Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"The results of your screening are benign."

The topic of cancer is not unfamiliar in my family. 10 years ago, less than 1 month before my wedding, my mom’s biopsy results showed positive for breast cancer. She had surgery following the wedding and the full course of chemo that is the recommended treatment. Then on 2/29/16, my very first day at my new job, she again received news that the results of her biopsy, this time taken from the inside of her uterus, was indeed cancer.

So when my doctor followed up with me in mid-March because of “abnormal glandular cells” found on my pap, with a recommendation of a colposcopy (where the doctor takes a super close look at the cervix) and a possible endometrial biopsy, the reality that this could be cancer was as real as my mother’s positive diagnosis.

The follow-up appointment was one day before my mother’s full hysterectomy.  Feeling the need to allow her to focus on staying positive through her surgery, as well as the healing that followed, I did not tell her about the abnormal results of my pap. It wasn’t until after she returned home and received her own best case scenario news that I felt okay about sharing my situation.

It was a Monday, and I scheduled the appointment as early as I could to avoid using any sick time at my still brand new job. I had to meet a coworker at a work site at 10am, so I hoped this would be enough time. I failed to review the process for this procedure, and ended up experiencing tremendous pain and a lot of bleeding. I left the office feeling defeated, and terrified.

I’m not sure how we do it. How we put on a face for the world while carrying around so much inner anguish. I found myself wondering who else was going through the motions of the day, yet struggling inside to do so. I felt strangely connected to others, even though I hid what I was experiencing both physically and emotionally from all of those around me. “We’ll get the results in about a week” is all he said as he rushed out the door. My OBGYN is very popular in the birthing world in my town as a sought-after OB with a natural mind and a support for minimal interventions during the birthing process. Even though he didn’t make it to LBZ’s birth since he was born so fast, my doc would have allowed me to go 42 weeks and 5 days before insisting on induction, so for that, he was a great doctor. As a GYN, he is smart and dedicated, yet lacks in the compassion department. This is why I always go to the nurse practitioners. Which is fine as long as things are “normal”.

The next week moved by slower than I could have imagined. Each day was different. I have very real times in my life when I was aware of how long I was waiting for news. Going past my due dates with my boys, waiting for job offers, and now, waiting to find out whether or not I had cancer.

As with the way all time passes, thinking about this past week feels like it flew by, but this upcoming week seems like it will last forever. This was also the case for the long week I waited for the results.

As many in our world do, I know a few people who have been through cancer. I frequently thought of them as I waited for my results. I didn’t have a sense of what the results would be. I would play out each scenario and wonder what would happen in each. I wrote the story of lots of scenarios. My job is brand new, they don’t owe me anything. I could lose my job, my health insurance, and could N’s pick me up or would I be denied for a pre-existing condition? What if I had mountains of medical bills. I have seen firsthand what happens to families when their insurance or other circumstances fail them. It happens. To real people just like me. I am not special or unique. I'm just another person in the world who could easily be touched by cancer.

I imagined going through treatment. Having to have surgery and being unable to pick up my children. What if I had to go through chemo? My body would be wrecked. It was in this daydream that I discovered that I am not afraid of death. Truly, I am not. I had a dream once where I died. I was shot in the head, which one would think would be brutal and tragic, and perhaps the story surrounding the gunshot was, but that is not what I remember. I remember hearing the shot, falling backwards, feeling the blood dripping down my face and seeing the person who shot me looking over me. I did not feel afraid. If anything, I felt as at peace as I am when in nature or staring into the sky.

As I awaited my results of the biopsy I realized I was not afraid of death, I was afraid of what I would have to do to my body to avoid dying.

I know people do it, and they survive and fight the cancer and go on to lead long and beautiful lives. I saw my mom do it. I didn’t want that for me, just like I don’t want it for anyone in this world. I am not special. It could as easily happen to me as to anyone else. And I was afraid of that story for myself.

I spend many of my lunch breaks walking in a nearby park in order to get fresh air and some steps in for the day. My job is quite more sedentary than my old job. I used that time during the week of waiting to relax and trust in the breeze that blew my hair, or the smile someone gave me as I passed, as a clue that I would be able to handle whatever came my way. There is something beautiful and terrifying that happens when one is faced with the possibility of a cancer diagnosis. While the waiting is long, when the news is positive, I am left with a distinct remembrance of the direction my path could have gone.

For a few months now I have been planning a huge race. It was to be my first step into the world of ultra-running, which is just long distance adventure running on trails. I told myself that no matter what the results were, I was healthy and strong and could complete the race. Well I did run it this past weekend, and it was incredible. I ran better that I ever have. I felt strong and healthy and like I had nothing to lose. I had full faith in the health of my body to run this really hard course.

I can’t help but wonder how I would have ran it if the results of the biopsy had been positive for cancer. Nothing would have been different inside me besides the knowledge, as there are often no symptoms of reproductive cancer. I wonder…

So while I still have some follow-up doctor visits to do since these abnormal cells came from somewhere, the world seems a little brighter this week. The air is a little sweeter. I have a little more patience with my boys, and I feel stronger and like I can take on anything. At the very least, I have a very heightened awareness of how sweet it is to be healthy and alive in this beautiful world.

“Life is a drama full of tragedy and comedy. You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more.” ~ Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle