THE NEW NORMAL

IMAGE // Via Farm 8

“Abnormal,” the nurse said over the phone, in a tone at once calm and grave.

“Abnormal?” I asked, for the second or third or tenth time.

“Yes. But this doesn’t mean you have, like, cancer,” she reassured me.

“Oh…um. Good?” I asked.

“Well, yes,” she began carefully, her words measured. “Usually when we see pap smears like this one, it means the patient has also tested positive for HPV, right?”

“Uh, right?” I said. Though she could have said, “also tested positive for rubbing bacon all over their body,” and I would have said the same thing.

“But we just need to be thorough! You know! Make sure you don’t have any pre-cancer cells or anything like that. Just need to take a little biopsy. How does Monday look?”

Monday looked fine. Tuesday looked fine. Tomorrow, tonight, this afternoon, in the next 15 minutes — it all looked fine.

I could clear my schedule for this.

+++

That phone call happened last Wednesday, right after a yoga class. I checked my phone to hear a concerned voice mail: “This is Nurse So-and-So, and Tolly, we need to discuss your pap smear results.”

I called the clinic immediately, left a message. Called back again. Got the same voice mail.

I called a third time, and cried out to the receptionist.

“HELLO?! My name is Tolly Moseley! I got a phone call! Something about my pap smear!”

“Ahhhh. I see,” she said, with the feline zen she probably reserves for frantic calls like these.

She proceeded to put me on hold. Billy Joel confessed to me that he and his compatriots did not, in fact, start the fire. It was always burning since the world’s been turning…

“Ok, Tolly, left me just get confirmation here,” she asked. One must be careful to not confuse all the Tolly’s walking in and out of their establishment, after all.

“Your date of birth?”

“Four…” I began, “seven…” voice quaking, “eighty-two. My birthday is four seven eighty-two,” I whimpered.

“Ahh…there you are! Hold on just one more minute.”

Taylor Dayne this time. Explaining that love would lead me back to her arms. (I was skeptical.)

By the time the right nurse got on the line, I was in full-on, crisis-having, sob-heaving mode. Because what the hell? I’m 30. I’m in yoga teacher training for God’s sake. I don’t get phone calls like that.

She explained the steps necessary to retest me and my problematic cervix, of which I understood exactly none. Something about a vinegar solution, which would light up my cells on a screen, and then they would scrape off a sample and send it away for testing.

“You’re going to LOVE Dr. Smith,” the nurse reassured me. “She’s very gentle.”

“While she scrapes?” I wanted to ask.

“And Tolly, don’t check the Internet.  You’ll only freak yourself out.”

+++

Apparently, abnormal pap smears are quite common. At least they are for my mother, her best friend, two of my best friends, and even my ob-gyn herself, who all revealed to me that this had happened to them before. This is the way I process fear, you see: By calling absolutely everyone I know.

This clinic is not far from my house. I have been going there for five years, in and out of different residences, in and out of different health insurances. I was there last week as a matter of fact, getting my annual.

“This is good,” I thought to myself. “Really. It’s good! What have you been learning about in yoga teacher training? Not to get so attached. Including to your own life. This will help you. Whatever the results are. This will strengthen you.”

That was my mind, at least.

My hands, however, were not in compliance. They proceeded to make about 80 wrong turns, including one that looped me right back around on Mopac, as if to carry me home. “You don’t really wanna do this, do you Tolly?” they seemed to be saying. “It’s scary and it’s expensive! Just go back home. There’s still hot coffee in the pot. Pre-cancer, or coffee? This is an easy choice.”

When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a pregnant woman beaming as she walked back to her car, talking on her cell phone.

“Boy,” she said, with a huge grin.

I did the selfish thing at the elevators. Meaning, I hit the ‘close’ button, the one with the two arrows pointing in toward each other, the one that looks like a butterfly. I’m pretty sure it’s a placebo.

“Oh, hello Tolly,” said the receiving nurse. “You just need to sign this piece of paper for us. Let us know you’re giving us permission for your test today!”

