Cervical Cancer, HPV and Burkas

Today’s going to be a little different of a blog entry for me. All of this has been rattling around in my noggin since I got my diagnosis. Hope you enjoy. If not, oh well – no one’s forcing you to read this. I hope. 

Quick, name the color of the ribbon for breast cancer awareness. Easy, right? Everyone knows it’s pink. Quick, name a major charity that supports breast cancer awareness. Again, easy. Susan G. Koman. Quick, name a celebrity who has or has had breast cancer. Easy – Sheryl Crow, Christina Applegate, Kylie Minogue, Edie Falco, Cynthia Nixon…and I’m sure I could come up with a few more if I tried. Now try this – name the color of the ribbon for cervical cancer awareness, a major charity that supports awareness, and a celebrity who has it. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Oh and no using google, either. (Or Bing, or Lycos or whatever other hipster search engine you kids use nowadays.) Yeah, I didn’t think so. Don’t feel bad – I didn’t know any of that either. But the answers are: a) teal and white, b) there really isn’t one, and c) there aren’t very many, and the ones who do, you’ve never heard of.

Fun stuff. Since my diagnosis, I’ve been looking everywhere for information and the one thing I’ve found is that no one wants to talk about cervical cancer. Shhhhh – it’s icky. People don’t mind talking about breast cancer and raising awareness, because let’s face it – boobs are sexy and pretty and have cute nicknames and everyone loves them. ‘Save the ta-ta’s!’ Cervixes (cervicii? cervixen?) are none of those things. They don’t even have a cute nickname for pete’s sake. But they’re kind of important and are a part of the vagina – which I’m pretty sure a lot of guys at least like – but it’s still a little taboo or embarrassing to bring up. I decided to say screw that – I’m talking about it. It’s a part of the female body and dammit, no one should be embarrassed to talk about their bodies. No one should be embarrassed about cancer either – the more people that are aware and talk about it, the more people who might actually stop hiding from their annual exams and stop suffering in silence.

I’m guessing another reason that no one wants to talk about it is because most cases (about 70-80%) of cervical cancer are caused by HPV – human papillomavirus. And ewwwww – you only get that through sex! Whore! Harlot! Whoa there – before we start tossing women back in to nunneries and branding them with scarlet letters, howzabout we take a look at the facts. There are approximately 120 types of HPV and about 15 of them are considered ‘high-risk’ – they can cause cancer. And surprise! You don’t have to have sex to get even the high-risk types. The others cause various other charming symptoms, or no symptoms at all. If you have a plantar’s wart, you have a strain of HPV. *gasp* What have you been doing with your feet!?!? But seriously, doctors estimate that about 80% of Americans have HPV – so before you get out your best throwing stones and your burkas, do some damn research. Oh, and while you’re at it, research the snazzy new HPV vaccine if you have young women in your life that you care about. Almost kinda sorta political type statement here – while I don’t agree with the government or schools mandating the HPV vaccine for kids, I fully support young ladies getting it. Oh, and young men too. Because gals aren’t the only ones getting and/or spreading the virus. Menfolk may not develop symptoms from the high-risk strains, but once they have it, they continue to carry – and potentially spread – the virus for the rest of their lives. One last snazzy fact about HPV? You could have gotten it 30 years ago and never knew it. Until it decided to rear its ugly head and start causing some problems. And once you have it, you always have it – it may go into hiding and not be doing a damn thing other than hanging out, but it’s there. It won’t even show up on a test for it unless it decided to come out and start wreaking havoc. If it’s in ‘remission’ it’s undetectable. Fun stuff, huh? And that boys and girls, is how oodles of women and men go through lives completely unaware that they even have it.

So if you know someone who has cervical cancer (besides me), please do your best to treat them no differently than you would if they had any other cancer. It’s not their fault, they didn’t plan it, they didn’t ask for it, and they don’t need people judging them. All they need is for you to agree with them that it sucks and let them know if there’s anything you can do, you’ll do it. Sending goofy cat pictures, random funny e-mails and texts that just say ‘hi’ are wonderful if you aren’t sure what to say. Silly things like that let the person know you’re thinking about them without pressuring them to talk if they don’t want to, and it just makes the day brighter. Trust me on this. Ooooh, and no matter how much you may want to, do not say these words – ever: ‘Just remember, things could always be worse.’ No shit. I could have cervical cancer, breast cancer, be having a heart attack while I catch on fire and find out bacon is extinct – and there could always be something to make it worse. But you know what, ‘just’ having cancer kind of sucks. Some days we are completely aware that things could be worse and we appreciate that what we’re going through isn’t the absolute worst thing ever. But unless you have a direct connection to our brains, you have no idea what’s going on in there and you will probably say that at exactly the wrong time. Sometimes all that sounds like is, ‘suck it up, buttercup. It’s not that bad.’ And that sounds like you’re diminishing the fact that we have cancer and the shit storm that is going on 24/7 in our heads. And then we feel even worse because, you’re right – it could be worse and here we are all feeling sorry for ourselves. Really, it’s a no-win situation for all involved.

