Advice for a 1st time Mammogrammer

One of the perks of turning 40 is getting a mammogram. I say perk because I’m lying to you. I recently had my first mammogram and I feel it is my duty to tell you two things. Because before going to get my first exam, I’d only heard women reference the uncomfortableness of having your breast squished between two bits of machinery. That’s it. No one clued me in on what to wear to my appointment and as a person who likes to show up as prepared as possible it would have been super helpful.

Listen to me now, hear me later: A) You should wear pants or leggings to your appointment.

I was brought back to a changing area with dressing rooms and lockers. She handed me a gown and directed me to a room, looking at my bare legs, boots, and dress saying, “You can remove everything but your shoes, bra and underwear I guess.” I disrobed and donned the gown, leaving on my shoes which created quite a fashion statement. I secured my stuff in a locker and headed to the back waiting area where women sat reading magazines, waiting their turn to get their boobs squished examined. I sat down and immediately noticed that every other woman was either wearing pants or leggings under their gowns. OH! So by wearing a dress without leggings to my first mammogram appointment I had completely outed myself as a newbie. Or an exhibitionist. Ooops. I sat, feeling their eyes scan my bare legs, as I tried to read up on the latest celebrity gossip.

Sitting among the clothed-legged ladies wasn’t the biggest embarrassment of the appointment though. Because when they called my name and took me into the exam room, I realized that I would be standing for the entirety of the appointment in boots and underwear with a robe off one shoulder like some kind of sick stripper.

Important to also note: B) If you’re going to go bare-legged, at least have the decency to wear cute underwear.

Luck for me, my radiology tech was a smooth operator probably used to such rookie mistakes made by patients. And while the exam itself is uncomfortable, it wasn’t terrible. All those appointments with my gynecologist examining my cervix made the boob smooshing a relative breeze. I’ll take the boob machine over the stirrups any day. The exam basically consists of the tech taking your breast and sort of (wo)man-handle it into place on a cold, flat piece of machinery and then positioning your arm so they can clamp down the top of the machine onto your breast, making a boob pancake.

Side note: I did not want to eat pancakes after this experience.

It’s relatively quick and soon, you and your boobs are getting changed out of your robe and you’re off to enjoy the rest of your day where hopefully your boobs will get a rest from being handled. Unless you like that sort of thing and have sexy plans for the evening.

If you haven’t had a mammogram and you’re in your 40′s or have a family history of breast cancer: GET YOURSELF AN APPOINTMENT. Early detection is key and you know how I feel about early detection. And wear some pants to your appointment!

**My mammogram results came back clear, thankfully, because my cervix is problematic enough. I don’t also need boob problems.**

It’s a Christmas Miracle

The doctor called today and gave us some really, really, really good news.

My pap was normal.

My HPV test came back negative.

I am healthy.

We are clear to try to have a baby.

I cried happy tears. I thanked her profusely. I stammered and jumped up and down. Then I called Darcy and we were office-appropriate joyful on our phones. Then I called my family and he called his. I hugged my co-workers and then texted friends far and wide. Once we mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, my phone has not stopped vibrating with lovely people sharing in our happiness.

My heart is so full to bursting.

After the roller coaster of a year we’ve had, it’s beyond-words-wonderful to have this kind of news. The kind that makes you beam, do a jig, full-belly laugh, and get teary with amazement.

 

The Great Lesson of My Life

When I was a kid one of the best places in the world was my parent’s bed, especially when it was early in the morning and still warm from their body heat and the pillows still smelled of them- it felt like the safest place in the world. I think about being a kid a lot lately and how different it is now to be an adult. . . an adult who wants kids of her own. The urge to be a mom is strong in me and it rises up in my throat all the time. I try to swallow it down and wait.

Wait. Wait & see.

Yesterday I had my first pap smear appointment since my cancer surgeries this past summer. I had put off thinking about what it all meant up until this week when the anxiety set in. I mean, I was thinking about it but in that back-of-the-mind sort of way. I was a bundle of nerves walking into the doctor’s office and as I checked in at the desk I overheard the receptionist explain to another patient that my, apparently our, doctor was going to be on maternity leave. I tried to shake off my feelings. It’s not that I don’t like pregnant women- quite the contrary! I’m just so incredibly envious. And to face my visibly pregnant doctor who eradicated the cervical cancer growing inside of me and who just might deliver the news that we may or may not have the chance to have our own child was a bit much for me that morning when I was all jumbled up with my emotions. But she’s lovely and kind and we shared congratulations- her to me on my marriage, me to her on her pregnancy.