I never read these things carefully, and I should. Because I think the paper said, “this patient authorizes her cervix biopsy.” But it could have also said, “this patient authorizes her likeness to be used on Hello Kitty purses and in brochures detailing the tooth-rotting effects of crystal methamphetamine,” and, you know what? They would have my permission for that.

There was one of those freaky informercials playing on a loop in the waiting room, the kind that looks like an actual news report, until a peach screen with a scripted font from the 80s comes up that says, “thank you for waiting! Your doctor will be with you in one moment.” Then, everything after that just seems like propaganda.

I had a fleeting thought that I wished this were The Hunger Games, and if I was going in for a treatment anyway, couldn’t I just go to sleep and have them wake me up when this was all fixed? Katniss didn’t have a bad cervix, but she was almost eaten by wolf/people/devil hybrids, and the Capital fixed her right up.

“Tolly?”

“Yes?”

“Dr. Smith is ready for you.”

+++

We walked pass the scale at the nurse’s station. “You don’t have to weigh me today?” I asked.

“Oh, no — that’s only for your physical.”

Score,” I thought. Apparently, the threat of cervical cancer is no match for my vanity.

The nurse explained to me what the cervix looks like, and what they were searching for. I nodded solemnly and asked for some tissues.

“Just hop up on the bed here, and Dr. Smith will be with you in a moment!”

Since we all know that “a moment” at the doctor’s office means “the time it takes you to write a thesis on War and Peace,” I decided to study the available literature inside my room. There were some books perched on a small wall-mounted shelf, including one with sexy, red patent leather high heels on the cover with the title, Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STD’s. Right next to it: a Dr. Seuss book.

The thing about getting a cervix biopsy is that it’s not surgery. It’s a tiny bit primitive — what with the doctor reaching up inside you and retrieving a sample (to put it politely) — but it doesn’t require anesthesia. Still, when Dr. Smith, who is literally the nicest medical worker ever, arrived in my room, I wanted to ask if I could just be knocked out and woken back up when they had what they needed. But I couldn’t quite get the question out.

“Aw, I cried too when this happened to me, Tolly,” Dr. Smith assured me. “But it just takes five minutes, and you’ll be out of here.” I nodded.

“Also, I’ll be able to tell you about half of your results today. Tell you if the outer part of your cervix looks normal! We’ll send away the biopsy, from the inside of it, off to a lab and know in about a week if that looks normal too.”

The nurse handed me more tissues.

For the next few minutes, here is how the dialogue went between Dr. Smith and I:

“Tolly, can you be a dear and try not to clench?”

(Sniffle)

“You’re just going to want to go ahead and relax your pelvis muscles as much as possible…”

(Sniffle)

“Just — that’s good! Relax! Oh, you had it for a second there–”

(Sniffle)

“Tolly. Please. Please don’t clench.”

Then Dr. Smith looked inside a microscope thing, one that allowed her to get a more intimate view of my body than anyone, and I mean anyone, ever has.

“Well,” she began.

“There’s good news.”

“Oh?” I asked, blowing my nose.

“The outer part of your cervix looks normal!”

I blew it again. “Really?”

“Yes! Your pap smear might have just been over-read. We’ll know in about a week if the inside part is normal too.”

+++

Back at the elevator bank, I waited to go back down to my car. A jocky corporate exec from elsewhere in the building walked up next to me.

“Did it hurt?” he asked. I looked at him in disbelief. How did he…?

“Your tattoo,” he said. “The one on the back of your neck.”

“OH! Oh,” I said. “No, it didn’t hurt at the time. But it hurts a little now.”

“Why is that? I thought you didn’t feel tattoos?” he asked.

“I scratch the back of my neck a lot, and sometimes pull the hairs on the back of my neck out.”

“Oh,” he said, visibly dismayed that he had started this conversation. “Why is that?”

I took a deep breath, and sighed.

“I’m an overly anxious person.”