Hmmm what else….oh – that 24/7 shit storm in our heads? Yeah. It’s a hoot. From what I’ve gathered on-line on a few different cancer chat sites, it’s completely normal and we all go through it. It’s called different things by different women, but the most common is ‘cancer head.’ It’s that voice in the back of your head that is there from the second you get a diagnosis. It apparently starts to go away the longer you’ve been cancer-free, but it’s always there in some shape or form. For me, it was that voice whispering ‘cancer’ at the oddest moments. It was that voice that was trying to convince me I was going to die. It’s that voice that has made it impossible for the last few months to simply sit and watch a TV show or read a book – nope, no downtime, because that’s when it gets the loudest. It was that voice that I could never shut up completely. What’s extra special about cancer head is that when you finally do get its ugly little mouth duct-taped shut, it just sits back there and stews and comes back with a vengeance when you least expect it. I finally learned to stop trying to avoid it, and gave it a few minutes (ok, maybe hours) every day and facing all of those fears, worries and possibilities head on. And hallelujah, that worked. Mostly. Even just an hour of reading things about cancer on-line every day (which can get really depressing) was better than ignoring it. And honestly, I’d rather be educated about what was going on with my body anyway. I think I found the end of the internet and read every possible article, website, chat board and research paper ever written on cervical cancer. And that turned out to be a good thing. Because it’s my body, my health and my responsibility to know as much as I can – and there are a lot of scary doctors out there who have no freaking idea about abnormal pap smears beyond the most basic and common of abnormal results. But that’s a whole different blog.

For now, I think I’ve gotten a lot of what’s been rattling around in my head out. Is it a little disjointed? Probably. Is it a little rambly? Probably. (And yes, I’m apparently making up words now. I kind of like rambly.) But it all needed to be said. I’ll get back to the rest of the story tomorrow. Or the next day. Depends on how much longer I’m grounded to my bed. For now I think I’ve said about all I have the energy for.

Who knew LA had friendly people?

Well, I’m back. This is my first blog post after surgery last week. I’m currently on opiate-based narcotics (and various other drugs) and have the attention span of a gnat (ok, probably not even that long – more like the attention span of a gnat with ADHD), so bear with me. I promise to try to stay awake long enough to finish this blog if you all promise to bear with my ramblings and not mock me too terribly much.

When I last left you, faithful readers, I had been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in-situ of the cervix and endocervix. For someone who has had normal chick exams her entire life, it was a terrifying diagnosis that would require at least a total hysterectomy to treat. But I got ridiculously lucky (and yes, I still consider myself lucky) in that we found this early and was confident things would go smoothly.

I had a follow-up appointment with the doctor who did the biopsies the day after he called me with the results. Nothing he told me surprised me – he recommended a total hysterectomy (removal of the cervix and uterus) as treatment. He said he could do it, or if I preferred, I could transfer to a gynecologic oncologist. I asked which he recommended, and he recommended I transfer for the simple reason that if after the surgery they found something worse than the adenocarcinoma in-situ, the oncologist would already know my history and be able to deal with things easier. Well, that and gynecologic oncologists are experts in this kind of thing. So I thanked him for his time and told him I would transfer. Last I saw of him, and it’s a good thing.

So with all of this being my first real foray into the world of TriCare (military health care) and off-base doctors in my 19+ years in the Air Force, I wasn’t sure what needed to happen next. I went straight to the source and swung by the TriCare office on base and figured I’d ask the experts. They informed me that now that I’d been seen off-base, I would stay off-base for treatment. The last doctor to see me would need to input a referral for me – it was out of their hands. Well crap. So I called my doctor’s office back and let them know. I figured it would be a week before I saw anything show up on the TriCare website, but no! I was pleasantly surprised to discover he had put in a transfer request for me in less than 3 hours. Whee hoo! Then I googled the name of the doctor he was trying to transfer to me. *sighs and beats head on desk* The woman he wanted me to see used to be a gyn/onc. Then she moved to California and dedicated her life to delivering babies and making big bucks. Why is she still listed as a gyn/onc with TriCare? Beats me. But I figured I’d meet with her and give her a shot. Orrrrrr not.