See? This is fine. It’s manageable. I can do this.

After the exam where she said everything looked good, we talked about what’s next. Within a week’s time we’ll have the results of the pap. We are hoping for normal test results to the pap and the HPV test. Apparently the surgeries could have rid me of HPV which I didn’t know was possible. If both tests come back normal we’ll likely get the go ahead to try to conceive. If one or both of the tests comes back abnormal, I’ll have to go back in for another colposcopy (where they look at the cells of my cervix with a microscope & swab anything suspicious) and we’ll see what they find.

All there is to do now is wait some more. Wait and worry. Wait and hope. Wait and wonder. I have never been more acutely aware that the great lesson of my life is patience. To lean into the waiting and the wanting and the wondering. To trust the process and let hope buoy me when I feel myself spiraling into what ifs and worry.

It’s such a strange experiences, to take a test that will direct the next move you make. That so much can weigh on what amounts to a small plastic cup filled with a modicum of your bodily fluid. For now I’m moving through the feelings, talking out our options with Mr. Darcy, researching OBGYN doctors, and taking my basal temperature. . . just in cases.

Maybe we’ll have a Christmas miracle?

These Things

Apparently my super power is being able to hear a cat puking from the other room while I am asleep and wearing ear plugs.

I’d like a new super power, please.

The bright side is I am awake early enough to write this post. You’re welcome?

***

The other day on FB I was tagged in this meme where I was given an age and I had to talk about what I was doing then. I inadvertently got 2 ages- 20 and 26. I could not for the life of me remember what the hell I was doing at either age. I knew that at 20 my father had just passed away and I was living at home going to a local community college. But 26? NO CLUE. It basically took five people, six including me, to piece together my life.  (I was living on my own for the first time without a roommate, probably dating the homeless guy. Let’s not talk about it!)

My memory is shot. Can gingko biloba save it?

***

The carpet is pulled back and the pads have been sucked dry. There is a lingering mildew smell. The contractor comes out tomorrow. All parts are crossed that this is not a serious (re: expensive) problem. We googled more information about the problem and it turns out that’s really helpful if you want to increase your freaking out.

The rains are returning today and we are watchful and nervous.

If this can’t get fixed soon and/or it breaks the bank, our holiday housewarming party is going to have to be postponed.

***

I go to my gyno oncologist in 14 days for my first pap post- surgeries. Not that I am counting the days. Not that I am nervous for the results. Not that I am lying about not counting and being nervous.

Will we be cleared to try to get pregnant or will we have to face the harsh reality – that option does not exist for us?

CLIFF HANGER.

***

This Adrienne Rich line is ringing true for me right now: “The moment of change is the only poem.”

Yes.

Feelings Are For Suckers

I don’t know how to talk about how I am feeling. But here goes nothing. . .

The Cancer Summer did a number on me. I spent all those weeks so full of worry and fear that now that I have a small reprieve, I just feel angry and exhausted. I think I’m supposed to feel rejoiceful. I don’t even think that’s a word let alone a feeling I can feel. It’s been months of high stress and my shoulders think their new placement is up around my ears. I think I’m supposed to feel happy because we are less than a month away from the wedding but I don’t. I feel slight panic and perfectionism overload. I think I’m also not supposed to be a perfectionist. Weeks before my wedding and after months of ass-kicking turmoil, I don’t think we should hold our breath for that part of my personality to change. I’m in the throes of the tiny details and I’m questioning our decor choices and worried our reception will not flow right and no one will dance and it will be lame. Being an event planner planning your own wedding has its downfalls.

