Four days ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I’m still in shock. I had no symptoms or indicators. During my annual gynecological visit, they did a pap. It isn’t a requirement or even recommended to do a pap for every visit, but my doctor is diligent because of my chronic conditions and family history. A few days later, I received a call from the office and they told me that the pap came back “abnormal”. That didn’t raise too many worries for me, as a few “abnormal” results over a woman’s lifetime are not rare. The doctor wanted to do a follow-up biopsy to both confirm the pap and further investigate. Over that phone call, the word cancer was never mentioned. Instead, phrases such as “abnormal cells”, “concerning results”, and “unusual labs” were thrown around.
The day of the biopsy, I had moved from not very worried to nervous. Doing my typical research into doctor-speak and reasons for a uterine biopsy, I went down some wild and scary internet rabbit holes. As I was called into the examination room, I noticed that the nurse was being extra friendly. Alarm bells went off in my head. Once I was ready for the doctor, she entered the room and immediately asked me what I knew about my results and the upcoming biopsy. I told her that I didn’t know much beyond that I had “abnormal” cells in the pap.
There was no cinematic moment where the doctor sat behind a big desk and said, “You have cancer”. No waterworks on my part or discussions about how to cope with this news. Instead, she went about getting ready for the procedure while naming the type of cancer and the suspected grade/aggressiveness of it. She used mostly formal medical terms and the word cancer only came up twice. Once while she was talking about the aggressive nature of my condition and a second time, when we were discussing the next steps.
While she bathed my uterus in a chemical solution that would show her some of the “abnormal” cells and feeder veins, she told me that I’d feel a bit of pressure and cramping, as she needed to biopsy a few different places. She used a microscope along with various filters and lights to find the precise points for cutting. The process wasn’t too painful. There was some of my favorite all-encompassing doctor language… discomfort. But, overall the cramping and spotting took full effect by that evening and only lasted two days. She followed the biopsy with a full visual exam and additional scrapping.
Based on the pathology of my previous pap, the doctor believed that quick and decisive action needed to be taken. If the cancer was spreading beyond what she could safely cut, I would need a hysterectomy. So, before leaving the procedure, I sat down and made the arrangements for surgery. The results of the biopsy would decide whether my surgery was more or less invasive, but either way, I need to have the cancerous parts of my uterus removed. Only during and after the surgery would the doctor have definitive knowledge about how to move forward with treatment. Keep in mind that I use the word uterus but it can also be called endometrial cancer.
Fairly soon into the surgery consult, my mind went blank and I went numb. I had held it together during the procedure. Cracking jokes and doing my usual coping mechanism of trying to make the medical staff see me as upbeat and strong. I remember asking the surgery coordinator to print off all the details as I said yes and nodded my head to her questions. At the end, she asked if I had heard anything that needed clarification. I just shook my head, smiled and said something out of place like, “See you next time!” It was all a blur.
My mother had been so kind as to drive me to the biopsy and waited in her car (Covid protocols) for me to finish. As I walked out to her, I started to well up and wondered how I was going to break the news to my parents who had already been through so much with my chronic conditions. I opened the car door and just blurted out, “It’s cancer” and began crying all the tears I held in during the appointment.
I am in my late 30’s. I always wanted biological children, but once I got sick, my mindset shifted. I’ve felt as though, if I am with a partner who wants biological children then I might move forward with it. Otherwise, I may choose not to have kids. Learning that my ability to make that choice could be taken away, has been very difficult. Kind of surprisingly so. I didn’t realize how important it was for me to be able to make that decision of my own accord.
On my way home from the doctor’s office, I found myself crying at little kids walking by. My head has been spinning as I try to figure out who I am supposed to call and share my news with and how I should say it. My heart broke, as I knew my mother would have to be the one to tell my father. My inner circle of friends has been fortunate enough not to have faced this issue before. Being as I will hopefully avoid chemo and radiation, I wondered if I should share it at all. Maybe my cancer isn’t worthy of sympathy? So far, I’ve told one friend and set up a call with another. She was supportive and very emotional about the situation. I still don’t know what to say and feel the need to comfort people who find out. It is a real mind-fuck.
I’m in a newer romantic relationship and cancer brings with it so much baggage. I struggled with telling that person. When I did, I was very quick to add the caveat that this might be too much and that they could back out at anytime. Of course, that person was overwhelmingly sweet and understanding as I explained what was happening. They are very supportive and willing to try and stay for the journey. I’d love to believe that I’d understand my partner not being able to handle this, but honestly, it would hurt like hell if they left.
So, now the challenge changes. No longer is it the daily struggles of chronic pain and illnesses. Instead, it’s all that and facing cancer. Right now, I think this will be more of a mental struggle than a physical one. I’m use to pain and having a busted body. I can’t quite comprehend how cancer might change the “normal” that I’ve fought so hard to create. I am not great at asking for help. I tend to go inward and rationalize myself out of my feelings being valid or deserving of support. This is new and scary. I’m confused, but ready to fight and fix everything that I can.
This won’t change to a cancer heavy column. I simply wanted to share what happens when a broken body gets crushed by something new.