Holy Sit: I Went in for Birth Control; I Came out with Cancer

I Went in for Birth Control; I Came out with Cancer

Diagnosis Part I

Being raised Catholic and the youngest of six children, I resisted posting this blog with the corresponding title. The Church has never supported sex outside of marriage nor birth control. More importantly I love my parents. They read my Holy Sit blog and they’re Catholic. Even though I’m over forty years old, I’ve still felt like a scared little girl who didn’t want to disappoint her parents. Of course my parents have a great sense of humor as every year they laugh at my birthday ritual of leaving a funny note on their pillow saying, “Thank you for having sex that sixth time.” Regardless, I still hesitated about posting this blog. But then I remembered a headline in Huffington Post. It read “Melinda Gates Disagrees with Vatican on Contraception.” I thought if Melinda Gates, a practicing Catholic, could go up against the Pope about birth control, surely I can reveal to my parents Bill and Lorraine, that their youngest (adult) unmarried, un-Catholic daughter has sex!

Whether it’s facing our fears, our parents, cancer or the Pope, I’ve learned that we get our courage from each other. Mom and Dad, now you know the truth. Melinda Gates, thank you for the injection of courage.

When I first walked into the doctor’s office, it felt like I was walking into a dollhouse. There were bright colors and inspirational sayings on the walls. It was definitely a cheery place and I thought I was on an optimistic mission. During the exam with my new gynecologist, Dr. Emily, (yes, another Emily), we talked about my birth control options. Being a thorough doctor she actually read the records sent from my previous physician in Seattle. Noting a uterine pre-cancer scare in 2009 she casually suggested a biopsy. It was more like, “Hey, while we’re in here, maybe we should also check the head gasket.” My attitude was similar, “Sure, what the heck.” Taking a biopsy of the uterus requires a long, sharp instrument delicately maneuvered into one’s hoo-haw, and it hurts the way something long and sharp scraping flesh out of your most tender parts might hurt. I remember hoping that my colorful expletives didn’t disturb the expectant mothers in the pastel-pink rooms next door.

A week later, I was meeting with Dr. Emily in person to get the results. She would either confirm the cancer diagnosis discussed in our phone conversation the prior day, or she would tell me it was all a big mistake. Guess which one I was hoping for?

My appointment was at 4 PM so I had most of the day to sweat it out. I went to work that morning hoping to distract my mind and relieve some of the fear and despair I was feeling. I was sadly mistaken. At 10:42 AM I received e-mail from the UCSF cancer center welcoming me as a new patient. WFT–What Fricken Timing! Are you kidding me? I have never been to UCSF. My doctor doesn’t work for UCSF and yet they sent me a New Cancer Patient Intake email. My love of efficiency and technological advancement ended the moment this nightmare was prematurely delivered to my email inbox. There are some messages that are best delivered face-to-face with a tissue box in hand and this was definitely one of them.

Needless to say I was useless at work that day, but my colleagues at The Shift Network offered the kind of support that was more than useful in my time of personal upheaval.

At 4 PM my new friend, French Emilie, joined me at Dr. Emily’s office as promised. The nurse who led us to the examination room was making small talk but her next statement didn't feel small to me. She said,” I understand you're having surgery.” French Emilie taking full advantage of the infamous French flare for not-so-subtle directness, said, “Well that certainly hasn't been discussed yet.” I loved her for that.

The nurse, realizing her faux pas, quickly exited the room. As French Emilie and I waited, we entertained ourselves in the bright yellow room with a full-color anatomical flip-book. We giggled nervously like two adolescents learning how babies were made. It was a welcome distraction.

Dr. Emily finally entered the room and looked at French Emilie who looked at Emily Emily (that's me). I wished the Emily tri-fecta game could have continued indefinitely. I thought, maybe if we just kept looking at each other and nobody spoke, the cancer would move around the room as if under a hidden shell. If we never lifted up the shell, nobody would have to take home the crappy prize.

I was hoping Dr. Emily would tell me that this had been a mistake, but instead she confirmed that the pathology had been sent to two different labs and both concluded that I had stage-two uterine cancer. “Are you sure that I have it? I mean what are the credentials of the UCSF lab technicians?” I queried grasping for something to get out of this diagnosis.

It reminded me of the time I tried to get out of a speeding ticket in Eastern Washington for going 75 in a 55 mph zone. I was in my early 30s driving a fast black convertible with the top down and no one else around. When the cop came to my window, there was really only one thing I could say, “Nice catch.” Being young, cocky, and frequently lucky when fighting speeding tickets, I went to court to fight this one. Before I could spew out the inaccuracies of radar detectors, the judge recited what seemed like two full paragraphs about the honorable Officer Nice Catch and his tools of the trade. My laypersons exaggerated interpretation was that his radar detector had been meticulously calibrated within 99 percent of the industry’s highest standards, spit-polished by the town’s mayor, and blessed by three monks on the very morning of my joy ride. I felt that same inescapable dread when Dr. Emily recited the credentials of the diagnostic technician at UCSF. In both scenarios, there was only one outcome; I was screwed. And now it was time to pay the price.

Dr. Emily recommended surgery to remove my uterus and possibly radiation afterwards. While in surgery, they would check my lymph nodes for cancer and if necessary, remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes as well. She said, “I’ve scheduled an appointment for you with a qualified surgeon at UCSF. He could do your surgery next Thursday. You’re scheduled to meet with him tomorrow at 4 PM.” Such a fast timeline, I thought as my heart pounded in my chest. That’s when I informed Dr. Emily that the kind people at UCSF had already E-MAILED me to inform me that I had both cancer and an appointment. I recalled the popular 1998 movie, You’ve Got Mail. Only in my case, the movie title was You’ve Got Cancer. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’ movie was way more optimistic with a much higher probability of someone having sex.

Next chapter, Diagnosis Part II, Meet Doctor Quick Blade.

In peace,
Emily Hine

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Unsolicited advice and disclaimer: If you have abnormal periods, abdominal pain or have had pre-cancer scares in the past, stay on it. Get tested. Early detection will spare you a lot of suffering. Also, even though I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I am incredibly grateful for my Catholic upbringing and have no ill will towards organized religion. The foundation of faith it has given me is the basis of my strong spiritual practice today.