Because we moved and then were hit with the Cancer Summer, I wasn’t able to work out as much as I used to. Being 4 blocks from my dance studio meant I could go 5-6 times a week. Now we live 25 minutes from it and I go. . . 2x a week. During my recovery from surgery, I ate whatever I wanted. Unfortunately, I wanted donuts and sometimes a milkshake. I had been doing SO well before the cancer diagnosis. I was living healthy and the moment I got smacked with mega-stress, I blew it. Now I just feel disappointed in myself and my body. Again. I’m stuck in that self-loathing cycle. So much for losing weight for my wedding day! And everyone says they love my hair long but I do not feel like myself with long hair. I think I’m supposed to like it but I don’t. I hate being a slave to vanity.

My mom has been struggling with some health stuff. We’re in the middle of taking her to appointments to hopefully get a diagnosis and a solution to help her feel better. She tells us not to worry. That’s an impossible task. She’s probably never heard from me this much in her life. I’ve been checking in daily to see how she feels. After she saw a doctor and had to wait weeks to see another, I intervened and called to speed things up. I learned with the cancer stuff that you have to advocate for yourself. Doctors see all kinds of patients and they can’t care about all of them at the same level. You have to care enough to get the medical attention you need. And so if my mom ever gets upset with me for being pushy and concerned, she can blame herself. I take after her in personality.

We could chalk this all up to raging PMS except I feel like this a lot when I’m not in the midst of that horrible week out of the month. I’m also very, very concerned that this raging PMS week will fall ON THE WEEKEND OF MY WEDDING next month and there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t want to feel depressed or angry or irritable! I’m not liking myself very much today. Forgive the self-indulgent post.

I have things to say and so I vlogged.

It’s Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month and I have a lot of things to say about that, as well as health care insurance, preventative care, HPV, and cervical cancer.

I say “pap” a lot in this video.

Thanks for watching.

I am Sizzle and I approve of this message.

(Apologies for the dark lighting and poor sound on this. I’m new to vlogging.)

(Also, gynecological is a hard word to say sometimes.)

The Doctor Called

On Friday I was convinced my doctor was going to call me with news from my surgery but Friday came and went with no call. And so I went into the weekend wondering about clear margins and my once intuitive gut being on the fritz.

But then Monday came and it was time for me to return to work. It was around lunchtime and the office was quiet as most were off eating in the sunshine. I was at my desk when the unknown number rang through. I answered it as I walked quickly to a vacant office, my heart in my throat.

My doctor was on the line with news of my fate.

She told me she had tried to call me Friday but she only had Mr. Darcy’s number on hand and didn’t feel she should leave a message on that line when he didn’t pick up the phone. (So my gut was right!) “I wanted to give you good news to go into your weekend,” she said. Good news??

I have clear margins. Wide, clear margins.

It’s what we were hoping for and yet it comes with its own complications. Yes, they did not find cancer in this biopsy. Instead this time they found spots of adenocarcinoma in situ (pre-cancer) which is what I had originally after my colposcopy. Then I had the first cold-knife conization and they found adenocarcinoma (actual cancer). Then I had this last surgery, the second cold-knife conization, and they found the pre-cancer again. Cancer is a tricky bitch.

So what does this mean? It means we’ve bought some time and the possibility that we could conceive our own child is back in the mix. I have to go back in a month for a post-op check up then have a pap smear in 3 months to make sure it’s clear. If it is not abnormal, I will get the go-ahead to try to get pregnant. I’m not sure how I can have a normal pap after all this and with the news that there is still pre-cancer in my cervix. But apparently that’s what we’re hoping for. . .

I’m sorry. I know I should be rejoicing but I’m too pragmatic to ignore the hurdles ahead. I’ve had two surgeries on my cervix which will make conceiving more difficult and giving birth even harder. I’ve been tensely holding my breath for months now, living amidst the cancer chaos, and hearing “clear margins” isn’t actually releasing my anxiety. I know this is good news in long line of bad news and I’ll take what I can get. But even if we do get to have a kid, I’ll still have to have a hysterectomy. The only cure for cervical cancer is to cut out all the lady parts. What clear margins gives me is a greater opportunity, a chance to try to have a baby with Mr. Darcy, and a bit of breathing room until the inevitable (hysterectomy).

This was not what we had planned. I didn’t think we’d get engaged, buy a house, move, Mr. Darcy would start a new job, I would get cervical cancer, we’d get married, and we’d try to get pregnant all in one year.  I LIKE TO BE EFFICIENT BUT THIS IS KIND OF RIDICULOUS.

