Medical Trials and Tribulations

This morning I woke up at 4:15am, furious and unable to go back to sleep. No matter how much time I’ve had to deal with the cancer, and how generally ok with it I finally am, it still sneaks up on me every now and again. Mostly it sneaks up on me and steals my sleep. I don’t know the last time I got more than 4 or 5 hours at one time. It’s nothing overt – just a vague whisper in the back of my mind that reminds me that it’s there. That reminds me my own body is doing its best to kill me. That reminds me that no matter what anyone says, it’s still going to take a part of me – a part that like it or not, is the very center of a woman. And that reminds me that it’s just sitting there waiting for me to surrender. Most of the time I am able to tell it to fuck off or at the very least tell it right back that I’m going to kick its ass. And occasionally, it wins for the moment. I’ll conquer it eventually, but for this morning, it is winning the battle. Good thing I’m going to win the war.

So let’s see – to summarize things so far, a pesky little pap test that I didn’t even need came back with minor abnormalities that were just enough to keep me from deploying. Happy dances all around! I got the news around 4:30pm on a Wednesday, and by 9:00am on Thursday, the referral office was calling me from the base clinic with an appointment for further tests. Hmmm. Military healthcare moving quickly? Perhaps there’s more going on than I know – that never happens. So the following week, I headed off to meet my new civilian doctor. I had looked up his info on-line and found nothing negative, so that was a start. But he graduated medical school almost 45 years ago in China. Hmmm. Surely he’s had more education since then, right? I arrive at my appointment 15 minutes early, like a good patient, and check in with the teenage/early 20’s chick behind the counter who was more concerned with her gossiping coworkers than the patients in the waiting room. 20-30 minutes after my appointment time I was less amused. In all of my time in the military, I’d only ever seen one other civilian doctor – and that was a great experience. I had heard about these silly ‘wait times’ and ‘overbooking,’ but really had no experience with any of it.

Finally my name is called. Bingo! Ooh ooh! Pick me! A nurse ushers me back to take my vitals and review my paperwork. As she’s going over the paperwork and randomly highlighting things, I ask her if she/the doctor sees test results like mine very often. She gives me a puzzled look and says, ‘oh, sure. All the time.’ I raise one eyebrow and say, ‘really? Because I had read that the atypical glandular cells are fairly uncommon.’ She looks at me like I’m one of the special kids and says, ‘you don’t have that.’ *sigh* I then point it out to her on the paperwork, right in between 2 things she had just highlighted. (That’s right, who’s the moron now? Yay, me!) ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘that is rare.’ *double sigh*

Then I get herded (mooooo) back to the exam room. Where I wait. And wait. And wait some more. I spend my time checking out the room. Huh. Who knew cardboard boxes were so handy at holding up parts of broken furniture? Haven’t I seen this equipment on some movie that was set in the 1960’s? Seriously, did this guy buy all of his equipment and furniture at some hospital going out of business sale? When was that cleaned last? Ewwww! Not exactly confidence inspiring. That’s ok – I’m sure the doctor is great. Oh, here he comes now. ‘Hi, I’m Samantha. How are…’ OH. MY. GOD. He’s 410 years old and missing teeth. Not just a few – all of his top front teeth! For the love of God, man! You’re a doctor! Despite my urge to run, I decide to stick it out. He tells me he needs my test results. I tell him that the nurse set them on the table and point them out. ‘No, no,’ he says, ‘the actual test results from the base. That is just a summary.’ At least I think that’s what he said – I’m completely guessing here. I could understand about 1 in 4 words. The ‘doctor’ then leaves to go call the base clinic while I sit for another half an hour waiting on the base to send the ‘actual test results.’ In the meantime, I hear him in other exam rooms dealing with other patients. At least 2 others during my appointment time. I’m sure this is standard in some medical practices, but I wanted to punch him in the head. Repeatedly.

Finally he comes back in the room and tells me that he thinks the hospital sent over the wrong paperwork because he doesn’t see my test results. *triple sigh* I ask him if I could take a look at them and realize it’s the same lab results paperwork I had at home. It is just 2 pages of test results – that he couldn’t find. (Yeah, I know that doesn’t make sense. Imagine someone is holding a piece of paper with just their name written on it. Now imagine that person says they can’t find their name. Same thing. Honestly.) So after I point out the 3 specific lines with my abnormalities (yeah, yeah, I know my abnormalities should take up more than 3 little lines. Find an original joke), he asks me when the last time I had sex was, because he can’t do the biopsies if there’s a chance I’m pregnant. ‘That shouldn’t be a problem,’ I tell him, ‘I’m on depo-provera.’ (Injectable birth control, 99.8% effective, same effectiveness as if I’d had my tubes tied yaddah yaddah yaddah.) He couldn’t give a rat’s ass because there’s a 0.2% that I could be pregnant. ‘Abstain for 2 weeks, then come back with a negative pregnancy test – then I’ll do the biopsies. Besides, you look healthy – you don’t have cancer, so there’s no rush.’ *quadruple sigh* There was absolutely nothing I could do to change his mind. I later discovered that he’s apparently the only doctor on the planet that does that, and that the government health care system paid him $150 for about 3 minutes of his useless time. Awesome.

