My Vagina and Me!

An update on the continuing saga about my private parts, HPV, and cancer.

After my colposcopy, my gynecologist put me on a schedule to have a pap smear every six months. I had my next one in the spring when I was feeling dreadful for other reasons. If you’d like to brush up on the history of my weird pap smears, HPV, and the continuing possibility of vaginal cancer, please see Me and My HPV and I’m Still a Vagitarian.

The pap test showed the same weirdness I had in the fall, so my gynecologist contacted an oncologist who specializes in this sort of thing. They decided that it would be best for me to have another pap smear in six months. If my cells still look funky, my doctor plans to send me to the oncologist for another colposcopy.

There’s still the possibility that the abnormal cells will go away. At the suggestion of my doctor, I’m taking large amounts of Folic Acid; evidently it’s helped clear this kind of problem in some women. I may know more in October.

So for the time being, I’m not worse at least, and I still have my vagina. While I would have preferred for these weird cells to go away, I’m nevertheless taking this as a win.

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I’m Still Here, Just So Tired

Fibromyalgia is exhausting; it’s hard work to be sick.

I know it’s terrible form to start a blog and not maintain it. And while I didn’t have aspirations of a huge readership, I do apologize to the wonderful people who took an interest in my blog and started following it. The past months have been a poor way to treat you.

The number one reason I haven’t been writing: I’m tired. Not just tired, exhausted. Not in that I’ve got too much to do way. Not in that I have a baby who insists on being held all night way. (Tiger doesn’t require that anymore, thank goodness.) This is more like the so tired that I couldn’t move if a derailed train was heading toward me way. This is fibromyalgia tired.

I’ve experienced this many times since I got sick. However, this is the worst I’ve been since the first year of my illness. It doesn’t help that I homeschool, or that my son’s ADD meds stopped working this fall. Unfortunately, moving to a homeschool environment did not make it possible for him to concentrate without medication. Plus Tiger is in the throes of hormonal adolescence. His emotional development continues to lag, which is typical of Aspies, but his body is right on schedule.

My short term memory problems are as bad as ever; Tiger refers to it as my goldfish brain. However, contrary to popular belief, goldfish can remember something for around two months. I think they’re doing better than I am. Though even if they aren’t, they don’t have to wander up and down stairs, wondering why they left the living room.

I do hope to return to a more active publishing schedule; this isn’t a goodbye note. I’m still working on various drafts, just at an incredibly slow rate. Additionally, I have another pap smear to look forward to next month.

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Me and My HPV – I’m Still a Vagitarian!

I finally get to see the gynecologist and find out how things are in my vagina.

Important Announcement: I’m once again going to be really blunt about sex and female body parts in this post. It’s relevant, so I make no apologies. But if you find the subject matter unpleasant, please read no further as you will be offended.

My attempts to escape the DNC’s invasion of Charlotte have been hampered in part by the follow up visit to my gynecologist. The Tuesday after Labor Day was the earliest they could fit me in. It’s pretty stressful to get a personal call from the doctor that I might have cancer, then wait a week for the office to set up the follow up, and then wait a few more weeks for the big day to arrive. (If this post is confusing, please see my earlier post, Me and My HPV to get caught up.)

I failed to save the actual name of the procedure, so I’ll come back and update this if I can find it. The official name of the procedure I had is colposcopy.  (Be careful about spelling because a search engine is going to try to send you off to “colonoscopy” instead.)  I went into a special exam room with lots of not too scary tools. At least they weren’t very scary until I had a chance to realize they were all meant to go into my vagina. The exam table was special; it was extra short and tilted so that I practically fell into the stirrups. That did get a bit old because so much of my weight was forced on to those delightful metal things.

