The Cervical Cancer Diaries: What I Learned Edition

Even if you can’t afford annual checkups, don’t skip your annual exams and pap smears. It’s nobody’s responsibility but your own to make sure you get taken care of, even if it means being pushy with your healthcare providers.

Apr 19, 2012 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

I called my surgeon’s office to find out the pathology results of the clump of my cervix that got cut out during surgery. I called at 8:40 A.M., because I’d realized it had been about a week, and couldn’t wait any longer.  

They contacted my surgeon, who was on vacation. In my mind, he took the call while windsurfing, because he had joked that his dream if he won the lottery was to move to Acapulco. He told his office he’d call me. He did, but not until 4 pm.

 By then, I just assumed I was doomed and why would he call me himself if he had good news?  He was on vacation. If it was good news, he could have one of the nurses call me, right? After working myself up into a tizzy and being on the verge of tears all day, he called and told me the margins were clear and that the cells had not spread, and I’d just need to see him every three or four months to make sure nothing pops back up.  Holy shit, I’m OK!

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Celebratory beer, which promptly made me fall asleep.  I can't handle my booze post surgeries yet.

I was initially struck by complete joy, and picked up some champagne and a few bottles of local beer from the wine store near work. I got on the train heading home, and out of complete happiness and relief, burst into tears. I cried my eyes out, and was thankful that it was sunny and I had a pair of sunglasses in my purse. I wasn’t able to compose myself until I got into our backyard and even then, I still cried for a while.  

To say I’m relieved feels like a complete understatement. It feels like I can breathe again. Jesse and I celebrated by opening beer and having Mexican food. I just finished my 17-day run of antibiotics for my hand, and I’m still healing from both surgeries and can’t really handle booze.

I’m lucky that I got a colposcopy when I did. I'm lucky that I have access to healthcare and that I have insurance. Our insurance plan isn’t going to cover everything. For example, my anesthesiologist not being in network for one of my surgeries, like I have control over picking my anesthesiologist?  

At the start of my health issues, I had a total of THREE gynecological oncologists that I could have seen in total. Three. In one of the largest cities for medical care in the United States. I was really lucky that I clicked with my doctor and that I was squeezed in to see him as quickly as they did. We’re switching to a different insurance plan as soon as my husband has open enrollment because the one we're on is pretty crappy. Side note: stay away from the Tufts Spirit Plan if you're in Massachusetts -- it's more like the Tufts Bullshit Plan.

Healing from a cold knife cone biopsy surgery is really not a good time. Initially, I had some brown, rusty old blood spotting and the black coffee ground type stuff that most people talk about.  

About four days after surgery, I started having intermittent light red bleeding and cramping that is pretty miserable. It’s still happening. I just keep waiting to be normal again. I have my follow-up in about a week, and I hope I am not bleeding until then. Hopefully at that appointment, I will be cleared for "normal activity." I look forward to exercising as hard as I normally do, carrying around my dog (I can’t lift more than five pounds right now), and having a sex life again.

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 Champagne is best for drinking in your pajamas!

 Had I not had a colposcopy and treatment, those cells would have developed further and spread.  Hurray for modern medicine!  Also hurray that I’m not in a third world country, or like many American women, don’t have health insurance because I can’t afford it. Even if you can’t afford annual checkups, don’t skip your annual exams and pap smears. You can go to Planned Parenthood and figure out with them what you’ll need to pay because they do have a sliding scale. You can also review this list broken down by state for low-cost or free pap smears on the National Cervical Cancer Coalition

If a pap smear comes back that you have one of the high risk strains of HPV, make sure to get a colposcopy within a year, whether or not your doctor tells you to. It's worth finding out immediately if there’s a problem and getting treatment right away if you need it. Cervical cancer doesn’t spread that quickly, but a normal pap smear won’t indicate anything is wrong if you have glandular dysplasia or adenocarcinoma. The glandular cells are higher up and are where a normal pap smear won’t reach to test.  That’s where my nasty cells were, and my doctors ordered the colposcopy assuming everything would be normal and that it would just be a preventative check. 

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My mom with me and my grandmother, right after I was born.  I still miss my grandma Gloria daily.  

 The incidence rate of cervical cancer are highest within Hispanic women, followed by African American women in the United States. I’ve come to the conclusion that my quarter Hispanic roots are purely in my vagina, because I don’t represent those genetics in my appearance.

I’m tall, fair skinned, and blue eyed, but my cervix must be 100% Hispanic. The mortality rate for cervical cancer deaths are highest in African-American women, followed by Hispanic women in the United States. If you haven’t heard your mother, grandmother or older family members talk about getting a physical once a year, please ask them about it. If you have friends who mention putting off their checkups, ask them about it. When I was at my heaviest weight, I put off going in because I didn’t want to hear about it from my doctor. I'm sure other ladies do the same thing.     

 Hiding from the facts and assuming everything is OK is pretty much the worst thing you can do.  My grandmother did that, and died very prematurely because she ignored a lump in her breast.  She didn’t follow up with her doctor about the lump until it was too late and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and beyond.  

The fact that she isn’t here with us today makes me so unbelievably sad. My mother has mentioned feeling remorseful a number of times about not questioning my grandmother more about her heath care, which is easier to say after the fact. It’s nobody’s responsibility but your own to make sure you get taken care of, even if it means being pushy with your healthcare providers.

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To be healthy in the spring and yay, I didn't kill my flowers!

I feel very blessed that I don’t need to have a hysterectomy or further treatment, and the situation that I am in is the most positive outcome that we could have anticipated. I truly didn’t expect it. That can all change as time goes by, and there’s still a chance I may need other treatment later on in life. There's a chance for the type of cells I had to come back, and from there, there's a percentage for the reccurence to be invasive.  

I will gladly take getting my cervix scraped and poked at every three or four months by my oncologist versus getting my uterus removed right now. My husband and I certainly talked a lot about our decision to not have children, and questioned whether if I was healthy if we should have kids or continue on our kid-free path. The idea of potentially getting your uterus ripped out makes you question your life choices.

Ultimately, we’d rather adopt if we want kids and it certainly isn’t right now. Life is good and our marriage is healthy, comfortable, and easy. 

I'm still looking for an organization to volunteer for that is either women's health or cancer related-anyone in the Boston area. Got any suggestions for me?  I’ll update every now and again about the monitoring of things or if something happens, but for now I  wish you all happiness, health, and yearly pap smears!