because I’m supposed to be stronger than that, putting positivity out there, believing that I beat cancer in its stupid bitch face and am now on my way to “normal.” But I guess since cancer was able to silently breed inside me for god knows how long, I can’t shake the fear that it can happen again. It just takes my sleeping self to admit it.