The gynecologist started off with a speculum, that metal thing they use to make way in your vagina when taking the swap for a pap smear. It was just in me longer than usual. Then there was the combination flashlight/microscope gadget. Just guess where that went. After that, things started to look up. The exam was taking so long because the doctor was having trouble finding any tissue that was clearly diseased. The lack of a discernible target meant that I dodged a punch biopsy. Yes, that sounds like what it is. One of the menacing devices is used to punch out a bit of vaginal wall, and that bit gets sent to the lab. Instead, I got introduced to the toilet bowl brush. Seriously, that’s what my doctor calls it, although she admitted that’s not it’s real name. Blessedly it was much smaller than a real toilet brush. She proceeded to use this gadget to swab the entirety of my vagina. It turns out that I have some weird angles in there from the hysterectomy I had last year. She was quite thorough. Despite having an extremely low pain threshold – thank you, fibromyalgia – I can’t honestly say it hurt. But it was incredibly uncomfortable. All the cells from the toilet brush were then packed off for the lab, and I got to wait for five business days. Somehow I managed to avoid my earlier hysteria while I waited.

Probably because I dodged that punch, I didn’t have any bleeding afterwards. I did have lots of pain and cramping. I’m not even sure what the heck was cramping, perhaps those odd angles the doctor had been poking. That consumed the rest of the day but was gone by the next morning.

Today I got the good news: the abnormal cells were level one, the lowest possible level of badness. The doctor explained my earlier growths had been level four, requiring prompt removal. (I didn’t ask how high that scale went; though I plan to do that when I see her for my next pap smear.) A level one abnormality does not require any treatment. She mentioned that sometimes a level one abnormality will go away; apparently the body is able to fight it off. Because fibromyalgia messes up the immune system, I’m not going to count on that. Still, this is the best possible news I could get. I’m now on a six month schedule for pap smears, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on things.

Altogether, I’m pretty darned thrilled. A month ago, watching and waiting sounded pretty awful. Now it doesn’t sound so bad compared to the alternatives. Additionally, she assured me that my husband isn’t at an increased risk of penis cancer. After all, we’ve been married over 20 years; we probably have already shared all viruses. So for now, I get to hold on to my vagina, which is excellent because I’m not done with it yet!

P.S. I can’t take credit for “vagitarian.” I saw it on a T-shirt while we were in Asheville recently.  See more about my descent into the Cesspool of Sin if you missed it. Why the T-shirt had to be pink, I don’t know. But that’s a topic for another day.

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Into the Cesspool of Sin

We visit Asheville as the DNC starts back home

Ever since our original plans to evacuate, thus avoiding the entirety of the DNC, fell through, we have been trying to find ways to stretch our limited budget and still escape. My husband happened to be downtown at the end of last week, so he saw all the tables and chairs being packed up. So for the smaller eateries that rely on outdoor seating for their customers, they are being well rewarded for not throwing in the towel and closing down. Late last week, some small business owners were reportedly still on the fence about closing down and fleeing the DMZ until the DNC’s occupation ends. No word on how those business owners reacted to another slap in the face. Our local newspaper, The Charlotte Observer, has switched gears to giddy reporting about just how wonderful this experience is. The Observer maintained the joy even after learning they would have significant problems delivering papers due to all the road closings.

We spent Sunday in Asheville and stumbled onto a street festival. I titled this entry “The Cesspool of Sin” because that is a very popular T-shirt in Asheville. The residents have embraced this status and flaunt it. And compared to staid Charlotte, it is a cesspool. At the festival, there were many people wandering about with open containers of beer. Beer! My husband and I didn’t see a single police officer, and the smell in the air wasn’t just tobacco. And despite the signs prohibiting dogs from entering the festival area, they were there too. Some of the merchants and many of the attendees were dressed in various costumes, ranging from a gorilla suit, a rabbit suit, to a Xena outfit, into the realm of I’m not sure what they were aiming for. Fairy wings were popular fashion accessories.

We had lots of fun. Tiger embraced the weirdness and bought an adorable fox mask so he could be in costume too. We saw a small parade led by a Chinese dragon followed by people wearing wings and walking on stilts. I can’t imagine the skill required to walk uphill on stilts, but they made it look easy. The many artisans were from Asheville and nearby counties; the diversity of wares was amazing.

