In an age where things like cancer and cysts seem to develop overnight and for no good reason, smart women get regular checkups. I thought I was a smart woman and doing everything I was supposed to do, right up until the moment I learned I had cancer cells removed—that may have never existed.
At the age of about 22, I went to my gynecologist for a regular checkup. I wasn't having any problems and I assumed this was just going to be a run of the mill invasion of my most private areas. I still thought that when I left the office, even if I was irritated with the whole “it's not that uncomfortable” attitude of the doctor my insurance mandated I go to. Really? It's not? Try it once.
About two weeks later I got a letter from my doctor. I assume it was a bill, which the insurance had screwed up or something. If only it would have been that simple. Instead, I got a letter warning me of my imminent death. Below is a brief excerpt of what I saw when I opened the letter.
“...pre-cancer cells that can ultimately result in death. Please call our office immediately so that we can remove these pre-cancer cells...”
The entire letter was like this, covered in highlighted terms of “cancer” and “death”, each with their own color. Apparently my doctor had discovered some sort of twisted SEO method to get his patients in the office in a hurry. As for me, my knees got weak, my stomach dropped, and I had visions of tubes, medications, long-term hospital stays and pain, lots of pain. My sister simply started crying as she glanced at the letter. Naturally, my next step was to make an appointment.
Let me just say that knowing what I know now, I can't think of a more effective way to get a young woman to come back to your office. This letter left out all details about treatment and in a variety of ways, simply repeated that I had pre-cancer cells and without treatment I would sure die. Getting that kind of letter, especially for one as young and naïve as I was didn't leave any room for second opinion. My survival instinct kicked in and I did the only logical thing I could think of. I made the appointment.
There was no precursor, just an appointment for what they assured me was a simple procedure involving freezing my cervix and then scraping the pre-cancer cells off of it and basically hoping for the best. Maybe if you don't have a cervix this doesn't sound to bad. To be fair, it isn't the worst thing you can go through.
Nothing. There should be no bleeding, no discomfort, nothing at all. I was to go home and hope “pre-cancer” never reared its ugly head again. And to be fair, it didn't, but the bleeding did—as well as the pain.
At first there was just a little bit of blood and mild discomfort, like a dull cramp. But after a while, there was enough blood to be scary and enough pain to have me doubled over in tears.
I called the office and was told to come in after hours. I assumed they were just too full for the day and was actually grateful that they were staying after to take care of me. When I got there they didn't do much except to tell me that I should treat it as my normal menses. However, when the doctor left the room the nurse told me that I had experienced a miscarriage, but it wouldn't be on my record simply because they didn't do a pregnancy test before the procedure. There was no charge for this after hours care.
A few weeks later I read an article in the paper about gynecologists fraudulently doing this procedure on women because it was fast, outpatient, and very expensive. I wondered about my own procedure, but since there was nothing I could do anyhow, I just went on with my life, wondering what it would have been like to be a mother. If this same thing had happened today, I would have done some investigating and probably ultimately filed a suit. At that time I was young, embarrassed, and not inclined to step outside my comfort zone.
Some years later, after two long years of trying, I finally got pregnant and visiting a whole new gynecologist. In between that time, I had not been kind to my body. A history of abuse in my personal life, followed by the possibly unnecessary procedure made me leery of anyone outside my own small world. Yet, I wanted my baby to be safe, so I told my doctor everything, every chemical I had put in my body, the fact that it took two years to get pregnant after the miscarriage, and the fact that I maintained a poor diet. Through the course of explaining all of this, I also went brought up the pre-cancer cells and the procedure that caused a miscarriage.
I still remember the puzzled look on that doctor's face when she said “What procedure?” because the whole time I was explaining about the pre-cancer cells, that look never left her face. I told her every detail. In the end, she apologized. Now I was the one with the puzzled look on her face because the apology wasn't in the form of “I'm so sorry you had to go through that and we will keep an eye out for anything similar”, but more of a “I'm sorry you are so easily duped” kind of apology.
Pardon me? The surgery was very real. So was the bleeding and the pain.
She went on to explain to me that the kind of cells I was talking about left a very specific form of scarring, a form of scarring that was nowhere to be found on my cervix. I was stunned. I remember rambling on about the letter and how effectively it had scared me into action. I remember coming to the realization that in effect, my stupidity had killed my baby.
From that moment on, I asked the different doctors the same questions over and over. The practice that was handling my pregnancy had a policy of making the patient meet every single gynecologist on staff at least once, just in case mine was not available when I actually went into labor. When it came to my baby and my body this time around, I made sure to get more than one opinion. It didn't matter if it was in reference to my diet, the potential issues with my blood type and my unborn son's, or my fears that all of the abuse combined might somehow cause complications during my pregnancy.
As it turned out, there were problems. I ended up going into counseling to deal with the issues of past sexual abuse, the procedure, and the miscarriage. I was unwilling to bring those things into my child's life. As a result of the combination of problems, my pregnancy was somewhat of a nightmare. I developed gestational diabetes, something common in my family. I was anemic, and my therapist recommended that I apply for short term disability because I was so anxious that he was afraid I would either get hurt at work or the added stress of work would damage the baby. As it was, I was in constant fear of a miscarriage.
During my ninth month I became concerned because I had yet to feel my baby turn. At this point I was so anxious that I threatened to sue my doctors if I even saw forceps in the delivery room, insisting that they cut me before they put anything on my child. My fears had reached a peak that kept my mind in a frenzied state. My obstetrician felt the top of my stomach and insisted it felt like a butt. I insisted on an ultrasound.
The ultrasound revealed that my baby had indeed not turned. They suggested we try to turn him. Try as they might I refused, as they reminded me of the unsavory gynecologist when they wrongly used the term “mild discomfort” to describe this new version of torture. I asked about a C-section.
My son was born a healthy 8lb. 6oz. on January 31st via a Cesarean, though my doctors had asked if I wanted to try it naturally. I declined. I stayed awake for the procedure because I lost my faith in medical practitioners years before that, for obvious reasons and felt that being awake would somehow give me some level of control. He is the only child I have or ever will have and for once, when the doctors gave me the advice to “try now for another one” if I wanted another child, I didn't have any questions. I knew my reproductive system, with all that it had been subjected to, had given me the one and only gift I would have.
Today I have a wonderful nurse practitioner who listens to my concerns, answers my questions, and doesn't mind when I ask them over and over in different forms. It has taken more than 10 years to come this far and Jennifer Frazier, the nurse practitioner I see at IU Health in Knox, IN knows exactly where those questions come from. Another 10 years with her and I might have some faith restored in the medical community.