A few weeks ago, I was officially diagnosed with early stage cervical cancer. Apparently it’s easily treatable, but fuck me, it’s still cancer, right?
In the excruciating four months I’ll have waited between first finding out there was something a little bit cancerous going on in my vagina, and eventually getting my results next week, life has totally stalled. There’s no point moving forward with anything, nothing seems important. None of my millennial angst or white girl problems have weight anymore.
What’s going on with that guy I was seeing? How come I can’t seem to shift the last 15 lbs? Can people even tell that I’m a few pounds overweight? Am I the only person out there that still likes Miley Cyrus? Where does all my money go? When will I next have an amazing night out? Why aren’t I as successful in work, love and life generally as I thought I’d be by 25? All these are questions that used to run through my head on an embarrassingly regular basis. Now the only real question is: what next?
First of all it was processing the information when my doctor gave it to me, just after he’d put a contraceptive coil in for me. “There’s a lump on your cervix. It looks suspicious.” ‘Well, I’m sure it’s nothing.’ I told myself.
What next? Testing. Lots of testing. My first smear, a couple of colposcopies’, scans, tests of my various bodily fluids ‘just in case’. “Why are you going to the doctor so regularly?”, my brand new boss asked me back in August. I’m still in my probation period at work, so it doesn’t look great to take so much time off, but I mumble something about recurring tonsillitis and hope no one asks too many questions.
What next? Final test results. I’m called into the hospital at 12.30 on Thursday September 5th. I go on my lunch break from work, and then break down crying when giving one of my employees a performance review that afternoon. “I’m afraid it looks like you have cervical cancer – we’d estimate you to be at stage 1B1 based on our tests, as the tumor is small but relatively advanced.” Treatment is going to be a cone biopsy to examine the tumor – and hopefully remove the entirety of it – and removal of some of my lymph nodes to test, under general anesthetic. Apparently, if it spreads to your lymph nodes you’re fucked – chemo, radiation, the whole shebang. Usually they’d do a radical hysterectomy at this stage because it has a higher success rate, but it’s a bigger operation, and the cone biopsy is deemed a “fertility preserving” alternative, as I’m young and haven’t had any children yet. No one asks me whether or not I want my fertility preserving. I feel like things are just happening to me at this point, instead of me playing any active role in my own disease.
What next? Processing the information. Well, I’m still trying to process it now. I did what my family always does in difficult situations: threw money at it. Private healthcare for a shorter operation waiting list time, expensive organic food, health supplements and so on to help boost my immune system, a fancy gym membership to make sure I’m at peak physical health from now on, presents to cheer myself up – oh god, so many presents. Makeup, shoes, a new haircut, clothes, books, alcohol…anything I fancied really. I’m giving myself free license to spend as recklessly as possible until I’ve got the all clear…and then perhaps a couple of weeks afterwards too, to celebrate. Because somehow, a limited edition MAC lipstick purchased on eBay for well over the odds helps obliterate the numbness slightly and brings me a little bit of joy.
What next? Telling people. This is probably the hardest part. I haven’t cried yet, but some people cry when I tell them and I don’t know what to do. I try to keep it contained to close friends and immediate family, but word spreads fast amongst my group of friends, and my boss needs to know – which means my employees will probably find out, so I end up alluding vaguely to an operation to anyone who asks what’s going on with me, and telling the important people the full story. Notably, my mum and stepdad – both outwardly calm, inwardly flustered. My best friend – absolutely shell-shocked and unable to hide it. A couple of other close friends – both of who cried. My ex-boyfriend – absolutely no reaction which made me feel sad for no reason I can fathom. A guy I’d been seeing over the summer who I’m still good friends with (because I felt like he should know he’d been fucking a diseased vagina) – he got emotional, researched everything he could about it and told me he’d be there if I ever needed anything. That’s the first time I cried.
