I ran naked through the center of town.When I was seventeen, I stripped off all my clothes during a thunderstorm and ran naked through the center of the small town where I went to a Mennonite boarding school. The rule breaking was exhilarating, and I felt a real courage blossom in my chest that I had only tasted the edges of before. It was brilliant.
I gave up searching for a theism I could embrace.I punished myself for almost two decades for not being able to believe in the God I was raised to believe in, and it was a deep and transformative liberation to allow myself to walk away from it.
I decided to keep my hair short and stop shaving (for the most part).Cutting off all my hair and letting my body hair grow where it will — excluding my chin whiskers, because those mothers just have to go — truly helped me give up the lie that my female body is a disgusting beast that needs to be tamed to be palatable. I have been hirsute for over 20 years, for the most part, and I plan on being hirsute for at least 40 more. Also, I'll let you in on a secret: it never stopped me from getting laid.
I married the Palinode.It is this man's love and acceptance that has underscored every good thing I've done for over 12 years. He deserves medals and probably a good therapist.
I became a blogger in 2003.Telling my own story and letting my mind practice its creativity changed me irrevocably. Blogging was the outlet that allowed me admit what I truly desired, which lead to my nervous breakdown when I confronted the unhappy state of my life, which lead to my having to make some important life changes, which lead to the much happier and sober state of my life right now.
I had cervical cancer.Cervical cancer struck me with mortal fear, but it also made me take a closer look at my sense of gender and the physical betrayal I have felt since early childhood. As much as I hate the cultural narrative that romanticizes cancer, cervical cancer did force me to make a certain peace with who I am in the body I inhabit.
I had a problematic hysterectomy that forced me to slow down.I took a long time to heal after my hysterectomy, and I was too tired to stay awake for more than three hours at a time for the next six months. That time spent having to literally move more slowly allowed me the space to figure out what I might need and how to move towards that. At the time, I felt like my body was a prison, but it made me stop and pay attention when I needed to.
I had a nervous breakdown.I fell apart so hard after an abusive job situation collided with the stress of cancer that it became a do or die scenario, and doing meant that I had to actively overhaul my life. I quit the abusive job, focused my energy on growing my creative skills, and learned how to better deal with my physical anxiety. I credit that breakdown for my present career and my continued strength to stay alive by whatever means necessary.
I quit drinking.After 21 years of abusive drinking, I quit in 2010. It has been both terrible and miraculous, and my life would not have continued without that brilliant stroke of bravery and fortitude.
I chose to craft my own employment.With no real reason to believe that I could successfully leave my job as an administrative executive to freelance full time, I decided to use what I had learned after years of blog and design side projects to do just that. I had already mastered failure, so what was the worst that could happen? I have since learned that it is actually possible to find and craft work you love and that the work you love might sometimes turn out to involve things you never expected, like public speaking. Who knew?
Entries in cancer (56)
Cervical Health Awareness Month has put me right back in 2007, the year I found out that I had cervical cancer. In 2007, I hadn't had a Pap smear, let alone a physical, since the Palinode and I were married in 2001, and, truth be told, I avoided them. Due to various personal issues, which I'm not going to get into here, the whole stirrups-and-speculum thing with a doctor all up in my business was triggering for me, and I preferred to skip the whole affair rather than go through stirrups/swab/cry-in-the-bathroom-on-my-way-out routine.
Let me tell you, though, if you wait long enough, relatively minor and easy-to-cure conditions can end up turning into cervical cancer, and that once yearly swab can turn into impressive numbers of medical professionals being all up in your business. Hell, I spent a couple of afternoons with my cervix being broadcast on a big screen TV in a surgical theatre to an audience of several people. "This must be what shooting porn gets to be like after a while," I thought, "only without all the fun parts."
Compared to that, the Pap smear is NOTHING. It's well worth the minor amount of fuss to find pre-cancerous conditions with relatively minor treatments, because leaving it go too long can have you end up on the wrong end of the cancer spectrum, which is why I'm now out both a cervix and one uterus due to cervical cancer.
Oh, and lest you think that there's a bright side to hysterectomies, like not getting your period anymore, let me enlighten you. You know how people who have a body part amputated sometimes experience Phantom Limb Syndrome? Well, my uterus is my phantom limb. I still get menstrual cramps about every other month from a uterus that doesn't even exist anymore, which is, yes, the stupidest thing any of us have ever heard. Also, it's a bit of a kick to the psyche.
So, I want everyone and the people they love who are in the possession of a cervix to hop up into their doctor's stirrups and get that thing swabbed on the regular, because one of the best and proven steps that someone can take to prevent a cancer is to have a Pap test. I had no symptoms of cervical cancer prior to diagnosis, so it's worth the appointment, even if you feel healthy. Some doctors suggest doing it every year, and some every few years depending on your age and medical history, but I say why not make it an annual party, like a birthday present to yourself to ensure you keep having more birthdays?
So, make an appointment and go get swabbed! It saved my life, and it could save yours. You're worth it.
July 3rd, which was two days ago, marked five years since I was made relatively cancer-free by a Total Laparoscopic Hysterectomy, which is a procedure that removes the cervix and uterus while leaving the ovaries to do whatever it is that ovaries do when they are freed from their original compatriots.
Five years is the magic number. Had I not had severe fears about all doctors for the first three years after sugery, I would have gone to the doctor for a pap smear every six months and a yearly CT scan. I finally snapped into understanding the real possibility of death and have been fairly faithful with my appointments over the last two years. Each pap smear and CT scan showed nothing out of the ordinary.
That's disappointing every time, because I always kind of held out hope that they would find weird things inside me like bottle caps and keys and whatnot like that woman I read about as a kid in the Guinness Book of World Records who compulsively ate objects in her sleep. When they cut her open, they found all kinds of household items including hundreds of safety pins.
As I said, though, five is the magic number. At five years, I get to stop my bi-annual pap smears and CT scans. Technically, I am considered to be pretty much in the clear, and I can go on with my life without feeling like every doctor's appointment might be about how I'm going to die.
That "technically" is only the technical part, though. My heart doesn't understand that I'm free. Part of me imagines that a seed of the cancer remains and lies in wait, ready to spring into rapid growth with the right provocation.
I just stopped to remark to the Palinode that this post is turning out to be really depressing. When I started, I was going to be light-hearted and bright about it, because come on, I don't have cancer anymore.
I DON'T HAVE CANCER ANYMORE!
It turns out that once I was told I had cancer and let that fact sink in, I was never able to go back to feeling what it was like to not know I had cancer. The time before feels like an innocence I don't get to have anymore.
I've been weighted down with this for the last more than five years, but it just occurred to me during this exact moment right now as I'm writing this that this loss of innocence, like so many other hard things, is less of an obstacle and more of an invitation.
(If you've come this far through this entry, thank you, because it's these revelations part way through that really get us where we're going.)
I've always felt that I was robbed of a certain kind of innocence when I was told I had cancer, but, suddenly, I can see the invitation in it. I am being invited into a deeper understanding of my place here as a mortal being. I am being invited to value time in a new way.
I have always seen time as this cruel boundary that defines our eventual deaths — I've been gifted with such a sunny disposition, don't you know — but I just realized that it is also time which defines the boundaries around who we are and how we exist and what our relationships are to one another and the rest of the universe. Time makes whatever gifts we have here possible.
Time's defining boundary around our lives makes everything we love possible.
I think I've become just a little more hopeful.
I am five years and two days cancer-free today. I really am five years cancer-free today, and it turns out that this innocence we're all told to value so much isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Here's to letting life rob me of innocence for many more years to come!