I opened the envelope, expecting it to be just another bill . . . but what I see instead is a practically blank piece of paper with just two sentences in the middle of the page.
My eyes hone in on this: “. . . atypical cells of undetermined origin.”
What. The. Ever-loving. Fuck.
So casual. Plain. But with a vice-grip bite.
Right after that sentence was a polite, almost robotic suggestion to “take the pap again in 3 months to see if the cells are still present’.” As if those 3 months and all of the mental and emotional turbulence from the previous scientific jargon were of no consequence. My heart was pounding, my stomach churning, and down the rabbit hole I go! Familiar feelings, but made “new” by a long stretch of time without experiencing them.
All of this got me thinking (again, as I always am) about this thing called “Survivorship”. Nobody tells you what that means or how to go about it. Once you’re declared (always with a grain of iodized sea salt) in remission, it’s just “And now back to your regularly scheduled Life!” . . . back to “normal”. Right?
But that’s just not how it is for us cancer survivors. Nothing is ever “normal” again. Cancer becomes a constant companion, sometimes hovering very close clinging to every part of you, and other times just a shadow or a lingering flicker in the distance. Sometimes that’s a beautiful and profound thing because, well, I am alive! And sometimes, well . . . the words “atypical cells” on a piece of paper shatter the veil of freedom and wellness, even if only for a moment. It’s fucking scary! I’m scared. There, I said it.
Since my diagnosis in 2000, I’ve had 12 years of clean and clear follow-up tests (albeit there are no actual tests for ovarian cancer, so it’s always just a shot in the dark for me anyway really). So this paper here, it feels like a Mack truck slamming into my chest. Maybe it is nothing. Maybe I don’t have to worry.
But this is part of survivorship. The part they don’t tell you (or can’t because they don’t really know shit about it), the stuff you only learn by living it. The part of survivorship that means I don’t have the luxury to write this off, or to say “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.” I don’t have the luxury of being okay with just waiting for a few months to take the test again.
Instead, I get to experience the mental and emotional gymnastics that come with a non-“all good!” test result of any kind. What should I do? What should I not do? What woulda/coulda/shoulda? And then self-flagulation: I haven’t been as vigilant about my nutrition. I haven’t been doing my yoga and meditation enough. I’m doing something wrong. I am somehow responsible (again perhaps? was it my “fault” before?) for this mysterious shit going on in my miraculous and ineffable physical body.
Rather than being a misty breath in the background, it feels like the cancer companion is making sure I don’t forget about her. Just a reminder that she could come back anytime. Even if she isn’t here again . . . it feels like she’s standing right next to me, like a fucking silent stalker.
I already know what it feels like to have my whole life fall apart. To have everything I thought I knew become some abstract stream of persistent not-knowingness. Being plucked from the life I knew and abruptly and harshly plopped down into a tiny raft in the middle of a tumultuous ocean with no compass, no map, and no land in sight.
On the flip side, though . . . I also know what it’s like to have so much love and support around me. That unconditional Love is precious and priceless. I know what it feels like to have a vision and a purpose. I know what it feels like to have found profound empowerment and beauty in an experience that is really just plain SHITTY and FUCKED UP.
This shitty piece of paper is like a time machine and I’m back in 2000 knowing nothing, having to wait, and wondering what the fuck is going to happen. I have 2 months to figure out how to stay calm and carry on, to keep my mind from spinning out. I have 2 months to tick-tock-tick-tock but who’s counting? I have 2 months to reel between obsessing and being in my Zen of non-attachment and release. Between a teeming chaos inside and a deep sense that All is in Divine Order, as it were. Jumping back and forth from Nothing is Anything and Everything is Nothing and All is well.
Damn. All because of a lil’ atypical muthuhfuckin’ cells in a Pap Schmear. Fuck this shit! I love you. I’m okay.
Thanks for taking the ride with me tonight. I’ll wake up tomorrow (99.99% sure of that!), the sun will rise, and I’ll be smiling again. G’nite. Diggit.