For probably the first time in recorded history, a health insurance company actually did a good thing. On their own, through no prompting by me, instead of approving the transfer to the new doctor, they replaced that doctor with a gyn/onc at UCLA. And holy crap is he good. And holy crap is UCLA good. #1 hospital on the west coast and in the top 5 best hospitals in the country consistently. I started googling my new doctor and was really, really impressed. Multiple published research papers on different gynecologic cancers, tons of awards for his research and academics, multiple fellowships, including one at Cedars-Sinai and a whole ton of other things that made me go ‘WOW!’ You have no idea how excited I was to have a doctor that might actually know what he was doing.

As luck would have it, I was able to get an appointment with him about a week after TriCare approved him. We were so excited to get my treatment started that Rudy and I drove to LA the night before so we wouldn’t get delayed by morning rush hour traffic on the way to the appointment. While that sounded like a great idea at the time, it turned out to be a really, really crappy choice. Long story short, a few miles from the hotel we got hit from behind on the highway as we were driving about 65 mph, minding our own business in the middle lane. After spinning (actually I prefer the words caroming and careening but I wasn’t sure I could pick just one) across the highway and bouncing off some stuff, my car was totaled. Totally what a girl needs when she’s prepping to meet with her oncologist for the first time, right? *sigh* But thanks to our wonderful LA family (hi Ricky and Linda!), we took care of everything with the towing company and finally made it to our hotel. Was drinking heavily that night the wisest choice of ways to deal with all the stress? Probably not, but I don’t know that anyone is quite in the position to judge me. So there. And it worked – I felt much better.

Luckily, the hotel we were staying at was only a mile from the hospital so it was a cheap cab ride. We got there a little early and immediately noticed how amazingly nice everyone was! Neither of us could believe that all these friendly people actually existed in LA. It was just the start of an all-around great experience with UCLA. After filling out much paperwork (I may or may not have agreed somewhere in that paperwork to give them my first-born child – little do they realize I’m having my lady parts removed…suckers!), I was finally called back to meet my new favorite doctor. Smart, funny, kind AND with a German accent. Awesome. My husband immediately had a man-crush on him. I figured me having a crush on him wouldn’t be the best idea considering as much time as he was going to be spending looking at my lady parts, so he was all Rudy’s. *snicker*

After much talking, question answering, lots of picture drawing and a quick exam, he laid out the options. Well, actually option – singular. Instead of jumping straight to a total hysterectomy, he wanted to do yet another biopsy first. His rationale was if he did a total hysterectomy, and found more extensive or advanced cancer when they biopsied those tissues, then he would have to go back in and do another major surgery right away. No fun. But if he did the biopsy first and found out how far the cancer had progressed, he would only have to do one surgery. While at that point I just wanted those pesky cancer cells out of me, I could see his point. One major surgery is plenty for me, thanks. So we scheduled the next biopsy, a cold-knife cone biopsy (CKC), for the following week. A CKC is done under general anesthesia as an out-patient surgery. Basically, the surgeon uses a scalpel to cut out a cone-shaped piece of the cervix. When that is analyzed in the lab, it gives the doctor a much more precise picture of how much or little the cancer has invaded the rest of the cervix since it doesn’t just take a tiny sample off of the surface. This is the best way to biopsy tissue that has been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in-situ – there are other methods, but this is the only one that allows the doctor to see if the edges of the sample he takes are cancer-free or if it goes all the way to the edges. If it goes all the way to the edges, that’s a bad sign – it means the cancer has spread more than expected. A lot of the time a CKC will remove all of the cancerous cells, but since the adenocarcinomas like to skip over healthy cells and show up randomly, there’s no way to be 100% sure other than to do a hysterectomy. So the CKC is essentially for ‘staging’ the cancer and lets the surgeon determine the best treatment plan possible.

After meeting with my doc, we got the CKC scheduled, met with his admin folks for more paperwork, then headed down to the lab to do a ton of pre-surgery lab work. All that was left to do after that was wait until the following week for the surgery. And then wait for the results. And then wait some more. Have I mentioned that the waiting in all of this was the worst part? Oh, I have? Ok. Just wanted to make sure. Now you get to wait as well – I’m falling asleep as I type and my brain is starting to shut down. Until next time, kids.

