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Day 16 : Someone or something you definitely could live without.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She fancied herself wise and experienced in the world at the ripe young age of fifteen. Since she was the age where she considered herself an adult, because she had an adult body, she started to do adult things. Being in a monogamous, committed relationship, she decided herself old enough, and educated enough by the health classes in the public school system, to start having sex.
That naïve little girl grew up and discovered that her monogamous relationship existed only with one party. Seeing as how she was much older now, at the ripe older age of 18, she considered herself naïve in the past, but much wiser now. She knew of sexually transmitted diseases and let out a sigh of relief at the knowledge that she had used condoms at every frequent instance of sexual intercourse.
That girl, she is me.
Throughout the years, I had gained a new definition of relationships and explored my sexuality. I wasn’t much for one night stands, I preferred a committed relationship, but as it turns out, I was not particularly good at staying monogamous. Sometimes, I would have a momentary indiscretion and have repeat ex-sex. Other times, I just fooled around with others for a self-esteem boost. None without protection.
Protection is a term that should be used loosely with condoms. When used correctly, condoms can prevent pregnancy in 99% of cases.
HPV doesn’t care about condoms.
I could live without HPV and the cancer it caused me.
For those of you that find yourself at a loss for the topic of HPV, I’ll give you a rundown. Human Papilloma Virus is a sexually transmitted disease that transmits itself from contact to contact with partners. It is a virus and can stay dormant in a person’s system for years, kind of like herpes. Except, with HPV, there are often no immediate outward symptoms. There is no way to tell if a person has contracted the virus with either partner. It is a silent illness with a potential for being deadly, if left untreated.
HPV is actually so common that upwards of 50% of the population will contract the disease within their lifetime. Being a virus, in many cases, especially with younger patients, the illness will resolve itself without any intervention.
Otherwise, it is an unimaginable hell.
In 2007, I underwent a colposcopy with a biopsy to determine the cause of my abnormal pap smear. A colposcopy is a diagnostic procedure where the doctor sprays a solution on the cervix to make it clear. Abnormal cells can be detected when they don’t turn clear. If they are discovered, the area is biopsied to determine the progression of abnormality, essentially meaning cancerous in nature.
A pap smear is uncomfortable enough. They take an instrument and scrape a layer of skin off of the cervix for testing. It is one of the most painful gynecological procedures I had gone through at that point in time.
I was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia termed CIN-I, the least threatening development. I was in my early 20’s, and the doctors had decided that I would get regular screenings to monitor it. I was assured that it would resolve on its own, being that I was a younger woman with no history of chronic illness.
A year later, I was 34 weeks pregnant with my son. The doctor had determined it was necessary to check on the dysplasia. The growth had become bad enough that they risked preterm labor to get a sample. CIN-II. It was not resolving on its own. I had defied statistics.
Six months later, the doctor performed another colposcopy with a biopsy. CIN-III. It had progressed again, one step before invasive cancer. That was when I had my first surgery.
The surgery is actually a pretty outdated, but not quite as invasive, procedure with a very low success rate. It was cryosurgery, where they take a cold probe and freeze the bad cells off.
For this surgery, they lied. The doctors told me that it would be uncomfortable and not too unlike a colposcopy. Seeing as how I endured one during late term pregnancy, I felt confident. Instead, I ended up being left in a silent room with my legs in the air. “Wait five minutes and then get up. And you’ll be all done.’
I was alone in that room. I attempted to sit and found that I couldn’t. It was extraordinarily painful, and I rolled to one side on the table, nearly falling off. I pulled myself up, and limped out of the office holding my stomach.
Everything from the waist down was in as much pain as it was postpartum. I limped out to the parking lot, and had to stand to wait for my father. I went home with no medicine, unmedicated bipolar disorder, a seven month old infant, and a gushing crotch. They fail to mention that the cryosurgery makes you gush fluid for another month after the procedure. And there is really no way of telling the success of the procedure until the next six month pap screening.
I had one good pap smear. The next two showed abnormal cells. I was back in the office for another colposcopy with a biopsy. It revealed that I had developed CIN-II again and I required another more invasive surgery this time.
That surgery is called a LEEP procedure. For this surgery, the doctors put the patient into a twilight state and take an electrified loop to the cervix. In this instance, the doctors are able to tell post-op if they were successful. My margins came back clear. That was November 2011. My first follow up in May 2011 came back clear. It was the first time in four years that I had been cancer free.
In the latter progressions of this cancer, symptoms start to become evident. Doctors say they are not, but in retrospect, they are. First, I was getting sick constantly. Every virus that came past, I contracted. I had the flu twice a year every year since my diagnosis. I had numerous cases of bronchitis and constant ear infections.
In addition, there were changes in my lower regions I didn’t immediately notice. I spotted between periods. I almost always bled after sex or any insertion of pretty much anything. Bumping the cervix eventually became painful, and sex was not quite as enjoyable.
I was always tired. I had always felt like I was worn down.
I find that I am worried today. I panic over every instance of spotting. I started getting colds again. And I won’t be able to know if the cancer has returned until November, after my regularly scheduled screening.
What if I have to go through yet another biopsy? Another surgery? Each surgery reduced the chances of being able to carry a child to term. I am not finished having children. What if this never goes away? What if I have to have organs removed?
This cancer has been the Sword of Damocles over my head, a constant threat, for five years now. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
For more on my personal battle with HPV and cancer:
LEEP into Cin – Part 1 – The Story of how contracting HPV is possible.
LEEP into Cin Part 2 – The Story of the progression of the HPV
Leep into Cin Part 3 – The Story leading up to the most recent colposcopy and surgery
Fear and Loathing in Pittsburgh – Fear of the surgery consultation
Taking the Bullet – All of the what if’s about the surgery
Me and Magee – The LEEP procedure