I’m leaning against a lamppost on Commercial Drive, reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Lost in the words on the page, I’m suddenly pulled away from my adventure as I’m struck by something with an audible, “SPLAT”.
I’ve been shit on. By a seagull. In a crowd of people.
I make eye contact with a lady in her late thirties. She’s standing three feet away from me. “Well, guess you better buy a lotto ticket!”
I don’t even manage a smile.
My cell phone beeps to notify me that I’ve missed a call. It’s my doctor’s office, which is a rare occurrence. Considering recent events, I immediately call back before noticing there’s a voice mail. Still, I tell the receptionist to get the doctor to phone me back, I figure it’s best to connect on a semi-human level. The voice mail tells me that I need to follow up with oncology directly. I guess that blows my hope for the good news of “You’re all Clear” right out of the water, doesn’t it?
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you don’t follow up with oncology to be given an all-clear. Still, despite the fact that the doctor who performed my biopsy told me that I wouldn’t need treatment, I assume that what they found is an area of confirmed precancerous cells. This will require laser ablation and I will move on. As I call the oncology unit and speak to the receptionist, this seems to be the case.
This is why we get pap tests done. This is what we are in it for; to beat the cancer to the punch when it comes to our lady parts. I’m not even really that worried. I mean, it’s going to be unpleasant, but it’s worthwhile.
And then my phone rings.
As it turns out, the receptionist at oncology has misinformed me. What I’m facing is not laser ablation to put a stop to precancer. Instead, I’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
My doctor explains this as simply as she can. In cervical cancer, there are levels of diagnosis; level 0 is when a pap test comes back with abnormal results. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Level 1, according to my doctor, means visible crinkling on the cellular walls when viewed under a microscope. Level 2 is visible cancer cells. Both of these levels are generally treated with laser ablation. Level 3 is where I’m currently at. Laser ablation no longer cuts it and I will be experiencing a procedure known as LEEP. This stands for Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure. In effect, the doctors plan to generally freeze the area and use a wire loop through which an electrical current is passed. This will remove the trouble cells and about 8 mm below that tissue.
The tissue on the outskirts will be known as the “margin” and will be used as a sample to determine if the cancer has spread further than anticipated. If it has, there is a possibility that it will have reached my lymph nodes, meaning that the cancer could possibly spread to any number of places in my body. The lymph system is a wide spread part of the immune system, and that’s our major concern at the moment.
I will go in for my procedure before the Christmas season really gets underway, and I hope to be able to relax and heal throughout December. We are all, my close family, friends and myself, hoping that this procedure is the end of the road for my diagnosis and that I will bounce back healthy and happy and slightly less fertile than I once was. The reality in the back of our minds, however, is the underlying fear that you can’t help experiencing when it comes to a cancer diagnosis.
The thing is, of course, that with mos experiences I’m an open book. The second my doctor had me on the phone and told me, “You’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer”, the truth is that I lost all my words. How do you cope with that? I mean, I haven’t changed, and nothing has changed… but then again I have changed and everything has changed. How do you see yourself once you know that you’re sick. And how do you address the question of how you feel when you aren’t even sure yourself?
I’m lucky because, assuming that everything is as it seems, this is an easy cancer to cure. People keep assuring me that if there was a cancer you would want to get, it would be this one. Still, the idea of having a cancer-any cancer- is scary for me.
Today I felt as though, for the first time, the reality of my diagnosis sunk in. As with anything that makes you examine your mortality, I find myself identifying the things that I want in my life and the things that I need to work harder to achieve. I have begun to steadily lean on friends and family where needed, and I am keeping my thinking positive. I was so convinced that this was all going to be routine, but as it turns out… not so much.
There’s a battle ahead of me, no matter which way this goes. Cancer is a minor speedbump in the road; the real challenge lies in changing my attitude.
I’ve been living my life as though I have an infinite number of tomorrows, and curable or not, the truth is that nothing is infinite. I have to change the way I put off adventure and start shouting yes to opportunity. I have to examine why it is that I am not doing all of the things that I want to be doing, and why I am not starting them today. And the things that do legitimately have to wait? Well, those are the things I have to steadily step towards.
There is no human interest in a story of a young mother and budding writer who goes in to have a pap test and everything is great. There is no human interest in a story of a woman who is buried in her fear and doubt and dies having worked 50 years at creating a mediocre life so she could retire without incident. There is a human interest in the story where cancer changes a perspective and lights a fire under my ass, causing me to re-evaluate the decisions I make, the company I keep and the way that I treat the people around me.
I’ve asked myself, “is this how you want to go?”, and even though I know I’m not “going” anywhere, the answer was no. Cancer or not, I’m not satisfied and there is only one answer for that.