Tag Archives: cervical cancer

Challenges – 44/365

My biggest challenge it pretty hard to explain, but let me try.

at its root and if I had to define it in one sentence it would be;

My biggest challenge is managing my feelings about my cancer diagnosis.

I have tried to break it down in my head.

Cancer, still has the vestiges of being a forbidden disease, the one people don’t talk about… so frightening so heinous that when one died from it the mattress was tossed. While we all don’t go to the extremes, I still see it whispered, I find that people do not like to talk about it openly, but prefer hushed gossipy whispers.

When you add to that what kind of cancer it is, you get a certain other subtext going on.  I know from my work in breast cancer that there are issues about the physical and female aspects that are altered through the process. Many of the women I talked to would try to explain the altered self perception after a mastectomy.

Since I can only talk about, with any real authority,  my cancer… I can tell you that for cervical cancer being loudly proclaimed a sexually transmitted disease it hangs there, in the ethers after people hear about it.  They look at me, silent.

Now, that may be a by product of the whole “hush, shhhhh… it is cancer” thing. It gets more specific though.

I still so vividly recall sitting at dinner with a friends and some friends of one of that friend to talk about how improve the dialog about HPV vaccination among the local LDS community. My friend mentioned that she was a survivor, but that her husband was older when they married. The other around the table cooed and talked about how it couldn’t be her fault because after all, her husband was older and as such must have been “experienced”. While that may certainly be true, I know my friends sexual history and that was a super weak thing to let happen, because she had been sexually active for at least 5 years prior to her marriage. I was so upset by that that I said, well I am a survivor too, but my husband is younger. No one could look me in the face. One of the people was a mormon physician and I sure hope to her God that she was embarrassed. That was a stupid reaction for a physician to make, especially one who understands disease.

I think that was the worst part of my experience.

The weirder parts are reading tabloid news about which rock star has throat cancer and while knowing that they smoked and it was surely a contributor that my guess is that they have a cancer related to the same virus from their own forays in to oral sex.  But, their publicist imagines that it is easier to blame it on the cigarettes.

No one knows my sexual history, and it is really none of anyone’s business but my own.

That stigma is so awful and I am at a loss of how to dispel it without making my personal sexual story part of the narrative.

The scenarios in which one could get a cancer causing HPV infection are not as lewd as most people want to assume, but some of them are.

I was asked to consider being a speaker at a relay for life event by a friend. I told her that I would be happy to, but that I didn’t have a sexy cancer.  Sexy cancers being the kind one can say “it’s rare” or “it’s miraculous how it was detected”… you get my drift. I think she realized how controversial STI cancers are.

STI, can we come up with a better name?

Will you take the better name challenge and suggest something? Or refuse to fall into a gossipy mode when thinking about this kind of thing?

Come on, I dare ya!

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What a difference a year makes

In 27 days I will celebrate one year of remission.

Today, I reflect on one year since I got the telephone call.

At 8:58 AM my doctor left a message that did not pop up on my phone for  at least another 20 minutes.

I was at work, and my office is in a cellular black hole. I was unable to listen to the message through my phone. I had to call my voicemail from a land line. I learned that I had cancer via voice mail.

I’ve left the voicemail unheard, like this, since, that day.

I remember looking at my desk, that space between my keyboard and the edge, staring at the wood as I listened. He gave me the pathology report results, and then gave me some names and numbers of oncologists to call, and of course asked me to call him back if I wanted.

I remember taking a very deep breath. I had a moment of overwhelming helplessness. Didn’t know what I should do first. I didn’t want to call my husband or my family. I tried to think of a way to get through this without telling anyone. I realized that was going to be impossible. I decided to take care of business. I think this all happened in 16 seconds. I called and made an appointment with the first oncologist he had recommended and then called my doctor back.

So began something I had not signed up for.

Looking back, I can honestly tell you that in so many way this has been the darkest year of my life.

I try to hang on to those moments that gave me moments of brightness, but it’s some of the hardest most desperate hanging on I’ve ever done…

Especially during those times when recurrence, in spite of a “98%” survival rate (which is the same as any of us pretty much) becomes that focus on the knowledge that I am on that low end of that 98%  spectrum and a swirling mess begins. I wish I could invoke my husbands Austrian pragmatism and just eschew that as silliness.

Actually, there is a part of me that can. What ends up happening is that I have conflict.

So, since I have dedicated October to mindfulness I want to explore how I can manage this conflict. I hate feeling the way I’ve felt this past year.  This article gives some clear steps on how to do that:

  1. Whenever you become aware of negative thoughts and emotions arising, rather than ignoring them, or setting them aside for later, identify, acknowledge, and honor them.

Identify: As a result of my cancer diagnosis; I am scared. I am angry. I am sad. I feel lonely. I feel ugly. I feel unloved. I worry that it will come back, every little pain or ache can bring that worry to mind. I feel unworthy. I feel like crying. I feel tired.  I feel selfish for being so sad and upset about these emotions. I feel let down. I feel like family is a joke. I am heartbroken that my mother chose to defend my aunt and berate me just a few months after my surgery when I was trying to find the good things in this. I’m angry that my aunt was a crybaby about my not thanking her enough. I feel like friends can bring greater value in times of stress (and this haunts me). I feel weak. I feel like a failure. I feel judged. I feel helpless. I feel like something I considered vital was beat out of me by this cancer, and by those I love. I am heartbroken to realize I no longer think I’m a kind person.  I miss the pre-cancer me.

