Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The State Secret

I was having this really fantastic day. At 8am I was racing through an exam in Anatomy, getting every question right. Then I went tearing around Bent Creek on my mountain bike. And then the doctor called and put a big spike heal through my week.

I was washing dishes when the phone rang and I didn't hear it. I wouldn't have picked up anyway because I never answer the phone, especially when it's from an unknown number, because I'm afraid of collection agency and doctors calling with tremendously bad news.

And it never is a collection agency or a doctor calling with bad news. Except today, it was.

"Hi Melina, this is Doctor whoeverrthehell from Asheville Family Health Center.  I want to talk to you about the results of your pap smear, call me back, okay then, mmmbye."

I gagged when I heard that message. First of all, CANCER. CANCER? Probably. Also because I hate the term pap smear. I hate it, I hate the whole thing. And now mine had gone wrong and I'd be forced to talk about it and I despise talking about that stuff. I'm very protective of my swimsuit-area, who isn't, and if anyone comes near me with some metal tool in their hand, even a nice doctor, I want to spit at them and punch them. It's just an instinct. I'm not saying it makes sense.

I dialed the doctor, hands shaking, vision shrinking. A nurse picked up. She seemed incredibly put out that I was calling. "The doctor is with a patient. Is this so important that I have to go in and get her?" I said no. Just have her call me.

Well she didn't call me. And I had to truck it over to Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College for a three hour chemistry lab. And I hate chemistry lab on a good day. But this day I hated it even more, since what was the point? Here I was, being stealthily murdered by my vagina, and I'm supposed to be concerned about calculating limiting reactants, nope.

I was so nervous and out of it, I set one compound on fire four times. Each time the flame shot up almost to the ceiling. My lab partner jerked his elbow out of the way just in time, four times.

That evening, I finally got in touch with the doctor. She told me I had a "mild precancerous lesion," and she let the word precancerous linger in the airspace for a bit, just so I knew who was boss. Then she referred me to a gynecologist who would- what, the details were fuzzy- scrape out? carve out? burn out? something-out the bad cells. The conversation lasted for 45 seconds.

I hung up the phone and burst into tears. I said "Son of a fucking goddamned bitch, what the fuck."

Then I sat down on the couch in our nearly empty room and felt very sorry for myself indeed.  Here I'm drinking all these green smoothies every day with the power pellets and the super-powders and the whateverthehell, which costs an arm and a leg, and I exercise all the time and still, my own cells are turning on me. Well Well.

Then fuck it! I adopted a new approach to life right then and there.

That night I drank two twelve dollar margaritas, and the next day, to really demonstrate to the world just how hard I'd become, I slept through my nine AM class. Just slept right through it. I had to call a friend for the homework. Just like elementary school.

Then I got a little bit curious. I realized that I didn't actually understand what 'mild lesion' meant. So I started doing some research. Just a cursory search to begin with, but the more I read, the more I came to believe that this recommended procedure- the details of which were still vague- wasn't entirely necessary. In a lot of cases, mild cervical dysplasia can be healed naturally. The cells grow so slowly that it's not a real risk to give it a go for a while. Then, after six months you go back and get another test, and if things still look weird, then you go ahead with the procedure.

I spoke with a natureopath and did some more research and I felt very good about a holistic approach. I felt much more empowered and in control of myself then I had originally. Then I told my mother and she hit the roof. I mean she lost her fucking marbles. She wasn't onboard.

But the gynecologist office who I'd been referred to, they hadn't called to make an appointment with me. They were obviously in no hurry. Weeks went by. I took a ghastly amount of B-12, drank a whole jar of turmeric and avoided my mother's phone calls.

My natureopath, a very decent man, reminded me that knowledge is power. He advised me to call my doctor and ask for a more thorough review of the test results. That sounded sane. So I dialed her up and sat on the front porch, playing with the zipper on my sweater, somehow anticipating a fight. The annoyed nurse picked up. "But the doctor already spoke to you about the results."

"Briefly-" I said, "but I still have a lot of-"

"Well she's out of town for a while," said the nurse, cutting in. She said she would forward along the results to someone else, a different doctor that I'd seen in the past. (For anxiety! Surprised?)

About a week later, that doctor's assistant called me, sounding puzzled. "He didn't perform that test on you, so he does not know why you're calling."

I said, "Can't he just read the results? I have a few questions. And I'd value his opinion about treatment options."

