I had a routine pap smear, a week later a nurse calls asking me to come back in so the doctor could speak to me. She didn’t offer an appointment just asked me when I could come down there. Anxious I realize lunch is encroaching so I say I can come now. I walk in and before I can sit down and start playing on my phone I’m called back to my doctor’s office.
Dr. M sitting across from me seeming serious starts to idle chatter. His Greek accent makes it slightly hard to banter with and I’m anxious. He pauses then says, “I received all of your results back, we found that you have Cervical Cancer. Because of the type of HPV you have and the length you have had it the assumption would be this was the cause. However, your Onocologist…”
I can only hear the sound of a Charlie Brown adult as I drift off into a trance. Staring over Madison Avenue I can’t stop the memory of being a 12 year old girl and being told I have HPV.
It was my first appointment to a gynecologist. Even though 12 was on the earlier side my older sister’s pregnancy at 16 prompted my mother to act a bit hasty. My mom stayed out in the waiting room as I wandered after the nurse bringing me into the exam room.
At one point during the exam the doctor sat up and asked me if I had sex yet. I said no, I had no idea what was happening to me was sex. He finished my exam without asking a follow up question. I got dressed and my Mom drove us home. Neither of us talking about or even a discussion.
A week or so later, my Mom received a call from the doctor asking us to come back in. Not understanding what it could be my Mom asks me if I was pregnant. I had no response all I can feel are my own fears but not having the maturity to understand them.
The doctor sat across from my mom and began to explain why he asked to speak to us in person. “We got the results back and it shows that you have HPV” folding his hands on the table he looks at me and says
“I am going to ask again. Have you ever had sex?” staring blanking and understanding nothing he said he asked me again if I had ever had sex. I said no, again not knowing what I had endured was sex.
He didn’t ask if anything happened to me. He didn’t ask if anyone did anything to me. He only went on to explain what HPV was, and that it can cause cervical cancer then asked me to leave the room while he spoke to my Mom.
When we got in the car to head home my Mom asked again. Have you had sex? I said no. She looked at me and said,
“Well, he told me to watch out for you.”
Immediately, a cloak of shame came over me. I was beginning to understand what still happening to me. All I knew is I would get in trouble if I said anything and that I was bad. I didn’t know why I was bad I just knew I was.
Dr. M is clearly done but I kept staring on to Madison Ave, not wanting to leave. Feeling so pulled into the memory as if I could have stayed longer in it I might have been able to change my current reality.
My doctor makes a motion with his hand and my current trance is broken. The reality fell on me as he continued to explain my treatment plan including radiation, a small procedure and chemo then provided me with a phone number so I could set up my appointments.
My heart was racing, my arm pits filled my shirt with sweat causing it to stick to me. I stood up, attempting to pull my shirt from my skin as I was handed the prescriptions and printed information. I walked out, paid my co-pay, got on the elevator and felt the familiar shame I had always known.
I went through my treatments mostly alone. I had one friend attend one time. I walked the cold hallways and sat through scans and appointments, suffered through rashes, bouts of exhaustion, nausea, being told I needed more treatments, all mostly alone.
I kept my cancer a secret much like the abuse that caused it. Cancer was just one more battle in this lifelong war I was born into. I did not chose it, I did not want it, but I would never let myself stop fighting against it. So I did and I overcame again. Cancer-free is nice but it did not change where it came from. It didn’t make me feel free or relieved. It is simply another hurdle, another battle placed in front of me that I have won for now.