Acknowledge: I clearly can see that these are all related to my diagnosis and experiences relating to all that has happened to me in the past year.

Honor: I have tried to do this, this is where I am stuck.

This past weekend I was at a leadership retreat where we did an exercise in which we had to picture us as an 8 or 9 year old.


I was told to picture that little girl in front of me. And tell her that I loved her. That she was bright, and kind, generous, and beautiful… loved. I was to caress her cheek, and hug her. I was to tell her she was valuable, important, strong, and brave.


2. Become very clear on what the specific upset is by identifying the exact thoughts that are bothering you. Are they self-judging, bad memories, or anxiety about future events? Any thought that causes dis-ease in you, regardless of past, present or future is applicable.
3. Next, indentify the specific emotions that arise in you as a result of said thoughts. What do they feel like? Is there tightening in your chest? Is your stomach turning or is there a throbbing sensation in your head? Again, any emotion that causes dis-ease is applicable.

4. Once you’ve clearly identified the thought(s) and emotion(s), close your eyes and explore the imagery they subsequently create in your mind (once you’re familiar with the practice, you won’t always need to close your eyes—i.e., if you’re driving, or in public you can still do this.) Do the thoughts and emotions create colors, shapes, figures? Are they abstract or clear? The important thing is to let your thoughts and emotions create the imagery while you simply become aware of what they are.

5. Breathe. We’re at the half way mark and I’d like to offer you a sincere congratulations on completing the first half! Our natural tendency is to suppress these uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, often telling ourselves that we’ll deal with them later—but honestly, does later ever come? Unfortunately for most of us, it never does. So even just by taking the time to become conscious of, and identify these unpleasant thoughts and emotions is a huge step! Let’s not stop there however, because here’s where the really good stuff starts to happen.

6. This step is where everything begins to change! Once you have the mental images of what your thoughts and emotions look like (and even if there’s no image at all, this practice still works), picture yourself holding the image (or lack thereof) in the same way a mother holds a newborn baby. Picture the image of your painful thought and emotion wrapped in a warm blanket, being held with very loving care closely to your heart, your chest, as you extend it very sincere compassion from your heart center. (You can also use the imagery of wrapping the thought/emotion in a warm blanket and placing it in a baby carriage, and rocking the carriage back and forth.)

7. Next, mentally (or verbally) say to the image that you know it’s there and you promise to care for and hold it with compassion until it’s ready to go. Do your best to say these words from a very sincere place in your heart.

Queen of my cancer domain

There is a bit of nervousness and apprehension as I approach my oncology follow-up visits.

I know to expect the following;  a vaginal exam, a pap smear, and my scar gets a review.

I never really thought I would ever blog about these things, but here I am talking all about my girly bits.

My oncology center has a pretty new office, it is fancy schmanzy. I was able to see their previous office space several years ago. I helped a colleague through their own diagnosis. The space has different kinds of patient rooms and this visit I got a room that I call a throne room. They have these modern chair-that-turns-in-to-an-exam-table-complete-with-stirrups-that-miraculously-appear things.

After being ushered in to the room by the nurse  I proclaimed that I was glad I got to get a throne room. I  sat down with royal aplomb, gestured grandly,  and proclaimed myself as queen of my own cancer.

This is the chair, with me in it… and yes, you can see my butt poking from behind that silly paper drape if you look hard enough:

Anyway, turns out that my abdomen is not lit up by my disco ball ovaries. 

My oncologist is incredible, there is a gentleness to him that is unseen in so many other physicians. All the Ob-gyn’s I know consider him their go-to guy for their patients with oncology needs. I understand why.

When he examines me, there is a certain gentleness. A real look at his handiwork not in how they reflect on him, but on how they are for the patient. If you are open to the idea of therapeutic touch, I would say this doctor was born with it. 

So, as I lay on that table-formerly-a-chair, I asked him what he had done with my ovaries. He explained that he had tied them down to a ligament. He followed up by explaining that they are about 3 cm lower than where they used to be. he added that they should continue to function as long as they normally would. My ovaries were not left to roll around. Nor were they hung up on my ribs like a disco ball.  

I told him my story was better. He laughed and said he thought so too.

Cancer patients tend to develop a kind of crush on their oncologists. I can totally see that. It is not the kind of crush where you feel love. It is the kind that comes from feeling gratitude, It is pretty amazing.

I am still reflecting a lot on gratitude. It is hard to properly express gratitude to people  in this experience. Gratitude, it seems, is my lesson that is still being developed in this experience.

On The Facebook today, I came across an essay on suffering and gratitude. There was something intense to ponder  in the message. And the message was made moreso when the essay ended with this message:

I am grateful for your hair, the beauty of your eyes, your way with words, your heart that always is ready to give, your willingness to grow, your willingness to not know, the way you garden, naked, early in the morning, your love of family, your love of wine, your love of Scrabble, your glass-half-full ways, your love for your son, your belief in God, your belief in the power of poetry, your belief in the power of love, your Catholic ways, your love of your mother, your love of Mother Divine, your pale white skin, your lips, your smile, the way you love your friends, the way you love. (Source)

It appears that little piece was about a woman named Adele. I believe Adele is pictured at the bottom of the page in source link. That part, though, touched on some of the things that people comment about me or that I feel about me. In some divine sense, I want to believe that I was meant to see it. And to relish this sisterhood I share with this woman named Adele.