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 18, those of the male gender, and others faint of heart may want to take extra care while viewing this. Use your own discretion.
July 19, 2007
C.S. and I walked through the neighborhood in the early morning hours. The air was thick and heavy like wet cotton, but a chilled wind passed every few moments, carrying with it the scent of midsummer rain. Our discourse was just as thick, but much more warm. It was like other evenings, but with an electric charge of an impending thunderstorm in the air. We walked the desolate backstreets with a course for a local convenience store. Everything was quiet, with the exception of our conversation and the light patter of rain beginning to fall.
Mid-sentence, underneath a huge tree of which the limbs spread high into the sky and over the alley, C.S. grabbed me by the shoulders. He put his hands to my face and breathed, “I have always loved you.” With those words, he kissed me deeply and jump started a heart and soul that were long dormant. I caught my breath and my words, then asked, “Is this true?” He answered without hesitation, “Yes. I knew since the night that we painted. You made me a mural of the stars that I stared at each night for years.”
That had been almost four years prior.
C.S. knows all of my darkest secrets. At that point, we had been friends for five years. C.S also knew all of the darkest secrets of Avi and Beck. C.S. was kind, but he did not hold back when revealing the ugly truth that were the skeletons in those men’s closets. I had never been so betrayed and disgusted with others. C.S. had no hand in it. He was an innocent bystander, only collecting secrets like a Pandora’s box. Now the box had opened, and I was dealing with the tremendous reality of it.
The First Blow – ASCUS
After all had been revealed, I decided it in our best interest to see a gynecologist. I had seen a gynecologist a year before, and six months before that. It was always unremarkable and a necessary discomfort in order to get birth control. That was the primary concern. I was not about to start a relationship by getting pregnant. It had never happened before, and I wasn’t about to begin then.
A month had passed since my Pap smear, and it was already late August. C.S. and I were at home, enjoying a day off together. In fact, we had taken our first hooky day off together so we could continue to enjoy each others company for a long weekend. I had received a call from the clinic and was perplexed. They had never called me before. I took the call and had to move to the balcony for a better signal on my cell phone. In these days, network in my area was limited.
The words came at me faster than my brain could handle. My Pap smear result showed “atypical cells of undetermined significance” or ASCUS for short. My heart raced. What the hell did that mean? In short, it meant that I likely had cervical dysplasia, but that could only be determined by a colposcopy. And what the hell did THAT mean? Cervical dysplasia refers to cellular changes in the cervix causing precancerous lesions and a colposcopy is a procedure where the doctor determines the grade of these lesiosn. What causes that? Human papillomavirus (HPV).
I couldn’t understand and I couldn’t get any definitive answers. Who gave this to me? All of my exams had been clean. Only a year had passed between, and one of us was supposedly monogamous. I knew my mistake, but I was very careful to use protection! It had come down between Avi, who had claimed to have been faithful with the exception of that one indiscretion two years prior, and Beck, that dog of a man, with whom I had only had sexual contact for a few seconds with a condom. There was never a way to determine which one was at fault. Neither would confess, especially under the circumstances. The two men in my life that had used, abused, and thrown me away contended to give their last blow to me.
The First of Many
In September 2007, I had my first colposcopy. I was scared out of my mind. Never in my life had I experienced any significant medical problems outside of pesky asthma and painful tendonitis of the knee (later diagnosed as a result of Genu valgum, or knock-knee syndrome). Sure, I had taken a few blows to the head that resulted in concussions, but they were very mild and never required anything more than a shining light in my eyes and a couple of stitches to my head. C.S. went with me that day, but he wasn’t allowed in the room because we were not yet married, only engaged.
The procedure is absolutely underestimated in the eyes of practitioners. It is considered to be routine, and is in nature. But they failed to notify me that a biopsy was involved. This is significant information. They failed to tell me that they were cutting a piece of my flesh from my body! I laid there, my feet in stirrups, in a silent room as metal scuffed about on the trays and tables. And then there was an unbelievable pain without any warning. I clenched my teeth and dug my brand new garnet engagement ring into my palm with all of my might. It was the only thing I could do not to scream.
I’m a Whore
I got what I deserved. The one time in my life that I had cheated and this was my punishment. Painful gynecological procedure for flapping my wares about. I’m a whore. How could C.S. go on loving a whore, knowingly? I’m dirty, I’m diseased. And I know I gave it to him. I passed this vile thing onto the one person I’ve ever cared about this deeply. I’ve done harm to someone who has given me nothing but love and kindness. I am tainted.
