Post Challenge: Cancer

As some of you know, I was diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer when I was younger.  My diagnosis and subsequent treatment are the reason why I never had children.  The following is the timeline of my cancer diagnosis and treatment.  (I pulled the timeline stuff off an entry on my LiveJournal that I made years ago.)

October 11, 1999
I realized about a week before that I was nearly out of birth control pills and had no refills left on my prescription.  So I called to make an appointment with my doctor, only to be told that she was gone and wouldn’t be back for another week.  So I made an appointment with a different doctor in the same office, Dr. Robert Young.  I found out later the reason that my doctor was unavailable was because she was being treated for ovarian cancer.

Anyway, I went in and saw Dr. Young.  I mentioned that I’d been having some break-through bleeding, and I thought maybe switching pills would help.  So he did my Pap smear, wrote me a prescription, and sent me on my way.  I didn’t expect to see him again.

October 28, 1999
About two weeks later, I got a call from Dr. Young’s nurse.  She told me that I needed to schedule a biopsy as soon as possible.  I was so panicked that I called my supervisor and asked if I could take off work to go to the doctor.  She said it was fine, so two days later, I was back in Dr. Young’s office.  I found out then that I had what’s called a high-grade intraepipthelial lesion on my cervix.  Sounds gross, right?  That’s certainly what I thought.  They took the biopsy samples, which was a load of fun, let me tell you.  I didn’t feel the pinched out little chunks, but when he scraped a sample from the inside of my cervix, I sure felt that!  *shudders*  That was the worst part of the whole thing.

While I was at the office, they told me they wanted to schedule a LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure), just to be on the safe side.  As the nurse put it, “It’s probably nothing and we won’t need to do the LEEP, but if we wait to schedule it, we may have a hard time getting you a surgery slot.”  So I scheduled my LEEP for November 11th.

When I called for my biopsy results, they told me that I would need to have the LEEP done.  I figured, no big deal.  So I had the LEEP done and tried to get on with my life.  Unfortunately, life had other ideas.

The Saturday following my LEEP, I got a call from Dr. Young’s nurse.  She asked me if I could come over to the office that morning, because Dr. Young needed to discuss my lab results with me.  I knew right then that the news wasn’t good, but I had no inkling of what lay ahead.  I called my husband and got him to come home and go with me.  When we met with Dr. Young, he dropped a bombshell on me.  The pathologist had determined that the tissue removed during the LEEP was cancerous.  He had received second opinions from two other pathologists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.  They concurred that it was cancer.  Dr. Young recommended that I have a cold-cone biopsy.  This type of biopsy would take a bigger sample, plus it had the added advantage that they would probably be able to get all the cancer with this biopsy.  So on November 23rd, I had the cold-cone biopsy.

The day after my surgery, the day before Thanksgiving, Dr. Young called me.  He told me they didn’t get all the cancer.  He told me that he was referring me to a specialist, a gynecological oncologist, Dr. Janet Rader.  My appointment with her was on December 2nd, one day after my 25th birthday.

We made the two hour trip to St. Louis for my appointment that afternoon with Dr. Rader.  Dr. Young had already sent her my records so she could review them.  She recommended a radical hysterectomy because of my age.  She said that she preferred a more drastic approach for younger women, because chemotherapy and radiation treatments would fry my ovaries and then I would have to take hormones for the rest of my life. The radical hysterectomy would leave my ovaries intact, but would remove my uterus, the abdominal lymph nodes, and the ligaments that supported the uterus.  I decided the surgery was my best option.  I remember telling Dr. Rader, “Just cut this stuff out of me. Get it out. I don’t care what you have to do, just get it out of me.”

During this appointment with Dr. Rader, I learned something startling about my cancer.  Unlike most cervical cancers that start on the outside of the cervix, mine actually grew inside my cervix and moved outward.  I was incredibly lucky, because if it hadn’t grown outward in addition to growing inward, it might have been years before I was diagnosed.  If that had been the case, it could have potentially invaded other organs and spread throughout my body.  I might not have survived.  So I think Someone was looking out for me in some small way.

December 7, 1999
I had been 25 for a week.  A week.  25 years old and diagnosed with cervical cancer.  Totally blew my mind, I can tell you.  I had the surgery and spent Tuesday night to Saturday afternoon in the hospital, then went home to recover for six weeks before returning to work.  It was rough. I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a jug of milk.  I couldn’t drive for two weeks, because I could pop my incision open if I had a wreck.  I questioned everything I’d ever believed.  I asked myself how God could do something like this to me.  I eventually came to realize that there was a reason, a purpose, of which I was unaware.  To this day, I don’t know why I got cancer.  But I know that it changed my life, in some ways, for the better.

Today, I can proudly say that I am a cancer survivor.  I have realized that I’m not afraid of dying anymore.  I guess when you have to face the possibility of dying, it just ceases to have the power to scare you anymore.  I don’t know.  I just know that death doesn’t scare me anymore.  Life’s a lot scarier than death ever dreamed of being.

A friend of my mom’s gave her a card while I was recovering.  On the front, it has two friends walking side by side with their backs to the viewer.  One has her arm around the other’s shoulders.  Underneath it says, “When a door closes, a window always opens.”  I believe this is true.  This is my motto toward life.  I don’t take the door closing as the final answer on anything.  Instead, I’ve learned to look for the open window.

Do I wish I’d never gotten cancer?  Sometimes.  But I think I’m a stronger person for having to deal with getting cancer at such a young age.  I think my marriage is stronger for it, because my diagnosis showed me the character of the man I married and how blessed I am to have him.

I have no regrets.

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