I am tired, friends. These past few months have aged us. I see the gray hair accumulating on Mr. Darcy’s head. I see how the worry has set up camp in my eyes. But we will take this good news and rest in it while focusing on our upcoming wedding. I have been confronted with so many lessons in all of this, many I am still unraveling. I know, without a doubt, that I have a sea of love carrying me. That I am not alone. That I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams with love and support and kindness. (Thank you.)

Now We Wait Some More

For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I’m alive! I made it through the second surgery and am at home taking it easy, eating too many donuts, reading trashy magazines, and napping.

As for the surgery – most of the pre-op was the same except that I was on a different floor and everything seemed more chaotic. The check in nurse was a bit scattered. The woman who came from the lab to draw my blood was terrible at her job (as evidenced by her first draw attempt spewing blood and her second try leaving me with a very dark purple half-dollar sized bruise). Instead of having me sit in a recliner chair as they got my IV prepped, they had me lie down on a gurney under this blow up warm blanket. It was the strangest thing- hooked up to a vent that blew hot air into this inflatable “blanket” made of some sort of plastic. It was warm, for sure, but it also was kind of strange.

I only cried once or twice mostly when someone would learn we were planning our upcoming wedding and would say something nice about it. I just so much want to be past all this cancer and subsequent infertility business so I can focus on marrying Mr. Darcy. But this is our current reality and we’re facing it hand in hand. I am very, very lucky to have him with me every step of the way.

I met with my gyno-oncologist who at first glance reminded me so much of my previous doctor that I had to do a double take. Both of my gynecologists are thin, direct-talking, redheads. She sat with us and we went over everything. She was cautiously optimistic given the CT results. The anesthesiologist came over and was very kind and totally on board with the positive thinking/talk in the operating room. The nurse came by to wheel me int the cold operating room and they quickly got me settled. As the anesthesiologist gave me the drugs, she told me to focus on the positive thoughts and good outcomes and as I did, I went under. Next thing I knew I was waking up surrounded by new nurses who gave me ice chips. I probably woke up about 10-15 minutes after my surgery was over.

They wheeled me to the post-op recovery area where a new nurse met me. She had the same name as what Mr. Darcy and I would name a daughter if we were lucky enough to have one. A sign? Maybe. Depends on if you believe in that sort of thing I guess. After eating a little something and drinking some juice in the post-op area, they let me go home. After getting some donuts (required for recovery), we were home around 11am. I’m feeling mild discomfort- sore back and cramping, dry throat, very tired- but for the most part it is just like a bad period (which I was suffering from the 3 days before surgery so it’s sort of like more of the same).

I asked my doctor to call me if she gets the results earlier than next Thursday (a week from today) when we have a post-op check up scheduled. “Whether they are bad or good?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. Because I want to know either way. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll face it with Mr. Darcy and all my friends and family standing beside me.

But please oh please oh please, let it be clear margins.

Surgery, Take 2

Tomorrow at this time I will be knocked out in the operating room while my doctor performs a second cold-knife conization on my cervix.

I’ll have woken up at 4:30am to take a shower and attempt to meditate while Mr. Darcy takes a shower to wake up . By 5:15 we will be out the door and on our way to the hospital where they will ask me my name and date of birth over and over, I’ll put on a fancy blue gown, and try not to pass out when they put the IV in my wrist. I’ll wait in a room with other patients, holding Mr. Darcy’s hand until the moment they tell me it’s time to let go.

I am not feeling the extreme anxiety I felt before the last surgery. So much was new and unknown six weeks ago. When I walked into that operating room, I didn’t think I’d later hear they found cancer. Now I know there is cancer and I’m hoping later I’ll hear they cut all the cancer out (clear margins!). If these past few months have reminded me of anything, it’s that even when you think you know, you don’t. I’ve been trying to make my peace with that as well as let myself feel hope.

Even though I’m not as afraid as last time, I’ve still got plenty of anxiety, worry, and fear. Mostly I’ve distracted myself these past few weeks with work, house, and wedding stuff. I could tell I was not really present, not really letting myself feel the feelings associated with the cancer. I’d joke about it. Make other people feel okay when they heard about it. Refer to it as “a little bit of cancer” and around the office we nicknamed my cervix since she’s the topic of many conversations. I haven’t meditated nearly as much as I should have even though my room is all set up for it. I think I have been too afraid to feel all the feelings because then I’d crumble.