"You should really be talking to the gynecologist you've been referred to. They'll answer your questions."

I called the gynecologist I'd been referred to. They were not interested in me. They said, "We've never seen you. You should be talking to the doctor that gave you the referral."

So I got angry! And I changed the tone of my voice to reflect that. I called back Asheville Family Health and I said, "Listen, nobody will talk to me! There is medical information out there, about me, and you have it, and you won't tell me! Is my vagina a Secret of the State? Why won't anyone talk to me?"

She said The Doctor Will Call You Back.

The doctor never called me back. I consumed an incredible amount of cabbage and carrot juice, cut out sugar, wheat, alcohol, and bought a cookbook written by an ultra marathoner. Which turned out to be useless. I could have seen that coming. And except for the worrisome nuclear secret I was harboring in my vagina, I felt super.

It had been about six weeks since the first phone call, since the day I'd almost set my lab partner on fire, and I couldn't keep avoiding my mother. By now, the gynecologist office had called to schedule an appointment with me. But I remembered how they refused to talk with me, or answer any questions I had about the procedure, so I fired them. A few friends recommended a new place out near Biltmore. My friends assured me that the doctors there were all women, were all liberal (this is unabashedly important to me), were all pretty cool. I made an appointment.

I phoned Asheville Family Health (me again!) and asked them to send the tests results over to the new office I'd chosen. They said they would.

They didn't. I showed up on a Friday for the Thing, whatever it was, and there were no records for me at all. I started to cry in the little room, on top of the metallic table. But the doctor here was cool. She spent her lunch hour on the phone with Asheville Family Health and finally wrangled the results out of them.

"Oh," she said, studying the sheet of paper in her hand. "This is very mild. You can totally go six months and try to heal it if you'd like."

I considered this. I liked this doctor, trusted her. And I was very curious to see if I even still had dysplasia after six weeks of this strict diet and all the hypnosis and sleep and everything else I'd been trying.  Most important, I'd just swallowed the last of my Ativan: it seemed like now or never. So I said, "You know what? Do the Thing. Let's see if I've cured myself. "

Here's what the Thing turned out to be, and if you're a boy, and you're still reading, I applaud you. They put vinegar on your cervix, which will stain any cell that's gone astray. And when they find those cells, they cut them out and do a biopsy.

So they put on the vinegar and nothing happened. "Looks like you're fine," she said, and I was wondering if she was beginning to regret giving me her lunch hour. "We will scrape a few cells and test them just in case."

And they did, and those cells were fine, too. All evidence of dysplasia, of the mild precancerous lesion, was gone.

Or maybe it was never really there to begin with. That's what my friend Erich says, and he's in med school.

"What do you really think happened- do you really think it was the fact that you...drank....turmeric? Or did some dude just misread a microscope slide."

So anyway. That's what I've been up do these last few weeks. That's where I've been.


Amanda in Seattle said...

UGH! That is terrible! I am so sorry for your stress.

Something similar happened to my best friend - except the mixed up her results with some unknown persons; which means there is a lady out there with sick lady parts that has NO IDEA because the test results were mixed up.

I'm relieved that you cured yourself.

PS - Rainy in Seattle today. VERY rainy.

Diabra said...

Yah you for empowering yourself to find answers and doctors who support you. Glad your cells are no longer rogue.

Maria said...

Here's what I'd like to know: has the experience, you know... changed you? Do you feel like you're back where you used to be, or do you feel "new", different somehow? After hearing those words, precancerous?

I am at home with my two children. I've folded nappies, cleaned up milky burps, argued with a toddler (which, may I add, is a totally useless activity, but here you go) and now they're both down for their afternoon naps. I am sitting on the sofa, looking out the window at the mountains and I just *know* that if I came down with something that would make a doctor use words like "prognosis" and "life expectancy" and stuff like that, that as much as I love my children I would probably leave them here with my husband and go off trekking because there are SO MANY ADVENTURES I STILL HAVEN'T HAD.

And so I'm curious: having faced that potential, if even for a little, do you feel like your priorities have changed?

Some years ago I was faced with a potential of infertility and it made me realise that I *really* wanted to have a child. Nothing major actually happened, but things inside me just... shifted.

And so I'm wondering, have you felt a shift?

I totally get it if you don't want to write about it, but I would love to hear what you've got to say =)

Melina said...

