Dear Wondering...

by Earthly

It's time...
Today has been crazy, and it's only nine o'clock. I slept past my alarm this morning- for the life of me I will never understand how the human brain knows automatically that you have slept later than you were supposed to, but it does, and I woke up in a panic. A glance at the phone on my bedside table confirmed that it was 6:30 am and as a result I was already running late. I woke Taylah, then jumped in the shower. A quick wash and it was time to wake Taylah again "NOW Taylah, we are late". I poured two bowls of cereal (no time for brekky for me today - **** that broken snooze button!) and got Jacinta up and dressed. Anyone who has tried to dress a half asleep, cranky toddler and succeeded in getting all the intended items of clothing on the child deserves a medal. After three attempts to get pants on her kicking legs I gave up. I pulled a dress over her head, and left her to put on her own underwear.

While the girls ate breakfast I prepared lunch for Taylah and washed last night's dinner dishes. At 7:30 we were ready to leave, and at 7:40 we were REALLY ready to leave.

I dropped Taylah off first, grateful that she had softball training before school today. She looked so sad.. she is such a happy kid, and I hate seeing her like that. I hugged her close, and kissed her forehead. "Don't worry darlin' it will be alright" I said. "I promise". Then I headed off to take bubs to Daycare. I had no time to wait for Jacinta's little legs today, and she was in no mood to be rushed, so I loaded all of our bags onto my back and bundled her onto my shoulders. My back is killing me now, but all my effort paid off, and I made it to the daycare - right on schedule.

So it's nine o'clock, and here I am. I spoke to the same girl at the desk as I have the last three times, and she still had to ask me how to spell my surname. I'm not angry or anything, after all it does sound a bit like 'King' and I am sure that she is a much bigger part of my day than I am of hers, but I guess I just need those little reassurances. She smiled and told me to go straight ahead and take a seat on the left, so I have. When I first started coming I always liked to sit in the same seat, but at some point I realised that that was stupid, and now I try to sit in a different seat every time - the fact that this is at the very least equally as stupid has not escaped me, but next visit I can't do it anyway, because I'll have sat in them all.

As I look around me I can't help but wonder what brings all these people here. It's sad to think that we could all be here for the same reason.

The first few times I noticed anything strange I was too embarrassed to tell Glenn. I didn't think it was the sort of thing he wanted to talk about, so I kept it to myself. Maybe I was bleeding because we were doing something wrong? Maybe it was a coincidence. Four weeks after my 'post coitus' bleeding had started I was at my doctors office. He was not concerned, my Pap smears were up to date, and my last was only eighteen months prior - just after I had Jacinta. Perhaps we were doing something wrong. He made some suggestions while I blushed, and I was on my way, safe in the knowledge that I was alright, and that it would pass.

Six weeks later I had been to the emergency department twice with terrible abdominal pain. As it turns out I had a cyst on one of my ovaries. I was still bleeding at random times, I almost always felt bloated and I'd had just about all I could take. As a last resort I booked an appointment at the same practice, but this time with a female doctor.
" What kind of relationship is it when I'm scared to have sex?".
She looked at me sympathetically and nodded while her fingers worked away at the keyboard.
"Here you go". She said, handing me a piece of paper off the printer.
"It's a referral to the Royal Women's Hospital. I'll send them a copy, and hopefully they can get you in soon and help us get to the bottom of this."

Eight weeks later I had my first appointment. I sat in the hospital waiting room thinking 'Thank God'.
The gynaecologist I saw was great, he talked to me about what was going on, asked lots of questions and then sent me for an ultrasound to look at the cyst. After the ultrasound was done he called me back in and advised that I had a seven centimetre cyst on my right ovary. He reffered me off for a CA125 test and told me he would contact me with the results. The doctor explained to me that CA125
is a protein found in the blood. CA125 is regarded as a tumour or cancer marker due to increased levels being a potential indication that ovarian cancer is present.
Less than a week later I got a call from the hospital - my results were back, and I had an appointment the following week on the 2nd of June to discuss them. Holy ****. I thought. I have cancer.

The wait for my results appointment felt like a year. I sat nervously in the waiting room, and there is a distinct possibility that my heart actually stopped for a second when the doctor called my name. I dragged my leaden feet across the hall, and dropped myself into the chair, hoping that it would come suddenly to life and swallow me whole. After all, I imagined that would be a relatively painless way to go, and I wouldn't have to lose my hair.
'So your results are back, and there is no indication of cancer so that's great' his voice broke my thoughts.
"Your results show no sign of cancer" he smiled.
My relief must have been palpable, and I smiled broadly.
"So does this mean my problems are just hormones?"
"Well that's possible. Hormones are responsible for some of the body's greatest achievements. They are also the cause of many of it's great failings. I'll talk to my boss about the cyst, and your symptoms, and I'll get you back in two weeks for a review."

I thanked the doctor and left, I was really no further along, but I was getting somewhere.

While I was at the reception desk making another appointment the doctor came over.*
"Debbie, can you just come back with me - we'll do a Pap" he said. "I know it's early, but we'll have ticked all the boxes then."

Having never had so much as an abnormal result on a Pap smear before I was shocked to be told at my next appointment that the sample they had taken showed 'moderate cervical dysplasia'. I would have to come back the following week for a colposcopy.