  • hipstercrite

    Tolly, sorry that you’re going through this. If it makes you feel any better, for the past two months I’ve had a pain in my side that I’m not sure what it is. I’ve gotten minor tests done (pee & blood) and it’s normal, but the pain is not going away. My next step is a sonogram and I’m terrified they’ll find something insane. I’ve gotten myself so worked up, that I think I’m making the pain worse. I’m sure you’ll be just fine, and you’re right- this isn’t uncommon. Keep your chin up! It will all turn out great!

    • http://www.austineavesdropper.com Tolly Moseley

      Thanks girl. As of today, I am 99% sure that it’s nothing (my cervix thing). So, SO many women in my life have been quick to reassure me that this has happened to them before too, no big deal, even if it IS something (like it was for my mom when she was 23), it’s actually not that hard to treat.

      I should know the results by next Monday.

      Anyway, about your side…

      Not to become a total Austin hippie on you, but Ross goes to a Chinese medicine doctor. A few months ago, we thought he had fibromyalgia! (Because of course we looked on the Internet. ;) Anyway, it was a bizarre virus that made his skin, all of it, sensitive to the touch — and she gave him some stuff that made it go away within a few days. Let me know if you want her contact info.

    • Allison Hoffman

      Lauren I had my gall bladder out at 25–it was a terrible pain! They couldn’t diagnose it forever. I had a sonogram and they couldn’t tell it was very bad but when they finally removed it they said it was very inflamed. Instant relief.

  • robert march

    overly anxious, impressively brave, utterly engaging. sending positive vibrations your way tolly!

    • http://www.austineavesdropper.com Tolly Moseley

      :-) <3 you, Bob-o.

      • robert march

        thanks! and right back atcha, tolly!

  • Kellyn D.

    TOLLY, OH MY GOODNESS.

    I have seriously experienced the EXACT SAME THING. I was 18 years old, a freshman in college and went to my OB/GYN for a routine Pap. Well, a few days later I got a call that it was abnormal, and they wanted to do a biopsy. I remember it so vividly. I was running errands for my mom, the nurse called, told me the news and I had to pull off to the side of the road to catch my breath. I called my mom very calmly, I wasn’t worried at this point but there’s just something about talking to your mother that breaks a person down. “MOM,” I wailed, “My pap came back abnormal and I might have cancerous cells or something.” Then I just started bawling. All of these flashes of cancer and cervix removal and chemo and losing my hair and never having children swam through my head. I felt sick.

    I went in for my first biopsy a few days later, and the results came back with pre-cancerous cells. My doctor was very calm, said that sometimes this happened, he wanted to watch them for 6 months to see if anything developed because sometimes these things have a way of clearing themselves up. Six months later, I went back and there were no changes, the cells were still there. He wanted to take another biopsy to see just how deep the pre-cancerous cells went and would let me know if we needed to take further action. A few days later, I went back for a second biopsy, and when the results came back, the cells didn’t go deep into the tissue of my cervix like we had hoped. I was then scheduled for an in office procedure called cryotherapy. Basically your cervix is frozen with carbon dioxide, then the abnormal tissue dies and “sloughs off.” I went in a week later, and had tons of blood taken. They wanted to run routine blood tests and check my white blood cell count, just in case something wasn’t right. My mom went with me to have the cryotherapy procedure done. I was really nervous, and I could tell she was, too. She was holding my hand while my doctor explained it all to me. A tube full of liquid carbon dioxide would be inserted and I would experience a little discomfort and cramping. He inserted the tools, and started the procedure. My mom tried to distract me, and made me laugh. I laughed so hard I dislodged the speculum, right into my doctor’s lap. He, the nurse, my mom and I laughed for a few minutes which relieved the tension in the room. “Now, dear. You can’t laugh like that again,” my doctor explained through chuckles. “You have to remain still so we can get this over with, alright?” And then we got serious. After 5 minutes of some pretty awful cramps, the procedure was done. I went home, rested and then started the healing process. It’s gross and graphic and I won’t get into it but 6 weeks later, I was back to normal! I went in every six months to have check ups, and eventually (last March) I started to have normal paps again! I was so happy and grateful that all of this was caught early. Now I just go in for routine check ups, and hope it doesn’t return!

