(Warning, TMI ahead...Probably not one of the wisest self-exposés I've ever written...)
Six months ago my pap smear came back abnormal. (Apparently, my ex gave me one of the nastier strains of HPV, one of the strains that can cause cervical cancer. So I need to make sure to check on that regularly. I've had an abnormal pap once before, back when I was pregnant with my first child, and it cleared on its own.)
So last week I went in for my follow-up pap smear, feeling a bit nervous. (Really, who likes paps? Geez.) And this one being a follow-up, I was nervous because it would determine whether I was looking at an ongoing problem with cervical cancer. I wondered whether my body had managed to fight off the precancerous cells like last time, or if this would start a new season of concern. After prodding around down there, the doctor said, "we'll send these labs in, but I do want to say, your cervix looks pretty friable." That's not a good sign. I have to say, despite my efforts to stay calm, I got scared. What if I have cervical cancer?
This brought me into a kind of existential crisis of sorts. Or maybe that's not really the right word--I'm constantly in an "existential crisis" anyway, though I don't really feel it as a "crisis" most of the time. It's more of a knowing. I am convinced deeply that life does NOT have meaning beyond what we, both individually and collectively, choose to create from it. And that doesn't bother me at all. I guess the crisis comes when that knowing collides with my biological desire to survive, and my biological and emotional desire to protect my children. I'm not scared to die, (at least, as long as it's not too painful,) but I do feel a strong sense of responsibility, especially towards my children.
Of course, over the week, I researched cervical cancer. Lovely disease, that. Untreated, it can spread to other organs. It can eat away at the walls dividing everything down there, causing feces to spill into the vagina, or cause bouts of bleeding. Fortunately (?) it tends to be a slow-growing cancer, and it would take years to get to that point in most cases. But still...
I don't have health insurance. If this pap showed pre-cancerous cells again, the next step in the medical recommendations would be to see how far the precancerous area had spread, and how deep it was into the skin, via a colposcopy. Not only is this a very uncomfortable and intrusive procedure that the patient is awake for the whole time, it's also expensive. From there, the treatments vary, depending on how widespread the cancer is. If it's small, it can be as as easy as gouging out the affected chunk of skin. If it's large, more drastic treatments may be called for.
All week, despite my efforts to remain positive and suspend any thoughts on the matter before the labs came back, my mind couldn't help but go to thoughts of what I'd do if I found out I had cervical cancer. Death was the main thought. Honestly, I think I'd rather die than go into hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt, and endure the horrible-sounding process of treatments. Even taking the risk of trying alternative treatments (which I am in favor of anyway) sounds too stressful. I'm sure I'd be asked to change my diet, consume lots of supplements, possibly even douche with essential oils or something. A big stinking hassle. Especially alone. Death would just be easier. How long would it take to die? How old would my kids be by then? What kinds of things would I need to make sure to arrange? Write a will. Pay off my debts. Make peace with a few people. Sell all my stuff and start trust funds for my children...
But part of me was uneasy with how quickly I was able to choose death. As I thought through all the ramifications of what would happen if I died, I realized that this is really not a good time! Mostly because my kids need me! They are so young! They would probably have to go live with their dad! No, if I did get that bad news, part of me decided, I would go ahead and fight.
And the dark side of me responded, "Fight? I am already fighting. I'm fighting to pay the bills. I'm fighting to have enough energy to go to work. I'm fighting to raise my children in as healthy a way as I know how. I'm fighting to maintain interest in my classes, so I can get a degree that will land me a good job. I'm fighting to maintain hope that a better future is coming. I'm so tired of fighting. Adding one more thing to fight in my life sounds completely impossible. There's simply no way I could do it. Period." And a further realization: "I will be completely incapable of fighting this alone. If I don't have a partner to support me, there's absolutely no way I could maintain my fighting spirit. I just know that about myself."
This spiraled into depressing thoughts of, "but who would choose to be with someone who has cervical cancer due to a virulent strain of HPV? What sane man would intentionally risk exposing his most valued body part to a nasty virus? And anyway, if I do have cervical cancer, it's possible that sex would become painful for me at some point. We all know that's why men partner up, right? Without sex, what kind of partnership would it be, at least from a man's perspective?" So finding a partner is out of the question.
Which leads back to the question of, "how would I even find the strength to fight it?"
It's been an interesting week!
I eventually came to a place of (somewhat uneasy) peace with the situation, though. (I'll explain how in tomorrow's post.) Nonetheless, when I went back to the doctor yesterday to discuss the results of my labs, I was bracing myself. He checked on my cold, which has lasted almost 3 weeks, then we talked about the labs.
My body fought it off!
What a weight lifted off me! Nothing to worry about for now! I'm going to live! I need to keep getting pap smears every 6 months to make sure, but there's no cancer at this point! I asked him about his comment that had triggered the entire worrisome process for me--that my cervix looked really friable. He said the only explanation he could think of is that maybe it is scarred from the process of my body fighting the virus.
So am I embarrassed that I spent all week pondering what I would do if I got bad news, all for naught? A little. I think it was a blessing in disguise, though. It is healthy to face one's own mortality. It brings a soberness to life, causes you to evaluate what is really important, and what you really want. (It also spurred me to get serious about writing a will and a living will.)
In my case, this event has forced me to admit something that has been flitting around my thoughts rather un-solidly lately--it is really important to me that I find a life partner. I do not want to do this alone; I've been humbled enough now to realize I'm not nearly as strong as I thought I was. And I know now that relationships are the only things that give life meaning. For someone as low in inherent meaning-making abilities as myself, that is important. This isn't just an "it would be nice" deal, this is a serious, legitimate need. I don't know how to make that happen beyond what I've already tried, but it will be an even more major focus now. More on this later.
This event also brought to light an attitude that I've long known has been lurking halfway in my shadow, halfway conscious-- the attitude of longing to escape. Part of that just goes with having a Pisces Moon. Part of it has to do with my disappointment with how my life has gone, where I am now, and the large amount of work it will take to get where I need to be. And part of it is rooted in a trait that is VERY much in my shadow--playfulness. I'm not playful. I'm responsible, with a strong work ethic and a good case of leisure guilt. Having kids has exacerbated this problem, because kids respond really well to play. They also take lots of time away from you that would otherwise be devoted to work. And that aspect of being a parent DRIVES. ME. CRAZY. So... I'm probably out of balance on the work-play polarity, I'll admit it. Too much work, though, wears the body down, and then the play energy raises its head and screams in whatever way it thinks I might listen, "I want to escape!"
I don't know how to heal myself in this area. But at least the issue is fully conscious now.