The C Word : 30 Days of Truth


Warning: The following content can be considered graphical in nature.  It may contain material that may not be appropriate for certain audiences.  Children under the age of 13, those of the male gender, and others faint of heart may want to take extra care while viewing this.  Use your own discretion.

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

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12 thoughts on “The C Word : 30 Days of Truth

  1. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, I pray that you won’t have to repeat this terrible ordeal. (((hugs)))

  2. Oh wow…I wish you the best of health…I’m sorry you are having to go through this…

    • I just hope that after all of this crappy health earlier in my life, I get to enjoy healthy longevity. I appreciate your sentiment. I don’t think I’m still sick, but then again, I didn’t know I was in the first place.

  3. Wow, you’ve been through a nightmare and I really hope you are through it now. Living with that uncertainty must be so difficult for you. It makes me angry when I read of doctors not giving sufficient information to patients before they do what they do. It seems to happen time after time, and while I might be wrong it seems to be something that women are often on the raw end of. I hope this is past. I hope you can have health now.

    • My last doctor specialized in gynecological surgeries, so we had a surgery consult and everything. She was extremely professional, and I had a great experience. Well, as great as having surgery on your parts can be, you know? Magee Women’s Hospital is the best hospital for women in the city. It really is a premier hospital.

      The surgery prior was done like a back alley abortion, I swear. I was laid up in a tiny exam room as if it was an OR. I had no anesthetic, and the doctor and nurse were about as comforting as a cactus. I wasn’t on the up and up about that surgery and aftercare. And there are really limited resources on the internet about it, because it’s an outdated surgery. I am angry that they used it on high grade dysplasia, because of the extremely low success rate.

      I wasn’t given surgery options at that point in time, or I would have insisted on LEEP to begin with. But, I’m glad I didn’t, because in all likelihood, they would have screwed that up. Dr. T is the best lady doc there is. And I hope that she’ll still be around to get me through my future pregnancy.

  4. I think it’s very important to note that while condoms don’t always protect you from HPV, they do reduce the risk. And sometimes cervical cancer can be caused by complete unknowns as well, another thing that women need to know. My mom’s mom had cervical cancer, and she lived in a time where all of these procedures, painful and traumatizing as they are, did not exist. For many long years, my mother lived with the words her mother’s doctor imparted callously upon her, that my grandmother contracted the disease because she must have had many partners. While my mom knew that this wasn’t true, in my grandmother’s time those words were still pretty much the most damning that could be branded across a woman.

    Years after my grandmother’s death, my mother finally saw an enlightened gynecologist who told her how much nonsense and ignorance was in that statement from years ago. The risk of HPV does increase significantly with multiple partners, but sometimes cervical cancer can strike for reasons doctors still don’t understand. I really feel that women need to be educated to take their reproductive health seriously, and your story is a painful illustration of that, as is my grandma’s.

    (You know, of course, that in repeating the statement made to my mother about how my grandmother must have had multiple partners and that’s what caused her cancer, I am passing no judgement on your sexual history or anyone else’s. I’m speaking on different values of a different time, and the fact that some jaggoff doctor essentially told my mother that her mom deserved the cancer she got because she must have slept around.)

    • I had an HPV test done to figure out why these abnormal cells were growing, and it came back negative. Unfortunately, the test only looks for the most high risk, aggressive strains. Therefore, I will never really know whether this was the same cervical cancer that my great-grandmother died of, or it has been HPV.

      I don’t see the shame in HPV, honestly. Like I mentioned in the statistics, about half of the sexually active population gets it, and something like 50% of that population gets it without incident. There is a very inappropriate stigma on it, and now ever more so with the vaccine. No, it was not available by the time I had been diagnosed.

      Now, I have only really fallen victim to the stigma in one instance of my life. I’ve had my fair share of partners, but I have recently found out that it’s really nothing by many other women’s counts in my age group. The truth is, I was with guys who were not monogamous in our relationship. Basically dudes screwing everything in sight. But, I can’t narrow it down to those two guys, although I have a pretty good idea, just based on the onset. (Which they say can be latent, but come on! Latent for over three years with good paps?)

      Here’s where the stigma comes in. I was mentioning on FB when I had my RL FB about my surgery and things. Of course, the C-word comes up, and everyone freaks. Seriously, it’s something I wanted to put in here, but I just couldn’t find a way to do it. So, naturally, I was asked about it.

      Let me preface the next part with this. I’ve brought this up to a lot of women, and I was shocked to find out how many other women have gone through something similar. My sister-in-law has had the most painful struggle over the last 20 years. She’s had everything removed now, and she tested positive for vaginal cancer. How awful is that? And believe me, I don’t see Xarrie (ha ha, Xan’s sister) as the loose kind.

      Some old high school friends became entirely too interested. And I knew what that meant. One called me and gushed on and on about how sorry she was and was sniffing for details. Translation: I want to get as much info about you so I can bag about how you deserved this cancer for being a slut.

      Ultimately, I was right about that. Word went through the grapevine back to me in a call that said, “You know, what they were saying was complete BS. I know you, and no one deserves this. Especially not you.” Interesting that the woman thought I knew.

      And hence, I’ve moved away from my home town. Done!

  5. I am so sorry you’ve had to go through this. It’s after midnight and I’m up after sleeping most of the day again. The Pneumonia makes me so exhausted and it’s difficult to breathe. But I have never had Cancer, and the idea terrifies me. Both my grandmothers died of it – one of ovarian, the other of uterine Cancer. I’d rather get hit by a truck nice and fast.

    And when you’re feeling bad, you have nothing to do but think about such lovely thoughts! Especially with depression – that makes everything so much worse. Did you have to have chemo or anything like that with this stuff? I would think what you did have was bad enough. I had one female exam at the end of Thing Two’s pregnancy that felt like a pit stop. The doc was pissed that my doctor had gone into labor and I was dumped on him. Like that was my fault. Jerk-o. I think those guys should get their licenses at least temporarily revoked.

    Good thoughts with you. And no one deserves Cancer no matter what. Isn’t it amazing how they will say that stuff about women but not men, unless they’re gay? So nice. Ugh. I hope you stay well and Cancer-free.

    Also, you mentioned a post you made on disease and depression and I was hoping you had a link to it. I like your writing.

    Love,
    Alice

    • I’ve been there with the pneumonia. I’m so sorry to hear you have to go through that. I don’t know if you ever had a chance to read my post about mine, but I wrote a post called Somatopsychic on Pendulum over a year ago. I had walking pneumonia for a month, and I thought it was weather and depression!

      I had a great-grandmother that died of cervical cancer at a pretty young age. I figured that in all likelihood, I had a genetic predisposition toward it. I’m just surprised that it took so many generations to get down to me. But, then again, STD’s are on the rise. Unfortunately, when we get to the nitty gritty truth of that situation, that’s what it is.

      No chemo or anything. Basically, with those kinds of cancers, they just start hacking away. Why bother with chemo unless it hits your thyroid? And then it becomes blood cancer, so it’s a way bigger problem. The chemo would have fried my whole system worse than just taking chunks out. I would guess that the next step would be to start taking parts out. I hope not.

      You had a doc that got mad about that? How unprofessional! It’s labor, geez!

      And thanks Alice. You’re absolutely a lovely. Kind and wonderful.

      X.x. Lulu

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