    I know that having an abnormal pap is terrifying but cervical cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if it’s caught early. If you need anything, feel free to email me! Between my sister and I, we have a lot of experience dealing with reproductive scares. :) (agesixracer8807 @ gmail . com)

    I hope everything comes back normal!

    • http://www.austineavesdropper.com Tolly Moseley

      WOW — Kellyn! What a story.

      (I love the comic relief part about you laughing so hard you dislodged the speculum. ;)

      Thank you so much for coming here and telling me about your experience. It really does help to hear about worse case scenarios, and how even those can be dealt with.

      I’m crossing my fingers the clinic calls me on Monday with the results and say, “nevermind! You’re all good.” This has been the case for about two thirds of the women I’ve spoken with, while the other third DID in fact have some precancerous cells, but it was totally treatable and things got back to normal pretty quickly.

      Anyway. You’re brave, girl. Kudos to you for handling the whole thing like a champ.

      • Kellyn D.

        Comic relief always helps stressful situations! I’d much rather laugh than cry, though I’m prone to both! I saw your status on FB, I AM SO GLAD YOU HAD GOOD RESULTS!!

  • http://genieinablog.com. Leigh Ann

    Hugs to you, Tolly. I hope you get the relief you need soon. There’s nothing more nerve wracking than waiting on medical news.

    • http://www.austineavesdropper.com Tolly Moseley

      Thanks so much, Leigh Ann. Appreciate it!

  • http://www.spangledparaphernalia.com/ Chelle Lynn

    Dude, I scratch the back of my neck all. the. time. It’s always red and blotchy because I absentmindedly scratch at it whenever I’m anxious or nervous (usually in social situations…because constantly reaching your arm down the back of your shirt isn’t awkward at ALL). I worry about tattooing my upper back for that very reason. (a little off-topic, sorry!)

    • http://www.austineavesdropper.com Tolly Moseley

      This just confirms we are the same soul — in two bodies!

      • http://www.spangledparaphernalia.com/ Chelle Lynn

        Two scratched up, timidly tattooed little bodies!

        • http://www.spangledparaphernalia.com/ Chelle Lynn

          P.S. – Your body is going to be ok. I know it because of the whole soul sharing thing. Fingers crossed that Monday is just another day.

  • Lela

    Ugh. I hate stuff like this. I had an abnormal reading and an abnormal biopsy on my thyroid which led to me having it taken out. It’s no big deal, but at the time when they were telling me all this I felt so gutted and anxious of all the outcomes. So…I sympathize with you and I know that all is well!

  • Kathlyne

    Having a medical background I’m not sure how I’d react to something like this–I’d probably start reading stuff on the internet instantly, which, it’s true, just freaks you out.
    Sending hugs and positive vibes your way.

  • http://twitter.com/jesscp Jess

    I had the same scary do-I-don’t-I cervical cancer scare about 3 weeks ago! It was mighty scary, though after getting the biopsy (2 spots! and she couldn’t get a grip! so she kept trying!) turned out to be nothing. Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one drunkenly asking my friends to remember me when I’m gone. But seriously… cancer is scary ladies. Get your shit checked.

  • Belle

    Tolly,

    First, I’m thinking massive positive, loving thoughts for you. Second, as a nurse, I would like to say sorry for the less-than-reassuring medical jargon. Our work has a lingo/language that’s sometimes hard to let go of, even when needed.

    You’re the bravest writer of my Internet life, so inspiring, and I wish you lots of love <3
    Belle

    p.s. thanks for not going on the Internet ;0)

  • Emily

    It’s like you knew exactly what I needed to hear today, Tolly. Thanks for your openness!

  • http://www.artofguesture.com/ layla guest

    Tolly, whenever I read a book, I read the last paragraph first… I’m such a cheater. So, I decided I had to wait to hear the results (which I did today, via Facebook) before I could shout my emphatic, “YOU’RE PERFECT AND EVERYTHING IS A-OK WITH ALL YOUR LADY PARTS!” I’m so happy that your results came back with a positive report. So much continued good energy your way!