Colposcopy: Can You Spell That for Me?
I’m glad she turned the lights low so she can’t see my thoughts. It’s the first evening of my second 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, and we’ve finally made it to Savasana.
I’d been dreading it since 12:02 pm, the moment I learned what the word ‘colposcopy’ meant. Hmm… I suppose I should back up a bit, eh?
I’d just finished with my portion of the TedxOU event and was sitting backstage, peeking through the curtains to watch the rest of the presentation when my doctor calls. I’d completely forgotten that we played the voicemail game yesterday, but the flash of my phone reminded me that I was waiting for some blood work results.
I quickly sneaked down the hall as I loud-whispered a Hello, hoping that she could hear me but the crowd wouldn’t. “Is this Adi?” she asks. “Yep, that’s me.” “Can you verify your date of birth?” “One, sixteen, seventy-six,” I say without a thought. This is how all of our conversations start, and I’ve had so many of them that I always roll on autopilot.
Usually, I learn that my thyroid has plummeted again, so they’re doubling my dose and that I “really should consider replacing the rest of those hormones that are missing.” I agree to up the Armour and ignore the rest. Adding hormones increases certain cancer risks, and living without them increases another set of cancer risks, and since, to be perfectly frank, I feel like shit on them, I opt out.
We have our normal exchange, and as I’m about to hang up and sneak back to the crowd, she continues, “One more thing… we need you to come in for a colposcopy, but first, you’ll need to be on prasterone for a month so that we can really see everything since your cervix has closed up.” Stubborn asshole cervix. My body is instantly on fire, and her words feel like they are literally swelling in my head.
“What is that? Can you spell that word for me? I don’t know what that is. Can you spell it so I can picture it?” God, Adi, why are you asking this woman to spell things? “Of course. C-O-L-P-O-S-C-O-P-Y,” she offers. For some reason, I find this comforting. Maybe that’s not quite the right word, but something along those lines. Anyway, she continues.
“When we do pap smears and they warrant a closer look, we do that via a colposcopy. That may lead to a biopsy, if necessary.” “What are you looking for?” I ask. I already know the answer though, and as she says the word ‘cancer’, I harden and the rest of her words go dark. I don’t remember putting my phone away or the walk back to my seat.
I don’t remember the drive from Norman back to Oklahoma City to pick up the meds. I don’t remember the drive back home where I wait for Lambert to get home and decide whether or not I’m going to tell him. I just remember feeling stubborn. Not even scared, just blank and stubborn. Hmm… I wonder where my cervix gets it from.
Just shy of five hours later, I’m at the Yoga studio, sitting in a circle with my current Yoga teacher, my new Yoga teacher, two of my students, and a handful of trainees I’d never met. A familiar space with unfamiliar people, each taking turns sharing pretty intimate details about themselves.
Can I say just enough words to give the impression I’m participating? Can I separate what I’m really thinking about from what I should be thinking about? Can I just, for the love of all that is holy, at least not use the words ‘cervix’, ‘colposcopy’, or ‘cancer’?
“I’m Adi. I earned my first 200-hour with Yogamazé three years ago, just for fun, as I’m a writer by trade. Somehow I was lucky enough for Yoga to evolve into a career, and now I manage this studio, as well as coordinate and lead retreats.” Okay, stop talking, Adi. This is plenty. I was the end of the circle, and then it was time to practice.
Which brings us back to the first sentence of this piece: I’m glad she turned the lights low so she can’t see my thoughts.
Obviously, I made it through Savasana. And the rest of the training weekend.
And, as I’m sitting at my kitchen table six weeks later putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard, as it were) trying to decide how much of this story to share, or if I’m even going to brave putting it out there at all, once again, I realize that we make it through things whether we think we can or not. Big things like cancer (and cancer scares) and little big things like Savasana.
For most of those six weeks, only one other person who wasn’t my doctor knew, and he was a true rock star warrior in carrying something that heavy around on his own. I did my damnedest to ignore it, but I couldn’t help but wonder if my doc’s suspicions were right. Am I actually growing cancer cells? I can’t even grow basil, for crying out loud!
That intense unknowing coupled with the cervix-opening medicine I had to take morphed me into some sort of emotional fuckwit with a fun, new daily meltdown schedule. But aside from those moments I had to be still (Savasana) and tear-time, I did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. Or, I didn’t. It’s hard to say, really.