Well yes. On one hand, what I had really was quite mild and very common. Yet it made me realize that I'm getting out of that "oh you're young, don't worry about things when you're so young" phase of my life. I feel like when you're younger (and I'm not old, but still) you can get away with so much. Not anymore. I really notice how bad I feel if I eat something sugary or don't get enough sleep.

Also, around this same time there was a very scary cancer diagnosis in my family. So the idea of taking as many preventative steps and being mindful about everything- thoughts, food, exercise, chemical exposure....has been high on my brain. (Not that you can just prevent cancer, easy as that, it seems to strike so often and randomly...) My biggest change is that I now always pay extra for organics. We had to change our diet anyway, because Dave is not eating gluten, and with interstitial cystitis, I really pay dearly for each drink I have, so it's much easier to just avoid alcohol. So i was doing a lot of whole foods/raw cooking anyway, but would often get the non-organic produce because of the price.

In terms of adventuring, the bucket list concept... I actually feel very satisfied with the amount of adventures and travel I've done so far. A lot of people I know say they're not ready for kids yet because they want to go on more adventures first. And I always think...not me! I want parenting to BE my next adventure. There's plenty of things I have to do first, however, like finish school, get a job, career, income. So whenever I have a health scare, I don't worry that I haven't done enough, or seen enough, I always jump right to: I hope I don't get sick and die before I have kids! Or, I hope I don't get sick and that causes me not to be able to have kids!

It's all tied together.

Sometimes I just look at Dave and say, "isn't it weird? that we're so healthy, and happy, and our days are just full of fun things and satisfying work and little rewards and comfortable, pleasant things? we're so LUCKY." I think about my friend Sarah who died so brutally of brain cancer, and what her world was like in her last three months (from diagnosis to death) it was so much fear and pain and tube and medicine and procedures, I just can't fathom what a random and wicked thing Luck is. And how it can change at any time.

Susan said...

You've got to blog more. I love how you write about your life. Cheers to no cancer in the crotch!

Liz said...

Oh man. You always have to boss around medical providers, doctors especially. It's better to do it semi-politely, but sometimes you gotta remove the gloves. I think I scared a medical assistant at Kaiser last spring, but seriously, Kaiser is the most irritating institution, so I can't be too sorry.
I'm glad what you did worked for you. And that you took the initiative and fired the people who needed firing, and found better ones. High five.
At the moment, in my singledom, I have the warped view that just having a boyfriend you love and respect, who loves and respects you, is the epitome of happiness and awesome. I'm glad you're enjoying things. :)

shannon said...

It sucks when your body turns on you! Who thought the Oncology RN of a long time would end up with lung cancer after never smoking?? Glad it is all well with you, but we are so not in control of anything!

Mandy Weston said...

Terrible gynecologists are a blight upon this earth, and I'm sorry that you had to deal with an insensitive/absent one. That being said, good on you for being your own superhero and being proactive! Good attitude!

Rachel said...

Girlfriend. Once upon a time I had a pap smear that came back "irregular", and I flipped my shit and cried a bunch, and it turned out that I had HPV...and I avoided going back to the gyno because I was terrified, and then two years later flipped my shit again because it had been so long and I was convinced that I had cervical cancer because I wasn't being responsible, and I went back in and...nothing. It went away. Vaginas are fucking scary as hell. They're like...moist caverns that breed all sorts of stuff and then have stuff stuck up inside of them and how am I not supposed to feel weird about that? Sigh. I really appreciated this post.

Cait said...

I just want to say a couple things, one: I am SO glad your cervix healed itself! Go cervix! And two, please, please, please be brave and advocate for yourself with healthcare professionals (like you're already doing). You can hire and fire us at your whim, and you can and should demand respectful, informative, evidence-based care. If you're not getting what you want from a particular doctor or office, shop around for a different professional. And don't rule out nurse-practitioners and midwives! We have a lot to offer :)

meg bird said...

Good gosh. I'm really happy for you, for the fact that you're healthy and exercised your right to a doctor that actually makes sense! And also for the fact that you used the phrase, " stealthily murdered by my vagina." bahaha!

John said...

Your problem seems to be a belief in witch doctors...glad you're ok, but next time trust the actual doctors and see them. Smoothies don't cure shit.

Bill said...