We eventually wandered off in search of dinner and found the Laughing Seed Cafe. Tiger was horrified at having only vegetarian options, and he struggled with the meal. (He’s not picky when compared with other boys with Aspergers, but he is picky. He tried hard, but we did make a fast food stop on the way home for some fries.) The rest of us enjoyed the meal very much; my husband and I were able to find gluten free options. I was really bold and had one of the their raw plates. I wish I could make kale that tasted that good, and the portobello mushrooms were terrific. After the meal, Random said he thought he could manage being vegetarian.

We finished the day going uphill, as we had spent most of the day. (Early in the day, Random was trying to help us navigate downtown and find the “cool” section he’d visited before. “It’s on a hill!” he exclaimed repeatedly.) My husband’s help was invaluable in getting me back to the car because I was leaning on him heavily by this point. Today I’m paying for being so adventurous and spending most of the time flat on my back, moving my heating pad around. (If you’re curious, I can touch type while lying down.) But it was worth it.

We’re planning to head to the coast for our next outing. If everything works out, we’ll miss the biggest days of the DNC and return for the packing up phase.

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Me and My HPV

How HPV is really messing up my life.

Important Announcement: I’m going to be really blunt about sex and female body parts in this post. It’s relevant, so I make no apologies. But if you find the subject matter unpleasant, please read no further as you will be offended.

Here’s a shout out to every mom who’s not getting her children the HPV vaccine. You might want to think about it some more. Someday (maybe this weekend), your darling child is going to have SEX. (Yes, I know this is a horrifying thought, and I truly wish your child and all of our children would wait until marriage. Unfortunately, many of them don’t.) If she manages to dodge HIV, Hepatitis C, herpes, and the various STDs that can be cured, she still may end up with an HPV virus.

I caught HPV before we knew it was out there. I had no idea until I had fibromyaglia, which hurts the immune system among many things. Suddenly I had a cancerous growth on my vulva. Fortunately for me, I had an appointment with a vulvar dermatologist, one of five in the U.S. If you think you got over your modesty issues during pregnancy, a visit to a vulvar dermatologist is a whole new level of fun. Feeling a need for extreme close up pictures of your lady parts? This doctor can make it happen, complete with giant camera, an even bigger flash but hopefully not a web link. The doctor discovered the growth, cut it out, and tested it. It was cancerous, but she was able to cut all of it out.

The next year, I developed another growth. The very next day, my husband lost his job, and we had no medical insurance. No, not even through COBRA. So it was over two months before I could get the second growth removed. These things grow really fast, so a quick, doctor’s office procedure morphed into outpatient surgery with general anesthesia. Add that to my vulvodynia, and I couldn’t sit up without being in agony for six months. My gynecologist insisted I was doing great because, against all expectations, the surgery site healed beautifully. (This part of my body features incredibly thin skin with tears only visible under a microscope; therefore, the expectation had been that the stitches would rip out immediately. Shockingly, the stitches held. That’s from the lichen diagnosis; the type no one ever remembers.) The gynecologist refused to believe I was in any pain because the surgery site looked wonderful, but he’s the same doctor who refused to believe fibromyalgia had anything to do with the part of my body that he took care of. There was evidently a magic circle separating my lady parts from the rest of my body that only an M.D. could see. Plus he was the same doctor who didn’t mention that these growths were directly linked to the strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer until I asked him that in so many words. You may not be surprised that I don’t see this doctor any more.

I went a few more years without any new growths, and my new gynecologist removed my womb and cervix last summer to alleviate the massive amounts of pain I experienced every time I had my period. (We didn’t know until after the surgery that I had fibroids that weren’t showing up during testing.) This monthly misery also caused my fibromyalgia to flare and left me a complete wreck for one week out of every four. I didn’t understand ahead of time that the cervix was leaving too, but I was thrilled when I found out. No cervix, no sneaky, deadly cervical cancer. Yay!

I show up for my annual visit this summer, and the doctor says that I still need a pap smear. But isn’t a pap smear for testing the cervix you ask? Why, yes it is. However, because I’m a known carrier of those bad HPV strains, the gynecologist wants to test my vagina. It turns out to be a good thing that she does this because this pap smear is my first ever to produce anomalous results. Something is growing in there, and the best thing it might be is something pre-cancerous. Or I might have beaten the odds and developed vaginal cancer, which is rare and usually limited to women over the age of 60. However, having those HPV strains tips the odds against me.