It plagued me. But C.S. stood in his position – I didn’t know. I couldn’t have known any better. He didn’t care what had happened before. He only wanted me to be healthy and live a long life with him. I was so happy to hear this. So we continued to plan for our wedding to start our long, happy, healthy lives together in the eyes of the law. We had started living together as roomates before we were ever romantically involved.
A Doctor’s Assurance, a Beautiful Lie
Another month passed before I had my result. You know, Planned Parenthood works pretty slowly. It was October at this time, and we had just booked our reception hall for April 26, 2008. Our wedding had a date now. The nurse reported that I had CIN I, indicating mild cervical dysplasia. She also reported that on account of my age and the statistics that “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 90 percent of HPV infections are “cleared” by the body within two years.”, the doctor advised that we repeat the Pap in six months to monitor changes.
Four months later, I had become pregnant with T.D. By the time I had my first Obstetrician appointment, it was time to repeat my Pap. I reported to the OB that I had CIN I and he scoffed at me. “Oh the dreaded dysplasia! Don’t worry, in most cases it resolves itself within a year. It won’t affect your pregnancy at all.” What a lie! My pap came back bad again. But there was nothing else we could do. Colposcopies are not recommended for pregnant women. It had become a waiting game.
During my pregnancy, my medical insurance change and I thankfully changed OB’s. I had reported everything to the new OB and was shocked when he became worried about my situation. He demanded that he receive all of my gynecological records since I began seeing one. Planned Parenthood works slowly and it took him six months to get the complete documents, after several threats. But once he had those records in his hands, he was gravely concerned. We scheduled a colposcopy for my 36th week of pregnancy to avoid preterm labor.
Up until my impending labor, this had been the most painful experience of my life. The pain of the biopsy is a thousand times more pronounced in pregnancy. Essentially, they are cutting into a cervix that has thinned in preparation for labor, and is inflamed by the hormones of pregnancy. The cramps were not just uterine cramps, they were contractions. I cried, and held C.S.’s hand tight. At the very least, he stood by my side this time.
The result was CIN II, and I thankfully went full term. Although we had this result, it was still more of the waiting game. The situation was becoming more dire. In a years time, the dysplasia had progressed a full stage. However, we would have to wait until T.D. was born, and I was completely healed afterward.
I lost my insurance after T.D. was born, and sat in the dark about the dysplasia for eight months. By the next pap, and the following colposcopy, I had progressed to CIN III. At this point, I had a new gynecologist because my OB had left the practice a month after T.D. was born. We were unfamiliar with each other, but she urged that I have cryosurgery as soon as possible. I saw the urgency because the next step was carcinoma-in-situ, sitting cancer on my cervix. It had only been less than two years since my original diagnosis and I was already at this point.
Cryosurgery – Alone
I scheduled my cryosurgery for the next available appointment, which was a month later in July 2009. C.S. promised to go with me. I looked to him to do so. I couldn’t go through this alone. I had suffered so much in the last year. I had the colposcopy, a month long prelabor, and gone through childbirth through induction. After another painful colposopy, I just couldn’t go through it by myself. The thought alone was too much for me.
But, as was becoming the norm, C.S. had something come up at work at the last minute. My mother cared for T.D. when I was at appointments. I had to be strong, and I had to go alone. I was a mother now. If I can handle labor, I can handle surgery.
I could. The surgery itself wasn’t bad and the doctor talked me through it. There was very uncomfortable cramping nearly to the point of pain, but not quite. It came in short bursts as they touched the cold probe to my cervix. I was optimistic about it. If I can get through this, it will be over forever. That was until the doctor instructed me to lie on the table, alone in the room. After five minutes, I could get up, dress, and leave. It sounded simple enough.
But when I tried to lift myself to sitting, it was a painful struggle. I gushed a clear liquid tinged with blood. I panicked. No one told me that this would happen. I was weak from the procedure and nearly fell off of the table while getting down. Standing was painful, and moving was worse. Everything from my waist to my mid-thigh viciously ached. Dressing was complicated and I was distressed. All I wanted to do was go home. Really, I thought, “I wish C.S. was with me.” and I became furious with him. How could he?! I could hardly move and was expected to take care of a 9 month old when I got home. How could he leave me stuck like this?! That was the very first time I felt he had failed me. I resented him for it. And maybe I still do.
In the Clear?
My next pap came back bad. They said that could happen while I was still healing. The cervix, after any kind of trauma, isn’t completely healed for upwards of six months after. They assured me that the next one would be fine. I believed them.
I really did.
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Part two of my journey with HPV and Cancer