In any case, I was led into my doctor’s office on a Monday afternoon, handed a purple sheet to wear, and, as I fumbled to figure out how to put it on properly, I realized that that stupid sheet was more concerning to me than what was about to happen. Really, Adi? Where are your priorities?
I sat on the table hugging my knees, hoping my cervix would cooperate so I wouldn’t have to endure another month of prasterone/tears/one-more-thing-to-do-each-day. Again, Adi? Priorities. Shouldn’t you be hoping that the doc gets in there and says “no biopsy needed?” A few minutes later, I hear a knock followed by a request to let a med student come in and watch. “Sounds fine to me,” I say.
I’m nothing if not helpful (insert a healthy dose of wit). Fast forward another 10 minutes, and I’m lying on the table with my feet in the stirrups, circled by the doc, the shadow doc in training, and the nurse, and they’re all working together to get the equipment set up. Teamwork at its best, and that’s not even sarcasm. “Oh, your cervix looks so good!” the doc exclaims (also, not sarcasm). “Thanks! I grew it myself.”
And then we laugh. In fact, we joked the entire time, and continued the silliness right through her telling me that she was, in fact, going to biopsy me. As a human who uses humor as a defense mechanism, I greatly appreciated this. As a human in general, I marveled at the strangeness of laughing while someone was invading my body with an instrument that was surely too long to use.
Certainly, that whole thing isn’t going in! You must breathe. I started counting my breaths as I felt the foreign object moving around inside me, and I continued until she lifted her head above table line and said that it was over. She was talking to me as I sat up, but a wave of nausea hit hard enough to knock her words out of earshot. Something about bleeding.
I didn’t catch it, but I figured if it was important enough, she’d say it twice. When I finally felt composed enough to absorb her guidance, she was asking me if I’d be open to LEEP, if necessary. “Well, less than three hours ago, one of my closest friends just learned that her PET scan didn’t clear, so whatever you recommend.” Honestly, I had no idea what I just agreed to, but I didn’t care. If it got it out, I was in.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I’ll go ahead and tell you that my doc called a week later to tell me that I’m good for now, and chances are high that I will be. The cells are precancerous, and the only thing to do now is take turmeric (easy peasy) and get another pap in the fall (just easy, no peasy). And, if you’ve made it this far, you maybe wondering why I’m sharing this.
Your cervix is part of your wellness. Sorry guys, I was speaking specifically to the women readers here, but insert X body part, and it applies to anyone. Because my doc bugged me (believe me, I did not pick up the phone and make the appointment on my own free will), I got a heads-up as to what’s going on in there. I got lucky. Many people don’t.
Please do your damnedest not to be one of the unlucky ones, because your existence in this world matters.
Epilogue: After I wrote this, I called a friend of mine. She, unfortunately, was not one of the lucky ones, and has a pretty hefty fight ahead of her. Luckily, her circle is strong and her internal resolve even stronger, but that’s not where I’m going with this.
I wanted to ask her what she thought about me publishing this, given her circumstances, and her immediate response was, “Yes, girl! You write what you write, because it’s yours.” That’s how good she is. Of course we continued to talk about how important this message is to share, but also how important it is to take charge of your health. Be your own advocate.
Do your diligence, and also understand that sometimes a test can come back normal even when something is wrong, and you may have to work harder than you ever thought you’d have to. We also talked about how nobody talks about this stuff. Slowly, over the past couple of days, I’ve started to share this story with a handful of people, and I was truly dumbfounded by the number of “Yep, me too” replies it garnered.
By no means am I saying that we should all start blasting our medical issues with wild abandon, but I am saying that talking to people you trust is, put most simply, a pretty good idea. If you can find a balance between discretion and openness, you get, at the very least, information, but aside from that, you’ll likely find someone who has a “Yep, me too” and a “But I’m okay now, and you will be as well” to follow.
Adi McCasland is an accidental yogi who loves trail running, plant-based cooking, and animals doing people things. Her favorite thing to teach is a group of yogis who aren’t afraid to be curious and playful on the mat as they explore moving their bodies through space. Through creative sequencing set to the cadence of breath, she will help you “find your strong in the moment you’re in.” Adi is the Business & Retreat Manager at Yoga at Tiffany’s, and the creator of Run. Yoga. Eat, a wellness hub for all things trail running, Yoga, and plant-based cooking. When she’s not Yoga-ing, you can usually find her out running around, quite literally.