What next? Waiting three weeks for the operation. Fielding awkward calls from various family members to explain the process. Replying to “how-are-you-doing?” texts from friends by pretending everything is totally normal. Being praised from all sides for my positive attitude, when all I really want to do is curl up into a ball until it’s time to go to the hospital. Joking about cancer and the fact that I’m probably going to piss myself after the operation, because I don’t know how to cope with serious situations beyond dark humor. Generally talking about it – the facts, not my feelings – as often as possible because I somehow think that if everyone around me thinks it’s normal, it won’t be such a big deal. Buying more stuff. Drinking too much. Procrastinating at work because I’m hungover and I can’t stop thinking about the fact I’m probably going to die.
What next? Tranquilizers. General anesthetic. A laser knife up my vag or something – I don’t know I tried not to think about it too much. Prescription painkillers, and some Valium I scored from my brother. A good 4 days of having no idea what’s going on, and then another few of intense pain and not being able to get up the stairs without assistance and serious mental prowess. People running errands for and looking after me – which is lovely of them but I hate feeling dependent. Sleeping about 18 hours a day. Playing too many video games and watching too much TV. Not washing or putting makeup on for a solid week, and eating ice cream at 3am because why the fuck not? Wearing actual adult nappies because of all the bleeding and aforementioned pissing oneself. Walking everywhere very slowly. Rarely seeing my friends or doing anything fun because the thought of leaving my house unless it’s completely necessary makes me so exhausted I want to go into a coma, and having anyone I’m not related to or living with seeing me like this is just too embarrassing.
What next? Playing the waiting game again, except this time it’s different because I can only be at work for half a day before becoming completely burnt out, and I’m still too tired all the time to do anything social, so I just shop online a lot and drink wine in my pajamas because it gives me a nice buzz along with my painkillers. Not wearing tights or jeans because it hurts too much. Not being able to exercise until I’m fully healed – same goes for sex. Except that’s a joke because come on – who wants to have sex with me right now? Weekly check-ups with the nurse. Making awkward jokes about the amount of people who’ve seen my vagina recently and how it feels more natural to have a speculum up there than not, now. But really though, doing kegels because I’m worried about how loose I’m probably getting – even though that’s the last thing I should be worried about right now. Having some days where I’m wildly depressed and convinced it’s going to be bad news and other days where it’s out of control worry and other days where I feel totally numb but the occasional day where it’s all rainbows and sunshine and not really understanding where all these emotions are coming from or why. Also not understanding emotions in general. My friend’s boyfriend is moving to another country so they have to split up. Is that meant to make her… sad? Am I doing the right face for sad? Why do we even feel things anyway? Emotions are so futile, I don’t think I’ll ever love again. Resolving to be a crazy cat lady, if I even live long enough. Planning my recovery party with my friends and housemates, and feeling like I’m tempting fate by doing this, or clinging on to a really distant hope that’s not going to come true.
What next? Well, I get my results on October 17th so who knows right now? If it’s good news I’ll be celebrating like there’s no tomorrow – even though clearly, thankfully, there will be. I’ll probably become really profound for a short while, living life to the max and going on a health kick and marveling at how small and insignificant we all are. I’ll try to raise a bit of money for a cancer charity, but ultimately, I’ll probably put this whole experience in a box and go back to worrying about my weight and Miley’s career trajectory and whether or not I’ll ever become friends with Beyoncé. In other words, I’ll have changed a bit, but I’ll bounce back – I’ll be stronger, and all those other clichés.
If it’s bad news, there’ll be more operations, chemo, infertility, hair-loss, job-loss and a whole host of things I don’t even know about yet. I’m a good person. I smile at strangers. I work hard. I’m a loyal friend. I’m polite. I’ve never murdered anyone. I don’t feel like I deserve this. I always thought I was so strong and in control and it’s killing me – figuratively, but perhaps literally too – that I don’t have any control over my body right now, and this horrible thing has happened to it without me knowing how or why or if I could have prevented it. For now, all I can do is wake up every morning and ask myself, “What next?”