Sunday, March 12, 2006
Recently, I had a bit of a health scare. I went to my cute, 33-year-old gynecologist for my annual check-up last month. After examining me internally and externally, as my legs shook, he declared that I was a healthy woman. I was happy! He also checked my breasts. My fingers followed his, as he demonstrated how to find lumps and showed me where they are found most prevalently in women. He explained that I should start getting mammograms when I’m 34, since my Swedish grandmother had breast cancer in her late sixties which required a mastectomy. The idea of losing breast tissue, which gives my figure a feminine shape, which I’ve had since the age of 13, makes me a bit sick to my stomach.
I was also feeling a little concerned about the results of my Pap test for the first time this year. The idea of battling any kind of cancer terrifies me after watching what my mother went through last February, March and April. Her chemotherapy wiped her out, made her bald--and then killed her. She acquired septicemia from lack of white blood cells to fight infection, which is caused by the chemicals they use for chemo. She may have lost her battle with leukemia for lack of healthy blood cells anyway, so it’s a choice, I guess, that her oncologists had to make.
Visiting my OB/GYN was difficult for me to begin with because it is located in the same hospital where my mom died on April 11 of last year. Every time I pass the building it makes me sad and angry all over again—and I pass it often, as it is only a short walk from my house.
The nurse explained that she would only call me if there was a problem, meaning that my Pap test was positive for human papillomavirus (HPV) or precancerous cells or cancer. She called me three days later. She left a message saying that she was calling me concerning the results of my Pap. Would I call her back ASAP? However, she called me at the end of office hours. I got a machine.
I had to wait until 9:00 the following morning to find out why she called. I looked up Pap tests online. I read that the nurse only calls if there is an issue of concern. I went to bed hoping that she didn’t call because I had cancer or of less importance that I had HPV, which can cause genital warts—and possibly cancer. I thought, Oh NO! If I have cancer, I might have to get a hysterectomy, and I won’t be a woman anymore, and I won’t be able to have anymore children -- or even have sex for a while. What if my husband leaves me or cheats on me or what if I get hairy like man? What if I grow a beard? What if my breasts shrink?
My femininity is important to me. It's part of who I am. What if I acquire genital warts and end up with an ugly vagina? What if I have to get them burned off and it hurts? What if I have to get them removed from inside of me? What if they grew on my cervix? What if I have advanced cancer inside of my pelvis? What if I die? Who will raise my two beautiful children? My sister?! I don’t want to miss out on their lives? They need me! I need them!
Then I thought…
Okay, don’t assume that it’s bad news. It’s not bad news unless they tell me that it’s bad news. Then I remembered that those were the exact words that my mother used in the hospital the day before they told us that she had leukemia. It was bad, and they waited a whole extra day after they admitted her to the oncology ward. I’m sure they knew, but they didn’t want to spring it on us right away.
I tried to convince myself that whatever happened, I would be able to handle it with strength and grace. I managed not to go off the deep end when it was happening to my mother. She told me not to. I told myself not to.
I could finally call back…
I waited until 9:30 am. I didn’t want to call the minute the office opened, as I realized that they are usually busy. My husband called home from work at 9:15. He asked me if I heard anything yet. I explained that I would call the nurse in a few minutes and then call him back.
After four rings, the receptionist put me on hold. Then I held, so she could find the nurse. Linda got on the line. She said, “Jessica?” I said calmly, “Yes, this is she.” She explained that I needed to get another Pap test because there weren’t enough cells on the first sample.” I gently explained that waiting to call her back made me nervous, since she told me that she would only call if there was a problem. (Which I assumed would be regarding my health.) I breathed a sigh of relief, as she apologized and explained that she didn’t want to leave a detailed message because she didn’t know who else might hear it. I thought, “Well, who cares who might have heard it? I don’t have a health problem.” I politely thanked her and then was transferred back to the receptionist, who scheduled me for a Re-Pap five days later.
I was still somewhat anxious. I thought maybe they saw something abnormal and didn’t want to tell me unless they were sure, but I also thought they would have to tell me if something was suspected.
When the day finally arrived for my appointment, I was seen by an older, experienced female gynecologist. It hurt the second time. Instead of a swab, she used a scraper. She explained that I might bleed a little afterwards and that they call either way for re-Paps. I bled a little and felt my cervix throbbing. I wondered if she scarred me. I saw blood on the scraping brush that she used.
The left side of my cervix ached for over a week. However, the pain faded three days after the nurse called back to tell me that my test results were negative. The nurse told me that they do repeat Paps often. Sometimes they simply don’t get enough cells to read the results.
On the day I was retested, there were several other women handing in insurance paperwork for Re-Paps in the same line as me. As I waited to approach the lady behind the glass, I thought about how hard it is to be a woman sometimes, and how much it means to me to be one. I am a mom. I gave life, twice. They came from inside of my body and I cherish their parts—and my fertility. I cherish my breasts, which provided nutrition for the first year+ of their lives. I cherish motherhood. It was all worth it. It is all worth it.
I also realize that the challenges that we sometimes face are far outweighed by the love that we feel for each other.
*I recently learned, while reading a friend’s post, that vaccinations have been developed to prevent HPV. The vaccination is supposed to be 100% effective. I wonder when it will be made available. I think that if is truly safe and effective, it should be administered to all girls by age 13. HPV kills 5,000 women per year.
Approximately 20 million people are currently infected with HPV. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV infection. About 6.2 million Americans get a new genital HPV infection each year. Health experts estimate there are more cases of genital HPV infection than any other STI in the United States. At least 20 million people in this country are already infected.