Fast forward to the next day – I’m on the phone with my medical insurance folks and discover I am allowed to change doctors or get a second opinion whenever I want. Who knew? Down side – it takes a little longer to get an appointment with the competent doctors. Next appointment is now a month away – just for a consult. Ah, the joys of living in the middle of nowhere – where all the really good doctors are over 2 hours away, and the competent ones 45 minutes away are still hard to find. So there I sit, with no answers and no one to ask except my old friend Google. And let me tell you, Google can be an over-informative bitch when you’ve got a month to research.

Fast forward to a month later. I head off to meet with my next doctor. I had verified with the nurse on the phone that he would do the consult and the biopsies at that appointment. ‘No problem,’ she says, ‘I’ll make sure he knows and the room is set up.’ Awesome! So we stroll into his office and it’s lovely. Very nicely decorated, very professional staff and generally very comfy. Ooooh, coffee and lemon-water and little dishes of nuts and candy while you wait. Fancy! After a short wait, I meet my new doc. He’s very reassuring and sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. ‘I’ve dealt with atypical glandular cells a lot,’ he informs me, ‘in fact, the other doctors in the area usually send me their cases because they aren’t familiar with it, and I’m more experienced.’ Whew. Finally, a doctor who knows what we’re dealing with. And then this, ‘you look slender and healthy – you don’t have cancer. But at your age and with these results, if you ever thought about having kids, you should have gotten pregnant last night.’ *sigh* Even with that, I still felt generally happy with him – he seemed like he knew what he was talking about and spent a lot of time explaining things to us. Even when he told me he wasn’t going to do the biopsies that day and to come back for another appointment, I still thought he was fantastic. But oh universe, you’re not quite done screwing with me and giving me incompetent doctors, are you? Nope. Not even a little.

More rambling later…for now I’ve squandered away the extra time from my early wake up with this. But on the bright side, I’ve finally got the little cancer voice all bound and gagged and buried out back somewhere. I’m sure that little bastard will work himself free eventually and come back to bother me, but for now, he’s not saying a word. 

Advertisements

A First Time For Everything

So apparently I have a blog. It’s my first ever, so please bear with me. Since obviously everything on the interwebz is true, I’ll start with saying I don’t have cancer and I just won the lottery for $200 million. What? You mean everything on the interwebz isn’t true? Dammit. So I guess I do have cancer and I didn’t win the lottery. Well, hell.

So it’s been a tough couple of months. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m an Air Force chick – have been for going on 20 years. I had a 9-month deployment with the Army to Iraq in 2006-2007, then a year-long deployment to Qatar in 2009-2010. I moved to a new base in early 2011, and thought I might be safe from deploying for a while. Wrong. In February 2012, I got notified that I was headed off to Afghanistan for 6 months. Boo. But as I had just had minor surgery on my foot, everyone assumed I wouldn’t go since I was still recovering. Then we did the math and realized my ‘no running, walking etc’ medical profile ended the exact day I was supposed to leave for combat training. So preparations began for my deployment. I wasn’t looking forward to it – I had never wanted to deploy to Afghanistan, and generally had a bad feeling about it. But I talked myself into looking at the bright side – it possibly would be my last deployment before retiring, I’d make a boatload of extra money, I’d get some snazzy new uniforms and toys, and I’d get to see a country I’d only ever seen from the air. No problem. Let’s get this show on the road.

Now when you’re out-processing for deployments, you have a lot of checklist items to go through – basically you see every possible agency on base, even if you’ve never heard of them, and have them clear you for deployment. I regularly contemplated throat-punching people that I dealt with who repeatedly told me, “you’re so lucky! I’ve been in for XX years and can’t deploy because my career field doesn’t!” Yeah, that’s helpful. Jerks. But I soldiered on (get it? Soldiered? Yeah, I’m a moron) and continued to spend my days driving all over base looking for obscure offices and sneakily hidden buildings to have people look at my checklist and spend exactly 0.8 seconds initialing a little box.

In April, I had an appointment to see the doctor on base to get medically cleared. He saw no problems, but I needed to do one little thing. The new commander for the area I was going to had laid down the law – all females coming over needed to have a current pap smear on record, whether they needed it or not. For those of you who don’t know, chicks get (or I should say are supposed to get) a pap smear every year, until they have 3 years of normal tests. My last one had been a year prior, and I wasn’t due for 2 more years. I griped about it to the doc, because let’s face it – having random folks poking around your lady bits just isn’t fun – unless you’re a complete freak. Even my doctor told me he didn’t agree with it. He thought it was a waste of time and resources, but that he had to schedule it for me or he’d get his butt chewed. Probably figuratively, not literally – unless the base clinic is a more bizarre place to work than previously imagined. So I scheduled it, had the test and continued on my merry way with out-processing.