I am scared about tomorrow but not in a debilitating way. I’m going to the same hospital which helps me feel more at ease. They give excellent care. I can’t say I am looking forward to the surgery but rather, getting through it so that then I can heal and prepare myself to hear the news from the biopsy. I’d much rather none of this was happening so I could focus on being a carefree bride or maybe obsess over my weight some more (which is one of the things I’ve let go of in all this cancer stuff- it was reprioritized to “not a priority”). There are so many things I’d rather be giving my attention to than the pesky cancer in my cervix. But this is my reality and I’ve got to be in it. Everything is always shifting.

You guys have already been so wonderful with all your sweet support. Thank you! If you think of it tomorrow, could send me good vibes, thoughts, prayers? That would be much appreciated. I’ll be in surgery around 7:40am -8:40am, then in recovery for a bit before Mr. Darcy takes me home.

Here’s to love, light, and clear margins, my friends.

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” – Virginia Woolf, “The Hours”

Trying Hope & Worthiness On For Size

Sometimes I forget I have cancer. Like, hours will go by and I didn’t think about it. Those hours are a liberating while they exist but when I remember, I feel a metaphoric gut punch.

So that’s probably why I’ve been operating in a closed off mindset this past week. I’m not really allowing myself to feel anything about my cancer or my upcoming surgery. I’m on auto-pilot. It’s almost like I’ve settled into this new normal in which I am a person who has cancer. It’s still weird to say, “I have cancer.” It feels a little like cheating because I’m not sick outwardly. I don’t feel like I deserve to go around claiming it when there are people hooked up to chemo, losing their hair, battling fatigue and puking and not being able to work or play with their kids. I know I said we shouldn’t compare our worst things and here I am doing just that. I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite.

The surgery next Wednesday isn’t scaring me like last time probably because it’s a known thing to me now. I know where to go, what to expect, trust the hospital to deliver great care, and understand the process. I wouldn’t say I am looking forward to it but more that I want to move through this next part of surgery and recovery to get to the results part. As much as I am terrified of what the results will be, I have to face it.

But still, I’m having trouble really feeling hopeful. I feel like saying that out loud is a total jinx but it’s my current truth. I learned growing up that hoping just got you hurt. I’m trying to learn that you can hope and still get disappointing news and that doesn’t mean the hoping was hopeless. Does that make sense? Hope is a powerful tool to keep ones spirits afloat. It gives lightness to a heavy thing. It’s important to have, especially when shitty things are happening but the hardest to grasp when you’re in the muck of all the shit. I’m working on this daily though I don’t know if I’ll ever be “good” at it.

Another thing I’m not sure I’ll ever be “good” at is fully grasping that I matter to people just by being me. Take a look at this:

Cards of love and encouragement.

These cards that hang in my meditation room are a constant reminder that people care about me. Each one lifts my spirits and makes me pause to consider how I’ve been living under false assumptions.

In therapy, I work a lot on my sense of self-worth. I’ve operated under the notion that I had to do certain things or behave in particular ways, and hell, even look certain ways (thin) to be worthwhile. I’ve struggle with feeling worthy of love pretty much my entire life. And then the doctor finds some cancer in my cervix and WHAM! I’m flooded with love from friends near and far, friends that I only known through the internet, old friends I haven’t spoken to since elementary or high school who somehow remember me so clearly and so fondly – all which forces me to look at myself in a new way.

Sometimes I feel like Stuart Smalley with my “gosh darn it people like me!” realization. Other times I joke that this must be what attending your own funeral is like. I know it’s morbid but seriously, when else do you get to receive this kind of outpouring of love? It’s bigger and deeper than any birthday celebration.

I’m trying to digest all this. That I do impact people in a positive way. That I do matter to people (some of whom I’ve never met in person). That I am important in this world just by being little old me. I hate that I had to get cervical cancer to learn some of these important life lessons but I’m grateful nonetheless to be able to see myself and the world with new eyes and a more open heart.

I will always have fears, but I need not be my fear, for I have other places within myself from which to speak and act. -Parker J. Palmer