Cervical Cancer Is Taking My Uterus — Infertility Awareness Week
I am 29 years old, and some time this year I’ll be getting a total hysterectomy. This is because, for some reason doctors don’t fully understand, my body doesn’t seem to want to give cervical cancer the boot.
Round One — Cervical Cancer
I was first diagnosed in January of 2019, at the age of 28. Early stage cervical cancer — about as uncomplicated as cervical cancer can be, right? Well, sort of.
Something about my results made my doctors suspicious. They thought, perhaps, that the cancer had metastasized. The move, then, would be to remove a second piece of my cervix (standard procedure) and all of the lymph nodes from my pelvis (not so standard at all).
My surgery came in April of the same year. I felt little fear until moments before. The halls surrounding the OR were frigid, industrial. Laying on a cold metal gurney in the hall, with nothing between me and that icy air but my thin hospital garb, I felt alone and overly exposed — like a piece of meat, actually.
Thank god for nurses. After being wheeled into the scene of the crime, my hand was held by one of these ethereal beings as I went under, focused more on her than my surgeon — who’d laughed at me when I asked if I’d still have an IUD in when I woke up (instead of realizing the glaring failure of the medical system to provide me with this information in the first place).
I woke up, grateful it was over — and went through a surprisingly brutal recovery. When my surgeon called me later to tell me I was clear, I’d realized this was because he’d managed to get nearly 40 lymph nodes out of my body, as opposed to the standard 10 to 12. He patted himself on the back before congratulating me on my cancer-free status.
“Well done,” he chirped.
As far as I was concerned, that was it. I deleted everything I wrote about the process online — feeling on the other end of the ordeal that I’d never been sick enough to make my story worth sharing in the first place — and tried to forge onward.
My life over the following year was tumultuous. A mix of extraordinary memories, and pain. Gratitude, depression, and a struggle to process what had happened to me — a task as yet incomplete.
At one point, sad for reasons I couldn’t quite calculate, I stared out the window on a rainy-day bus ride and remembered when I had “real problems,” feeling ashamed for struggling through anything less jarring than a cancer diagnosis. Feeling ashamed that I was having a hard time on the other side.
That shame would soon be the least of my concerns — and a moot point entirely.
Round Two — Suspected Recurrence
It was March of the following year when round two ensued.
Something was wrong. A follow up test didn’t go quite how they wanted it to. I was met with a red flag, and (unbeknownst to my 60-hour-work-week less-than-informed self) sitting on the precipice of a global pandemic.
Two days after the call, I got sick — and so did everyone around me, it seemed. As COVID-19 rolled into my city, I was also digesting the news that I, once again, was a patient of oncology. As I sweat my way through what may have been a standard flu or something much worse, I shamefully binge-watched Love Is Blind, while otherwise feeling next to nothing — the oh-so-familiar state of shock that comes with circumstances like cancer, like worldwide tragedy.
I waited weeks for my first appointment, which ended up being canceled because I had a cough I just couldn’t kick. Rescheduled for about three weeks later, I waited with bated breath, having been told I was lucky to still have an appointment at all. I didn’t leave the house. I couldn’t risk getting so much as a stuffy nose or this eon-long wait would continue.
Days before my appointment, I finally shook my cough — grateful answers would provide me with some sort of relief.
My oncologist, this time a young women — more likely to understand my position and, hopefully, less likely to laugh at me in the weeks leading up to surgery — explained that there was something about my biology that meant I wasn’t kicking this thing.
Three phrases stood out.
“If you don’t have cancer now, you will.”
“The only way to know for sure if there’s cancer in your uterus is to remove it.”
“The best option from a health perspective is a hysterectomy.”
At the end of the day, there’s something about my body specifically that renders it incapable of fighting this thing on its own — a hard thing to forgive it for.
The good news (and something I’m grateful for) is that I probably wasn’t going to have kids anyway. Probably.
A Hard Pill
I have a biological clock. I love children. I want to be a part of something. I’m a human being. I feel the urges, just like everyone else does.
I can’t tell you the decision to, or not to, have a child is a simple one. I’m not sure that it is for anyone.
My partner recently asked me — before all of this — when I decided I didn’t want kids.
My answer was “I haven’t.”
I was in the process of deciding and, truth be told, my life was (and had for some time been) leaning in the direction of no. I’m nowhere near being able to afford it, for one, and there are tons of freedoms I want to keep that I’d have to trade-in for a child or children. That’s not something I was sure I’d ever be prepared to do — and that’s made this process way easier on me than it might be for someone else — but it’s a process nonetheless.
Having the option and taking a pass is a whole lot different than having the choice made for you and, at the end of the day, that’s what all this is to say.
My process of choice — of gradual acceptance and free will — has been interrupted by a non-option. By a pill I have to swallow now, this year, today. By 30, anyway.
Where I used to hear “probably not for you,” I now hear “never.”
Matters of fertility are a great deal more complicated than wanting or not wanting kids, than being able or unable to have “your own.”
Sometimes it’s a matter of freedom of choice, of autonomy, of the complex emotions that come with not having the same freedoms others do — because we’re complicated and, sometimes, all of our parts (and all of our choices) do play a very real role in us feeling whole.
Tags: cervical cancer, fertility, hysterectomy, infertile, Infertility, pregnancy