When I got home I realised I hadn't even asked what dysplasia was. I searched the Internet for answers, and found that there were literally hundreds of sites on the subject. I went directly to a Cancer Council site, figuring it to be a reliable source. I learned that moderate dysplasia is also known as CIN II. CIN II is not cancer, and is usually curable. Many cases of CIN II remain stable, or are eliminated by your immune system without intervention. I am exceptionally glad to this day that I left it at that at the time. Subsequent searches since have revealed terms like premalignant, and pre-cancer, and had I read those at that stage I'd likely have worried myself all the way to the nuthouse!

The Colposcopy was not as terrible as it sounded. Similar to a pap smear test, just a little more involved. The doctor looks at your cervix through a special microscope, and an acidic vinegar-like solution is flushed into the area. This solution reacts with the cells, and abnormal cells will show as white. If this happens the doctor can then take a biopsy of them during the same procedure. In my case a biopsy was necessary. The doctor took several samples of tissue, which were then sent away for testing. Weeks later I had heard nothing. I had given the situation little thought, and when asked I adopted a 'no news is good news' approach. One morning, six weeks after my colposcopy my mum was in our shop picking up some groceries. "So have you heard anything yet?" she asked. My response was standard. "No, but I'm sure if there was anything to worry about I'd have heard by now. You know what they say.."
"No news is good news."
"That's right."

Minutes after mum left the shop my phone rang. "Hi Debbie, it's Allison from Gynae Outpatients at the Royal, I'm just calling to let you know your results are back. Can you come in tomorrow at ten and see us?"
I rang off, having agreed to be at the hospital at 10 am.

My brother dropped me off outside the hospital at just before ten. 'Give me a call when you're done and I'll pick you up".
I took my place in the waiting room. I wasn't nervous or scared, just ready to settle in for what could often be a long wait. As it turns out I got surprises on both counts. Within minutes I was sitting in the doctors office. My doctor was unavailable, but a lovely lady doctor invited me in to take a seat. "So" she said. "We took a good look at those samples taken in the biopsy and we found the cells were abnormal. I'm very sorry, but we found microinvasive cancer of the cervix."
I sniffed hard. "Okay".
"Do you need to call anyone to be with you?" she asked, passing me a tissue. The tears had just barely begun to prick at my eyes. I blinked them away, determined to hold it together.
"No, I'm fine"
"Were you and Glenn hoping to have any more children?"
"Yeah, we just wanted one more."
"We'll see what we can do then. What we need to do is operate. We'll only take the minimum possible amount off of your cervix, and hopefully we can preserve your fertility."

I went through all the paperwork and signed the consent forms. I walked outside and called my brother to come and pick me up - and then promptly commenced to crying a river. I cried so hard my head felt as though it were a brick.

A funny thing happens when your loved ones find you have Cancer. In spite of your continuing to breathe, and your remaining very much vertical, they grieve for you. Over the coming months I was an emotional yo-yo. Sometimes I gave it no thought at all, other times I would reassure myself with how blessed I was, and occasionally it was the weight I carried that was so heavy that I felt as if I was going to shatter into a thousand pieces but in the end could only cry. On my good days I would spend an hour reassuring my mother, my partner, my friends, or my eleven year old daughter of how lucky I had been, that we had caught it early, and that the odds were well and truly in my favour. I hated seeing them upset. My bad days were spent listening to my own words quoted back to me because they hated seeing me upset.

Since that day I have had three operations. By the last one, (a lletz and cone biopsy with a curette for good measure) they were pretty sure they had managed to remove every cancerous cell from my cervix. My last colposcopy showed an abnormality, but the biopsy showed it as minor - thankfully NOT Cancer.

The majority of the time I am entirely positive that I will live a long life, that I will see my girls grow up into the wonderful young women I know they are destined to become. Unfortunately though, there are other times when I don't feel quite so confident. Prior to my diagnosis I never gave Cancer a second thought. It never entered my mind except when I gave a donation to help find a cure, or in an attempt to ease the burden for those who suffer from it. Now, however, when a part of me isn't functioning as it should, I have a brief moment where I pray..'Please no'.

I am a big advocate these days of a simple philosophy - know your body. In many cases of Cancer a simple ten minute test can be the difference, and it's clear to me that had I not been persistent, had I been too embarrassed, or too scared, my situation could well have been much, much different.

Cervical cancer, thankfully, has a great survival rate if detected early, and many treatments are available dependent on it's staging. As with breast, prostate, and other cancers though, as the stages progress the five year mortality rate starts to swing quite dramatically. Early detection is crucial. Be vigilant, keep Pap smears and checkups up-to-date, and most importantly, know your body.

I sit here today awaiting my first colposcopy since discovering that I am pregnant. At the end of this month, on doctor's orders, I was due to have a radical hysterectomy - the only way to be certain that my cancer is gone for good. This will now be carried out in September. By the grace of god, or indeed whoever is responsible for providing for us the things that fill our hearts, we have been given one last opportunity for our family to grow. I know that the circumstances present their own set of risks, but rest assured it is my intention to grow with them.

My story is just one of millions, but I hope that it will encourage you to get to know your body, and to take the time out for those ten minute checks that could save your life. If I am going to stick around I'd sure love to have your company.

***** Written April 2011*****