4 days before I was supposed to leave for training, I swung by the hospital after qualifying on the 9mm (handgun training, for you non-shooting hippies out there). Enough time had passed that my test results should have been back, so I just needed someone to sign off on my checklist. I figured someone would just pull up my records and sign my form – in and out, right? Wrong. I sat in that waiting room from about 2:15pm until 4:10pm getting more and more pissed off. Didn’t they realize I was leaving soon? Why couldn’t someone just sign my damn form? Finally, a little airman came out and told me the doctor had time to see me now. I may have snarled back that I didn’t need to see her, I just needed to get a piece of paper signed, but I can’t quite recall. So then I sat in the doctor’s office for another 15 minutes, getting crankier and crankier. Finally the doctor comes in and tells me, ‘well, your results came back abnormal. You’re not deploying for at least 6 months.’ I just stared at her with a stupid look on my face and probably said something wickedly intelligent like, ‘uhhhh…’ She handed me my test results and said lots of reassuring stuff like, ‘this doesn’t mean you have cancer’ and ‘we’ll just need you to see a doctor off base for some extra tests and when those come back normal, we’ll  send you again in 6 months to make sure it’s all clear.’ Huh. Not once did she explain what the test results meant, could have meant, or ask me if I had any questions. Guess it was getting close to 4:30pm and she just wanted to go home. But on the flipside, my feeble brain couldn’t think of any questions to ask. All my brain was doing was screaming ‘you’re not deploying! Whee hoo!’ Stupid brain.

Having never had an abnormal pap test in my 19+ years of getting them, I immediately went home and started googling. Well, not immediately. The first thing I did was the responsible thing – call my deployment manager and let her know I couldn’t deploy. I do still occasionally follow military protocol. It turned out my test results came back with pretty much the only 3 abnormal things they can measure on a pap. Atypical squamous cells – undetermined significance (ASC-US), atypical glandular cells (AGC) and high-risk HPV. After a little research, I learned that the ASC-US result is the lowest of the low for abnormal test results – the earliest possible detectable surface-type cell abnormalities that usually revert to healthy cells on their own. Ok, piece of cake. High-risk HPV wasn’t even too scary – an estimated 80% of Americans have some form of HPV – some of them cause no symptoms and some of them can cause cancer – but again, it usually goes away on its own. AGC – huh. That one was a little scarier. It’s a rare result – as in 0.2% of abnormal paps – that reportedly has a 50/50 shot of indicating a ‘serious medical finding’ and has to do with the glands inside the cervix, so it usually doesn’t pop up on a routine pap smear. Ruh roh. But I still wasn’t worried – all the experts say cervical cancer takes 10-15 years to progress from abnormal cells to invasive cancer, and this was my first abnormal test. So I went home and celebrated with my wonderful man about not having to deploy. Little did I know then that the universe was not exactly doing me a favor – which is exactly what we thought at the time.

The Gorgeous Blonde Redux

This was originally posted on twodudesblog.com

So a lot of you have responded positively to the Gorgeous Blonde post that I thought I would ask her to respond. Below is an interview with her.  I wanted her to say in her own words what it is that she is dealing with.

Please feel free to contact (and encourage her to start her own blog) at:

TheGorgeousBlonde@twodudesblog.com

The Gorgeous Blonde

(Originally shared on Twodudesblog.com)

I started my day thinking I was going to write about finding funny in the dark times. Then I got word that Hollie Stevens died. So I wrote this:

I live with a woman. Actually, I am engaged to her. Chances are pretty good that I am going to spend the rest of my life with her. Assuming she doesn’t turn out to be a nutjob. Or a whore. Right now I am laughing at her as she sits on the other couch across from me absent-mindedly pinching her lips into ducklips while she surfs the web. Yeah, she’s not likely to be crazy. It’s been two years and she has been mostly awesome.

The thing is she also has cancer. Cancer sucks. But you knew that already.

Knowing that she isn’t likely to end up a nutjob. Or a whore. And knowing that she makes me laugh without realizing and without even trying it’s a safe bet that we have the makings to last a lifetime or two. I could let the cancer thing scare me away but I have faith that it was caught in time and, though the road ahead is filled with some pretty crappy surgery and recovery, she will ultimately be cancer free.

In the in between is the battle. I have the easy part – I simply have to be that thing she needs me to be at that moment she needs me to be it. Sure, figuring that part out is about as easy as performing brain surgery on dingy in a hurricane, but still. She has to do all the heavy lifting; the biopsies, the surgeries, the pain, the recovery. Right now, she is the bravest person I know.

There is that small part of me that thinks I am only going to get to spend the rest of her life with her and that may not end up being very long. I don’t say that to be fatalistic, I say it because none of us are promised tomorrow – cancer or no. But she’s a fighter. And I think she likes hanging out with me. Or maybe she just likes that Dexter (our dog) has a friend when she isn’t home. Either way, I know she isn’t about to give up.

So I do what I can. I try to be the best man I can. I don’t have to find the perfect words; I just have to put my arms around her. I make her laugh – often times by poking fun at the cancer itself. It’s my way of saying ‘fuck you cancer!’ and I think she appreciates that. I shut my piehole if she needs to vent. I remind her that there is a part of her that the cancer will never be able to reach. There is that part of her that is every bit the woman I fell in love with that cancer could never take away.