Coming soon to a blog near you – my first minor surgery, the agonizing wait and the crushing results. And probably lots more rambling. Lots more. 

A Husband’s Thoughts

Hi, the Gorgeous Blonde’s husband here.

It’s been a week since her surgery. I took this video just before they wheeled her back:

I wanted to share it almost immediately but, I got this silly notion in my head “don’t tempt fate.” It’s stupid, I know.

I was scared. I imagine any husband in my shoes would be. I mean, here is this woman whom I love getting parts of her literally cut out of her because some tiny little asshat cells are destroying her. When you couple that with hours to just think… well, the brain is a sad place to be alone at a time like that. You pray, you cry, you plead with god, you expect the worst and lash out at god, you convince yourself there is no god because if there was (s)he wouldn’t allow shit like this. But mostly, you just hang on and hope the ride is over soon.

I know that what I endured through all of this is nothing compared to what she has and is still going through. But it really is funny (odd, not so much haha) to me that right now she is in our room absolutely miserable and I am here typing this with happy tears in my eyes because the singular thought that I have had since they wheeled her out of surgery is “SHE’S ALIVE!”

To go from “my wife has cancer” to “SHE’S ALIVE!” is a powerful swing of the pendulum. My wife is miserable, in pain, hooked up to things she would rather not be but, she’s alive. The misery, the pain, the everything else is eventually going to be a part of the memory of this experience. As will the cancer itself. What I will have left is the only thing I ever wanted to begin with: my wife.

Okay, that is pretty much all I have to say about that. I’m gonna go dote on her now. Bye.

Vegas, baby!

80 to 90% – that’s my 5 year survival rate. Sure, those odds sound awesome when you’re in Vegas. Hell yeah! Put $500 on black! Pull that slot machine! But when it’s your survival odds – they don’t sound so awesome.

Sure, the odds could be worse. And I could get hit by a dementia-suffering dude while driving on the highway which always has the potential to make my 1-day survival rate approximately zero. But still. They could be a hell of a lot better. Especially when coupled with a 35% chance of recurrence in the next year. I’m not so jazzed about that either. But honestly, at this point (2 days before surgery) I’m feeling pretty damn good. Call it acceptance, call it denial, hell, call it Shirley if you want – but I’m good. Really. I got this. I’ve come to terms with all the possibilities – all clear on Thursday, bad news on Thursday and I need chemo and radiation, and the possibility that I’ll have to wrestle with this ugly beast again in the not so distant future. I think it’s because I know no matter what happens, I will not be in that 10-20%. Not. Going. To. Happen. I know that. And knowing, boys and girls, is half the battle.

Apologies for the long delay between posts for the 2 or 3 people that are bothering to read. Been a little busy what with the running off to Vegas to get married, and spending time with my wonderful mom who flew out to visit/help out after surgery. Kinda been busy living and whatnot. So when last I left, I had been referred to a new doc who seemed to know his stuff. Mostly. We went ahead and scheduled a colposcopy (coating the cervix in an acetic acid to highlight abnormalities, then using a magnifying machine to examine it), an endocervical biopsy (ECC) and an endometrial biopsy. Me being a smart chicky, went ahead and did some research on those. Let’s just say that if you believe everything you read on-line, an endometrial biopsy causes agonizing pain equivalent of Nazi medical experiments. (If you’re offended by that, then you should read more stories from women on how their doctors treat them. Seriously.) While I wasn’t looking forward to the tests, I found myself wanting the date to hurry up and arrive so I could figure out what in the world was brewing in my lady parts.

Biopsy day. Light breakfast followed by lots and lots of motrin. And then one more motrin for good measure when I got to the doctor’s office. Just wanted to be prepared for getting carved up. Whee hoo. He strolls in to the room to chat and go over the procedures, and only mentions 2 of the biopsies – the one he doesn’t mention is THE test for my test results – the ECC. Hmmm. I remind him that we need to do the ECC as well. He hems and haws and I finally put my foot down and demand it. He had to tell the nurse to prepare one more specimen jar. Seriously? He wasn’t going to do one of the mandated freaking biopsies for my test results. Guess he wasn’t an expert on my test results after all. Shocking. Ok doc, let’s get going and get this over with.

