An Update from the Internet Hypocrisy Department…
When I was eyeballs-deep in cancerland last year, I had an epiphany: I’d start a foundation! Geared toward young women of the Internet age who flock to message boards and WebMD when they notice weird things, the Pappenstance Foundation would exist to get those ladies off their computers and in to see a doctor. We’re all so different, with varied ways of explaining our issues, and the plights we experience “down there” are not outwardly visible, so really the smart thing to do would be to exit those rabbit holes of armchair gynos and get in to see the real-life thing, right? (Getting the foundation started is still on my to-do list, so please don’t anyone steal it, ok?)
But I have to report that for the last three weeks, I’ve suffered from Internet hypocrisy. I’ve had some… issues. Some pains, some pings, some flurries… just weird things going on with my body. So, I um… I flocked to the Internet. I’ve googled some things. I’ve read some message boards and even weighed in on a couple of discussions that pertain to me. I haven’t gone so far as to list my symptoms on a message board and ask if anyone has felt the same, but I might as well have.
My justification? I think I’m so tired of going to see doctors and am so worried about being a hypochondriac that I just wanted to make sure I could rule anything out before I made the call. On Tuesday, the pain in my pelvis, hip flexors and thighs was so bad that I finally emailed my list of symptoms to my gyn onc. I apologized for bothering her. I made sure she knew I didn’t want to be a nuisance or sound like a worrywart. I ended the email with, “I’d hate for all of this to be combination of diet / kickboxing injury and waste your time, but I’d come in if you wanted me to.”
I’m not 100% stoked that she wants to see me and possibly move up my PET scan. Deep down, I wanted her to say, ‘why not keep track of your diet for a week and see if anything changes,’ or, ‘how about if I refer you to a physical therapist and we keep your regular appointment in June?’ Which is silly, because the right thing for her to do is to see me and rule anything out.
I made the first available appointment she had, which is next Tuesday at 9 AM. Not because I’m worried, really, but because that’s less time I’ll be giving myself to go online and scare myself with what ifs. I know better, and yet I can’t keep away. Somebody should start a foundation or something…
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.
“The Last Time You Were Truly Happy.”
I wrote all day long yesterday. It felt incredible. Most of my entries, like Anne Lamott says, were shitty first drafts. But I’m really pleased with my response to the “Tell Me About the Last Time You Were Truly Happy” writing prompt. So I’m sharing it here:
These first few months of 2013 are the happiest I have ever been. I live in a house with my husband. I know, from three years of observing my incredible Mother in Law, what I want my house to look like. How to keep it uncluttered. Organized. Looking the way I want it to.
I have real, true, unfettered “me time.” I sit around in my pajamas all day on Saturday and Sunday. I read silly, thoughtful, gossipy articles on the Internet. I write for hours on end. I do whatever I please.
I create bouquets and place them in places that will bring me infinite joy each time I walk by. Our hallway is alive with sprays of lilies. The entryway with a stately purple orchid, serenely bowed.
On these days alone, I listen to the music I want to listen to. At the volume with which I want to hear it. Sometimes it’s loud. And it shoots right through to my soul. And I dance around my living room, perfecting my Breakfast-Club-era Molly Ringwald. And I sing along. And I get out of breath. Sometimes I slip on my socked feet, But that’s ok.
When JLP’s at work, I watch dumb movies. With nobody to question why I might be interested in yet another Matthew McConaughey bromance. I eat four pieces of cinnamon toast in a row.
I do not have cancer. I do not work four jobs. When I sit on the couch with my husband, there is not so much information flooding my brain that I can’t enjoy the moment. I no longer make miles-long to-do lists in my head. I give thanks (sometimes silently, sometimes audibly) for this moment. When we can hold hands on the couch and our smelly old cat can sleep, drool pooling at his upturned lip, snuggled in between us.
I have a husband who adores me. Who isn’t afraid of this post-cancer body, that I might be broken, that I may have progressed without him in some sort of cancer-caused journey of introspection. He pleads with me to do less. To heal. To not worry so much about a spotless bathroom. I agree. And I actually stop worrying about it. I let those fucking winds of heaven blow through us like we’re a couple of slices of commodity Swiss cheese. I accept each moment for what it is. I unabashedly ask for more time, for someone to repeat something I might not catch right away.
I’m ok with the distance from my friends, knowing that we can all check in at any time with each other and pick up right where we left off. I have no fear that anyone is angry with me. That there is any misunderstanding between me and another that may be creating conflict in our lives.
I am in love with life. I am in love with every day that starts with a fresh promise and a warm cup of Ethiopian coffee. I can’t remember a time I woke up every morning excited to brew a fresh cup of coffee. But with every single cup, I’m reminded that today is a new day. Anything is possible. I no longer make those big, convoluted plans that I have to carry through at all costs. I might do the laundry today, or I might do it tomorrow.
And who’s going to judge me? The Overachieving Women’s Club? Guess what, they wish they could do the same. They just haven’t had the reason to let those inner judges go yet.
I have, and it’s the most incredible feeling. I am so happy.
The Upside to Pelvic & Abdominal Radiation?
Keeping my girlish figure. Recovery is making my intestines incredibly sensitive, resulting in a little more awareness of what I take in. All those comfort foods that are supposed to be “treats?” Yeah, those happened a little more often than I was realizing (especially the booze). Here’s a fun list of extreme edibles and potent potables that were staples pre-cancer and are now once-in-a-while goodies. Not because I’m actively trying to be healthier, mind you, but because my body can’t handle them:
Burritos. Bourbon. Sausage & Peppers. Nachos. Red Wine. Champagne (MOST SORELY MISSED). Mac N Cheese. Lattes. Milk. Steak. Anything With Red Sauce. Anything With Cream Sauce. Pastries. Diet Coke. Salsa. Raw Fruits. Raw Veggies.
So, you know, thanks A LOT, cancer, for making me eat healthier. I can think of easier ways to go on a diet!
Sometimes (today, for example) I can’t fucking believe I went through chemo and radiation. Not gonna lie, In those instances, I feel like a total badass.
The Upside to Chemo Brain?
I’ve done the same 20-minute yoga DVD at least 10 times now, and I have yet to remember the sun salutations sequence! It’s like taking a new class every time!
Chemo Brain: Ensuring you don’t get bored with workout DVDs.