(I debated sharing this news on my blog but in the end decided that I needed to write about it for me as a way of processing this situation. I am going to talk pretty graphically about my vagina and might mention the word discharge or cancer. If that makes you uncomfortable, please don’t read it.)
It started with an abnormal pap smear.
Then six months later, another. Because I have HPV (1 in 4 women in the US have it) which is directly linked to cervical cancer, a colposcopy was scheduled to take a sample of my cervix for further testing. It’s a mildly invasive procedure that allows the doctor to look at the cervix under extreme magnification to see if there are any suspicious areas. A very small area was detected but she said it really was miniscule and was probably nothing to worry about. She took the samples, had me get dressed, gave me a panty liner and told me not to put anything in my vagina for ten days -tampons, fingers, dicks, you name it. There went my weekend plans! (Kidding.)
As the days passed, I joked with a girlfriend over texts about the discharge you’re supposed to expect after a colposcopy (she’d recently had one and knew what I was going through). They warn you not to get alarmed if there is a coffee-ground-like discharge. I would text her updates saying: “Should I be concerned that no coffee grounds are coming out of my vagina?” making her laugh out loud at work. Or a couple days later saying, “Coffee grounds and my period in the same day- it’s like Christmas in my vagina!” (The coffee-ground-like stuff is from the paste they put on the areas where they take samples. It’s just the body healing itself and shedding the salve. Unrelated: I don’t even drink coffee.)
Five days had passed when, after just arriving at work and turning on my computer, my phone rang with an unknown number. My doctor was on the line telling me she had the results of my biopsy. She’s saying the words “unfortunately it did show some signs of pre-cancer. . .” I’m trying to get my brain to catch up with her voice as I sit in my cubicle with a cup of tea that is growing cold. I moved into an empty office to shut the door and sat down to take notes. CIN 3, AIS, cold-knife conization, hospital, hysterectomy.
It wasn’t until she said the word “hysterectomy” that I started to cry.
The long and short of it is- I have two types of pre-cancerous cells in my cervix- CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) and AIS (adenocarcinoma in situ). CIN is the most common type of pre-cancer found in/on the cervix and can be treated usually with a LEEP where they burn off the part that is suspect. CIN clusters which makes it easier to ensure that all of the pre-cancerous cells have been eliminated. My CIN was found inside my cervix and it is the highest level of pre-cancer (pre-cancers have levels like cancers have stages). Usually during a colposcopy, the doctor doesn’t scrape the inside of the cervix but my doctor thankfully did. The AIS that was found from the scraping is a glandular type of pre-cancer and is trickier to get because the cells skip around. You could have some AIS in one spot on the cervix then a few centimeters up on the opposite side there could be more, etc.
Because my cervix is an over-achiever and I have both kinds, a LEEP is not an option. Instead, l have to go into the hospital and go under anesthesia for a 30-40 minute procedure called a cold-knife conization. (I’ve recommend they come up with a better name than that because who the fuck wants to hear they need that? It sounds terrifying.) During the conization surgery, the doctor removes an upside-down ice cream cone shape of tissue from the inside of my cervix to be further biopsied for cancer. If I didn’t have AIS, this could maybe be the only treatment I need but because AIS is glandular and tricky with its skipping around the cervix, most doctors recommend a hysterectomy to keep the cancer away.
That’s the part that keeps catching in my throat. I’m basically being told that my chances of having a child the traditional ways might not be an option. I was already concerned about the risks of trying to get pregnant in my late 30’s and now I’m facing losing my uterus and cervix before we’ve even tried to conceive. I think about Mr. Darcy who wants to be a dad and about our hopes and dreams about a child- one that has his eyes and my smile and parts of our personalities. The possibility of not being able to have a kid with Mr. Darcy is breaking my heart.
Then there are the moments when I start to think about having cancer or dying. I feel overwhelmed with sadness thinking about all the things I would miss out on. I’ve been crying a lot. I’m distracted and what little patience I had for other people’s bullshit is completely gone. I try to be strong, to think positively, to hold onto hope and not let my fears swallow me up. There are chunks of time where I am laughing and feel almost carefree followed by bouts of paralyzing fear where I just want to be alone. It’s a wild emotional ride and frankly, I’d rather not be on it.
The surgery is scheduled a week from Friday. From there we will have to wait a week for the results. While they are coning out my cervix they are going to do a DNC to take uterus tissue samples to test for cancer in there too. Hell, why not? You’re already in there. Apparently the surgery is not that bad (even though I am scared of hospitals and anesthesia and pain) and the recovery is pretty quick. I could be back to work on Monday. Plus, I get Percocet which could be fun? And we joined Costco so I can buy panty liners in bulk. I try to find the bright sides.
I make jokes, often dark ones, to remind myself that I’m still me. I can’t lose my sense of humor in all this. Despite this emotional blow, I have so much to be grateful for. My dearest friends and family have been amazingly supportive. I have felt so loved since sharing this news with them. Mr. Darcy has been so sweet and thoughtful. I know he has his own fears about all this but he keeps showing up over and over. When I come to him with tears in my eyes, he hugs me and tells me we will make it through.
Nothing like a health crisis to make you truly focus on what matters and forget the rest.
If you could cut me a little slack in the next few weeks, I’d appreciate it. I’m not my best self right now, pre-cancerous cervix and all. I’m doing my best to keep my chin up. Your good thoughts are appreciated.