So now I’m waiting for my next appointment which will determine just how bad the situation is. The “good” outcome is that the cells aren’t particularly bad and we watch and wait to see if or when they become dangerous. Not incidentally, these developments place my husband at a much higher risk of certain types of cancer, primarily of the throat and penis. So while I’m closing in on my fiftieth birthday, this is HPV looks like to me.

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The Spoon Theory

Or How to Explain an Invisible Illness

Since I began blogging again, I’ve wanted to share this story because it’s been so helpful to me when I try to explain my fibromyalgia and everlasting fatigue with other people.

The Barefoot Baroness has beaten me to it, so please read her post at http://barefootbaroness.org/2012/02/25/1343/.

Whether you suffer from an illness that leaves you drained or know someone who does, this is a must read.  I hope it will help you understand how I can get so tired that I don’t think I could get out of bed if a train had derailed and was heading right at me.

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The Convention is Coming!

The Democratic National Convention Prepares to Descend on Charlotte

I’ve decided that other than a terrorist attack or riot, the worst thing that can befall a large American city is the arrival of a political party’s National Convention.  The DNC will arrive in Charlotte, NC, in early September.  After receiving this dubious honor, Charlotte languished in total ignorance of the DNC’s plans until the past week or so.  The Charlotte Observer, our local newspaper, tried to give weekly updates about the convention’s progress, meaning that they had to invent new ways to say that the DNC ain’t saying nuthin’ to nobody.

While I live close to downtown (officially renamed uptown by city officials wanting it to sound more tony), I am fortunate to live outside the DMZ.  After years of trying to get people to live downtown, those unfortunate pioneers will now be required to obtain and produce passes to be allowed into their own neighborhoods.  Both downtown branches of the library are closing, the entire community college system is closing, and the school system is thinking about closing the three schools they’ve recently discovered exist inside the DMZ.  No word yet on how or if school buses will be allowed inside to take an additional 200 plus children to schools outside this zone.  And in the absence of any details about the Convention, most businesses located downtown have decided to have their employees work from home that week.  Oh, what an economic boon this event is turning out to be!

Last year, in preparation for the DNC, the Charlotte City Council passed a new law about downtown uptown demonstrations.  The law was immediately tested on the small Occupy Charlotte gathering and was successful in shutting it down.  The law allows the City Manager to declare certain occasions as special events that broaden police power.  Enactment of expanded police powers is made solely at this one official’s discretion.  For example, during these times of potential crisis, anyone carrying a backpack can be detained and searched as carrying a backpack is inherently suspicious behavior.  Coolers are also inherently suspicious, bad news for the people who want to attend events in the football stadium or basketball stadium, now located downtown uptown due to much work by our city leaders.  (Pre-game tailgate parties are very popular amongst these groups, probably because getting drunk before the big event makes it easier to sit through the crushing defeat of the home team.)

The City Manager has tried out his new emergency powers twice recently during shareholder meetings for Duke Energy and Bank of America.  Before this law existed, we still had these annual meetings and, except for the people attending the meetings, they were non-events.  If the newspaper hadn’t mentioned them, those of us outside the center city wouldn’t have even known they were happening.  Now shareholder meetings are cause for great concern and a frightening new definition of what it means to stop and search a citizen.

So why on earth did city officials actually beg the DNC to infest, er, visit, our city?  Well, Charlotte suffers from an inferiority complex and has longed to become a “world class city” for decades.  I’m not entirely sure what civic leaders mean by that phrase, but it seems to have an awful lot to do with making us as much like Atlanta as possible.  And for those of you who’ve had the misfortune to drive in Atlanta,  that does include the overcrowded roads and traffic jams.  Perhaps they picked Atlanta because it was also Southern or perhaps because we have no hope to ever be in the same league with New York or Chicago, never mind The City.  The City is London, in case you didn’t know.  Referring to your city as The City is an act of hubris that Charlotteans haven’t matched yet, but, in fairness, London is an impressive place.  Plus The City has saved my city from the horrors of hosting the Olympic Games.  Considering that Atlanta has already hosted the Games, that achievement must be on somebody’s To Do list somewhere.