Now before I start this next section, in my defense, I was hopped up on a large amount of motrin, adrenaline, stress and fear. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized that my doc was a bigger moron than previously thought. So cue biopsies. Cervical biopsy – ow. That kind of pinched. Ok. Endometrial biopsy – OH. DEAR. GOD! This should never be done to women without massive amounts of drugs. Sure, it was over in about 30 seconds, but seriously. Do something that causes that much pain to any random dude and it would immediately be a medical standard to prescribe oxycontin and xanax beforehand. But womenfolk? Nah – suck it up. (All the old male doctors that make the rules have decided that this doesn’t hurt and doesn’t require painkillers. Bullshit.) And last but not least, the ECC – owie. More owie than the cervical biopsy, less owie than the endometrial biopsy. But it took a lot longer, and at that point, I wanted to go curl up with a heating pad, more drugs and large amounts of bourbon. Finally finished with the biopsies, the doctor proceeds to look at the floor and tell me the results would be back in a week or so. Then he proceeds to practically bolt from the room. Me finally being a smart-ish chicky, ask him how things looked – because had he done the procedure properly, he would have seen any abnormalities. He mumbles something about seeing a fibroid tumor, and THEN bolts out of the room. Hmmm. Odd. Now on to why I now think he’s a moron – remember that biopsy that involved an acid wash and a big machine to closely examine abnormal cells? Yeah. He didn’t do the wash. He didn’t use the big machine. He just randomly took a biopsy. Idiot. I’m still furious about it now – how many women has he missed pre-cancers or cancers on because he didn’t bother to do the test properly? And yes, I will be having a little chat with my insurance company about him. It’s just not exactly on the top of my priority list right now. But I will get to it. Honest.

So tests done – now the wait. The wait is the worst part of all of this. I don’t care what diagnosis you get – the wait sucks. Your imagination can have all kinds of fun tormenting you in all the copious amounts of spare time you have wondering what the doc will say. And yes, you can try to keep yourself busy and have people tell you not to worry since worrying won’t change anything and to try not to think about it. Bullshit. You will think about it. And even when you don’t want to think about it, your subconscious will be having a field day. Trust me on this. Thankfully, I only had a week to worry – and the worrying wasn’t really too bad this time. It was my first abnormal pap ever, after all. I assumed it was some abnormal cells that they could just remove, or worst case a few pre-cancerous cells that would require a little more in-depth removal, but still fairly easy. Piece of cake.

What I wasn’t prepared for was for my phone to ring a week later at 7:00am. Who the hell calls someone at 7:00am?!?! Oh. This one thing the doctor did right. He called me literally as soon as he got my results. Endometrial biopsy – clear. (Yay!) Cervical biopsy – carcinoma suggestive of endocervical adenocarcinoma in-situ, micro-invasion cannot be ruled out. ECC – adenocarcinoma in-situ. Shit. My brain heard ‘carcinoma’ and whispered ‘cancer’ for the first time. Needless to say, I was too numb to ask any questions. I thanked him and immediately went and curled up in bed with my man who got the pleasure of waking up to me crying on his chest telling him it was cancer. Awesome.

After much, much time spent on google, I learned that adenocarcinoma in-situ is kind of a pseudo-cancer. It’s cancerous cells, but they haven’t really spread anywhere – they’re localized on the surface mostly. Some doctors don’t even consider it a ‘real’ cancer – it’s a shadowy thing that is somewhere in between a severe pre-cancer and cancer. So that was ok. But the crappy part is that even with adenocarcinoma in-situ, a hysterectomy is the standard of practice for treatment. Oh, and the other crappy part is the fact that it’s aggressive, fairly uncommon and likes to skip over healthy cells by traveling through the glands to pop up wherever the hell it feels like it. It has no standard pattern of growth or spread. So drastic measures are always taken when it rears its ugly head.

As much as learning that sucked, I would give my left arm (not my right one – I need that) to go back to just being diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in-situ. Looking back, it seems like such a cute, cuddly little thing. Yup – universe still not done screwing with me yet. But luckily, the universe (and TriCare) eventually got one thing right – my next doctor.

2 days until surgery. 2 days until hopefully hearing that I’m cancer-free for now. 2 years of checkups every 3 months, 3 years of checkups every 6 months. After that, I’ll officially be cancer-free. I can’t wait to see 2017. It’s going to be fan-freaking-tastic.

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. 

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.