I have had similar experiences with doctors. They have left me quite bitter, and I don't even have a vagina. There's a diploma hanging on their wall so you're supposed to believe they give a damn about you personally. Make them prove it before they pull out that metal thing, whether it's pointed at your swimsuit area or not.

Teresa said...

Yikes!! I'm glad everything turned out in your favor. Sounds like a whole lot of stress to me. Which I definitely would not need any more of. They diagnosed me with TMJ a few months ago, and I swear, since I've found out, it seems to hurt me more than before I knew about it. I don't think that really has anything to do with your situation except that it seems to be made worse by me being stressed out. And finding out about it stressed me out, so it is a big issue in my life right now.

Carey King said...

So this post made me SO mad, what the flip is wrong with gynaes seriously!! Babies are in our near future so I'm doing my research and you know now days you basically have to assemble an army of midwives to stop an OB from giving you a c-section.. And seriously do NOT look through the history of Gynae's and OB's it will make you furious- women being tied to tables and blind folded during birth, its sick. They are a group of medical professionals I seriously don't trust. I had a gynae tell me a few years back that I wasn't showing signs of fertility, and then offer to put me on the pill? umm how does that help! Ok rant over, glad you were ok!

Melina said...

I should make a few things clear. The people I saw at Asheville family medicine are actually internal medicine- not gynecologists. The gynecologist I did end up seeing was fantastic. I was extremely frustrated with the establishment of AFM because of- no returned phone calls, the annoyed & agitated attitude when I called to discuss results. Especially because I was calling not to argue, but to ask their opinions and get further information on my records. I realize that a lot of this is due to the impossible system that american health care is now. I know that many doctors simply cannot respond because they have no time, and this is not their fault. I do not dislike western medicine/MDs, and have in fact had great and helpful experiences with gynecologists in particular. Unfortunately, the way this experience turned out was very frustrating and disheartening.

Liz Stout said...

Oh wow. I know how this was probably The Worst Experience Ever and Full Of Anxiety for you for WEEKS - but I gotta hand it to you, you wrote about it with aplomb and comic relief.

But srsly, fuck vaginas. And cervixes (or whatever the plural for cervix is). And the term "pap smear" ::gag::. And yearly appointments for *that*. (But hey, if you have a normal one or ones then you don't have to get another for 3 years! HUZZAH.)

My mom is a public health nurse for our county and deals with this type of thing a lot in addition to all the many birth controls. My father is also a Dr. so the medical force is strong. I've been lucky in that regard; never a bad Dr. in my life thanks to them...until last week. And wow. Totally with you on the horrible phone calls and poor communication and so on, so forth. Eeggh.

I love that you did the whole "FUCK YOU LIFE" margaritas! and then jumped right back onto the "YAY HEALTH AND NATUREOPATH!" train. Your attitude through out it all - especially the end is so admirable. I'm happy things had such a good outcome.

rootsandwings said...

i'm jusy now playing catch up on your blog miss M, and i'm sorry to say this isn't an uncommon experience in the medical world. it's what makes nursing school that much harder and more appealing at the same time. i'm so happy to hear things are OK, and i hope you know you can also always give this lady a call for things of this nature, if you feel so inclined. i certainly the horror of calls like your first one. and know what they're like when they work out so well... the good thing is that sometimes, just sometimes, those asshole docs save lives too:) praise the lord and pass the ammunition...

Anonymous said...

"The doctor never called me back. I consumed an incredible amount of cabbage and carrot juice, cut out sugar, wheat, alcohol, and bought a cookbook written by an ultra marathoner. Which turned out to be useless. I could have seen that coming."

THAT made me laugh. I've fallen for those cookbooks too.

Hudson said...

This story reminds me of a time when I was having shooting pains in my pelvis, multiple times a day. It was getting worse, and so I went to my GP and asked for advice. He recommended a urologist, who did a cystoscopy, found nothing, and sent me home. The cystoscopy actually made it worse.

Recently, I reflected back to the state of mind I was in when those pains were happening. I was in college, which I hated, living in a place I didn't really want to be, working somewhere that felt stagnant. On top of that, it's easy for me to obsess over things neurotically, until my psychological attention to them actually does more harm than they themselves could do. Seeing as these symptoms faded and then disappeared after college, I think that my obsessive thinking about them probably made them a lot worse. Maybe you can understand that kind of feeling.

I enjoyed your recent story on the dirtbag diaries. I have a similar story that happened in the Black Hills.

- Hudson