I have holes in my hands from two attempted IVs—one successful, the other not.
“I’m so sorry,” my nurse said. “The vein jumped away.”
It’s okay. I’m fine. I never experienced pain from my surgery. I barely even bled.
In the fall of 2015, I started to bleed irregularly. Since we would be moving back to West Virginia for the Spring 2016 semester, I waited to see my old doctor there instead of finding a new doctor in Maryland. I went in for my annual a few weeks into January and told my doctor about the issue. Post-coital bleeding, she called it, and said that if my pap came back fine—as it always has—she would recommend a colposcopy to take a closer look. A week later, she called with the results: negative. Colposcopy was a go.
A colposcopy is similar to a pap, but if you’re getting a biopsy done, the discomfort quickly turns to pain, similar to severe cramping. You feel them take a bite out of your cervix with metal teeth, then apply a medicine to stop the bleeding—a medicine that looks and feels like dirt.
Two weeks later, I went in to discuss my results. “We didn’t find anything to explain your post-coital bleeding,” she said, “but we did find mild cervical dysplasia.”
“It’s not considered precancerous, but if it doesn’t go away within a year, you’ll want to have it removed. We can go ahead and remove it now, if you want, but I recommend waiting. No use having surgery without knowing for sure that you need it.”
For the rest of 2016, I had a mantra: You are fine. When I slipped into worry, I repeated it. One day in the spring, I wrote everything down on my phone so that when I worried, I could pull it out and remind myself of everything I knew:
“You have mild cervical dysplasia. It is not considered precancerous. They said to get another colposcopy next year, and an HPV test. If anything ever changes, you will be right on top of it, Natalie. Stop worrying.”
The HPV test worried me more than the dysplasia. What if I had it? I got Gardasil when I was in high school, so I should be fine, right? But what if I have a strain that Gardasil doesn’t protect against? How can I bear to wait until January 2017 to find out? What if I gave it to Andrew? How embarrassing. How horrible. I am horrible. Rotten. A sinner. A dirty sinner. Married to a perfect angel.
I often feel like the woman at the well. Jesus knows every part of me. He knows my past; he knows my future; he knows my body, my health, and my affliction. He knows me better than I know myself. He knows that I am the woman at the well, minus one husband.
In January 2017, I saw my new doctor for my annual, and I scheduled my follow-up colposcopy for a few weeks later. My pap was fine (again, as usual), I don’t have HPV (hooray!), and my colposcopy showed the same biopsy results as before. He recommended surgery to remove the dysplasia, just so it didn’t get any worse. Oh, and he told me that the dysplasia is, in fact, precancerous by nature.
I had my surgery about a month later, and two weeks afterward, I went in for my follow-up appointment.
“I have good news and bad news,” my doctor said, which certainly wasn’t what I wanted to hear. The good news was that they got all the dysplasia out. The bad news was that the dysplasia wasn’t low-grade mild. It was high-grade severe. And if I hadn’t had surgery, it likely would have turned into cervical cancer within the year. “And that comes with a 50 percent five-year survival rate,” he added, almost cheerfully.
Fifty percent? High-grade severe? Opposite end of the spectrum? Never showed up on a pap? Holy crap.
If I hadn’t gotten checked out for a completely unrelated issue, I likely wouldn’t have known about this problem until I was actively dying.
I spent the rest of the day—actually, the next several days—feeling about 10 percent thankful and 90 percent completely freaked out, and coming to terms with my own mortality.
How did this happen? When did it start? When would I have found out? What if they missed some and it’s still in there? What if I had died from this? What if I do die from this? What would happen? What about Andrew? What about any future children?
I guess I’ve lived a pretty good life. Death wouldn’t be that bad. I’d get to be with Jesus, albeit a lot sooner than I thought, but still. Andrew, though. A widower. So soon. So young. I can’t leave him.
I’m not ready to die.
When we die, we believers live for eternity in Heaven with the Father, and we have glorified bodies. We have no cancer. We have no acne (can’t wait for that!). We have no blemish. We are perfect.
Do you ever wonder why Jesus still has the marks from His crucifixion when he appears to Thomas? Death isn’t what made Jesus perfect; He was, and will always be, perfect. But His affliction, His suffering—is that just part of His perfection, and therefore part of His resurrected, perfect body?
The doctor said that at one point, I must’ve had HPV, and it just cleared up on its own, as it usually does. I can remember the moment I must’ve gotten it. I was a different person back then. It sucks that you have to deal with the consequences of your sin.
But as much as I feel like the woman at the well sometimes, I am thankful that I know something she didn’t know for sure (though I like to think that she went on to believe, since it’s never explicitly stated): Jesus is the Christ. I am redeemed.
I have holes in my hands, like Jesus does. And it’s the holes in his hands that make me perfect.