Our initial plan for evacuation has fallen through, but I have not given up hope that my family will be safely vacationing somewhere far from the DNC’s DMZ come September.  Positive thoughts and prayers to support our attempts are quite welcome.

P.S.  Residents are Charlotte are referred to as Charlotteans because Charlatans would sound even worse than downtown.

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My First Plumber

My First Encounter with the Joys of Owning a Home and Finding a Plumber

I have had a long and colorful relationship with plumbers.  One of the most important of tradesmen they are, dealing with that implacable enemy – water in the wrong place.  So  one is needed, a plumber is well and truly needed.  I have had widely varying luck though . . .

As an adult, my first encounter with a plumber was for an emergency.  I was young and newly married.  After getting home from work, I started a load of laundry.  The house was tiny, so I had only to take a few steps to reach the only bathroom and see that the strange sound was sewage backing up into our tub.  This was a nasty sight, and I retained only enough clear thought to turn the washer off and contain the disaster.

A few hours later, my husband is home and we have a plumber from a leading national chain that specializes in clogged plumbing.  He was an older man, wrinkled and wiry.  He was pleased to find that our old sewage line had been updated at some point and breaking into the line would not be necessary.  This was excellent news; my heart had almost stopped when he saw the age of our house and started talking about breaking into the pipes.

So he located the screw top lid into the PVC sewage line and runs some strange declogging device into it.  Shortly, he pull it back out and hauls a prize out with his bare hand.  “Tampons!,” he exclaims.  He looks over at me accusingly.  “You shouldn’t be putting those things down the toilet.  Don’t ever be doing that again.”  I cringe, embarrassed to learn that this expensive mess is all my fault.  Didn’t the box say that they were flushable?  I know it did, but of course I do not argue with The Plumber.

If only that had been the end of my plight.  But this turns out to be only the beginning as he pulls out tampon after tampon.  And he doesn’t make a stack, neat or messy, beside where he’s kneeling.  No, he’s tossing them wildly about.   With abandon, he throws them in every direction, muttering and shaking his head the entire time.  Clearly he believes that most plumbing ills are caused by women like me and our tampons.  Somehow the tampons have returned to a near pristine whiteness, but they are now big and fluffy.  And these big, fluffy tampons start to cover the lawn.  It’s as if it were fall and the leaves were falling or winter and snow had started.  But no, it’s tampon season in our yard.

My husband and I stand on the lawn, in shock.  It seems to take forever for the plumber to extract every last one and fling it onto the lawn.  My silent prayers to be swallowed up by a giant hole go unheeded, so I get to see every last one of them pulled out and flung down.  Every now and then, the plumber looks up from his work and fixes me with his stare, to make sure I have learned this lesson well.  And I have.  From this day forward, I am the most careful woman about what goes into our toilet.  As soon as his gaze turns from me to sealing up the line, I flee inside, mumbling to my husband a request that he pay the bill.  He has taken all this in stride and has an amiable conversation with the plumber as the work winds down and he pays and even thanks the plumber for this excruciating event.  After the truck finally pulls away, I crept back onto the lawn to clean up the mess.

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More Funny Anecdotes

I Have to Balance my Pain with Some Funny!

Recently, I posted that I was restoring my deviantArt account to work on my funny anecdotes.  Well, I changed my mind.  I’ve deactivated my account on deviantArt so I can post everything here.

I really appreciate the people who’ve taken the time to read my blog and even follow it.  My chronic pain postings have been more popular, so feel free to post a comment if my funny intent is going to get in the way of your reading fun.  I am using categories and tags, so my hope is that if anyone wants to focus on just one thing, it’ll be easy to find it.

That’s all.  I hope to have my first plumber anecdote posted soon.

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Let’s Take a Quiz!

Why do Magazines Have These Silly Quizzes and Why Do We Take Them?

I was in my early teens and reading Seventeen magazine when I figured out how to game a magazine quiz to get the desired answer.  Though regardless of what any quiz might say, I wasn’t going to be cool enough to move to California.  If coolness is required for something, I’m automatically disqualified.  So over the years I rarely took magazine quizzes.  If I was supposed to gain any important life knowledge from quizzes in Cosmo, I don’t have it.

Recently O Magazine issued its first ever quiz issue.  I have no idea why anyone thought they needed it, but here it was.  And there I was in a doctor’s waiting room for an hour why my son talked to a therapist.  When I ran out of articles, I was left with the quizzes.  I decided to take one.  The quiz was done up in a lovely flowchart graphic.  I thought that was a nice twist on the concept, so I started out on my journey of self-discovery.  The quiz was designed to help you learn about your personality and how you handled conflict.  I worked my way through a series of questions until I reached the end and was labeled “The Smiler.”  That was too close to the Joker for my comfort, but I went to the sidebar to read what it was supposed to mean.  Positive that I had messed up the test – perhaps jigging when I should have jagged – I took the quiz again.  For the second time, I finished up at the Smiley face.

The quiz described me as The Smiler because I’m someone who always has a smile on her face and keeps her cool in all situations.  And what I needed to learn?  I needed to work on expressing my true inner feelings and telling people what I really thought about stuff.  When I read this, I started laughing so hard that I had, not one, but two choking episodes.  I was sure that one of the therapists from the offices quite close to my chair was going to charge out her door because of the ruckus I was making, but I couldn’t stop laughing until the choking put an end to it.

I’m not well known for my smile.  I’m not grim, but smiling takes extra concentration when in constant pain.  When I’m not focusing on smiling, I’m usually not doing it. If you told my children that I was great at keeping my cool in all situations, you could probably reduce them to rolling around on the floor, laughing until they injured themselves.  I don’t explode regularly, but I do explode.  I’ve been working on it ever since I became chronically ill, and I’m doing better than seven years ago.  Nevertheless, no one is going to label me as cool as a cucumber or even remark on my long fuse. (At least not with a straight face.)

But while all that was silly nonsense, the truly, wildly inaccurate advice was that I should be more honest with people.  People who knew me well might pay me to be less honest.  I’m renowned for my bluntness.  One employer (back when I was well enough to work outside the home) hired a coach to develop me.  The primary purpose of this coaching seems to have been to make me more palatable to executives and less frightening to my co-workers.  The objection was that I spoke my mind far too easily and without enough diplomacy.  Not once over several months of testing, coaching, etc. was there a whisper of my needing to speak up more.  Actually I was advised to speak up less in departmental meetings because I had supposedly intimidated my co-workers into silence.  I add the “supposedly” because to my face, my co-workers assured me that everything was fine.  As I tried to follow the coach’s advice, our meetings became much longer as the frightened lambs sat there silently, looking at me, waiting for me to say something.

If you’re wondering whether I used my bluntness to belittle my co-workers or try to make their ideas look stupid, no, I didn’t do that kind of thing.  When one of them did speak up and I disagreed with a suggestion, I tried to be as calm and dispassionate as I could be, always avoiding any ad hominem attacks.  I’d even wait for a bit to see if someone else offered a better alternative or pointed out the problems. My fault was that my mind ran ahead faster, sorted through the options more quickly, and hopped several extra steps down a road before anyone else had started working on the problem.  Worse, while I wasn’t trying to showboat, neither did I try to hold myself back to avoid looking smart, or, gasp, competent at my job.  (This behavior also explains my paucity of dating options in high school.)  As to making my demeanor palatable to any lengthy visits to a boardroom, it is probably just as well I became ill.

When I told a former co-worker about the quiz, he laughed at great length.  We worked together a couple of employers ago, and we were surrounded by amazingly stupid people.  So he got to see me when I was trying my hardest to get people to pay attention to pesky facts that didn’t fit their world view.  When I told him about the coaching, he just shook his head and said that it was an impossible task to try to contain me.  He seemed to consider me more a force of nature than a co-worker.  He meant that in a nice way, right?  If you haven’t figured  it out by now, I don’t suffer fools patiently or well.  Ignorance I can deal with; stupidity, at best, irritates me.

So no more quizzes for me.  And for those of you who’ve met me, you can be assured that I won’t take the advice and be even more blunt.  The world just isn’t ready.

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