In 2009 I was diagnosed with critical, dangerous cervical cancer and given the choice of emergency radical hysterectomy and radiation – or death within five years. I didnt take the medicine. I ran. And ten years later I want to tell my story of how cancer saved my life and the gift of that terrifying adventure.
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And you can find Part II Cervical Cancer – the cave you fear to enter, here…
It was winter in Australia when I was diagnosed with cancer.
Crocuses were pushing up through the snow.
We were staying out West, in an isolated little town, in Sugar Country.
Yes, it does snow in Australia. And beautiful old villages like this were as badly built for ice, bone gnawing zero temperatures and snaking bitter winds, as they were for the primal heat of inland Australian summers and their incessant flies. It has taken more than 200 years for Australians to recover from the shocks of settlement. To come to terms with the realities of Terra Australis.
It has taken ten years for me to tell this story.
Just leaving the house that winter was dangerous. Ice. Ice made lethal, razor sharp knife edges out of pathways, steps and pavements. It was very easy to cut yourself. To fall. Hard.
I had received that phone call. The one you never get. The one after a routine check up.
“The doctor would like to see you.”
That means something. You know it does. And there is a certain dryness of tongue, a quickening of lymph that sets in after you have cheerfully agreed, and made the appointment, which is relatively urgent, the receptionist has said, and hung up.
Things go a little bit slower in those moments. Certain things seem suddenly to drain of colour; like walls, and rooms, and you. And others become spectacularly vivid; like the embroidered flowers in the table cloth; every single stitch of daisy petal, the way a leaf is composed of three simple turns of a needle, by a hand, pulling thread. What became vivid were the ragged wreathes of bitten skin around my fingernails, the screech of the cockatoos.
I knew doom was impending.
On the day of the appointment, when I woke up, the whole world had turned black and white. My tea was like riverwater. The toast like lint. My partner and I traipsed out to the car along the deadly stone pathway, through the little clusters of crocus and daffodil. I was terrified of slipping. I was sick to my bones with this journey already.
Scott was coming with me, so he could take my car on to work after the appointment, he added. I had looked at him when he’d said that. Didn’t he realise what was happening? There was surely going to be no work today.
The doctor’s office was a little out of town, in a ‘renovated’ original Australian settlement hospital which was a small single storey institution that looked something like a car wash, something like an abandoned abattoir. It was a ten minute drive. We would see the hunched backs of sheep, and forlorn cows crouched over silver stubble, and rugged-up horses, between quaint wooden fences as we went. And we would see the vast, silent, denatured beauty of New South Wales’ farm country, sheathed in cloak of ice and snow. The windscreen wipers scraped painfully on the dry glass, tossing sleet aside like grey confetti.
We parked in a little bay. There were only two or three cars there. I said to Scott, you might as well just wait here. I wouldn’t be long. He was clearly not signed up for what was unfolding and I didn’t want to have to deal with what was obviously coming from him, as well as what was coming for me.
There were spaces draining in my throat, below my molars, that were to do with things I did not want to admit to myself.
He was more than happy with that deal. He turned up Kid Cuddy. He pushed his seat back and put his hands behind his head.
I waved cheerfully back at the car as I trudged along the path to the hospital. There were no daffodils here. But the stark, winter trees made beautiful skeletons against a gunmetal sky. There were crows in the bones. I like crows. Even though I know I probably shouldn’t.
What I remember most about the doctor are these three things: she was wearing cheap, orthotic, padded, flat shoes with velcro straps in tired black; above these were thin navy socks made of worn synthetic fabric, with very fine ribs through it, and what appeared to be a fine pepper of dust, or dry skin, like dandruff; she was nut brown, with an Indian accent.
I cannot recall her face. She had one of those plastic human busts, with the skin peeled off the front of it, on a shelf beside her. All the organs. in different pastel colours, were showing, down to the intestine.
She had one of those plastic models of a uterus too. On a stick. She was going to pull that out of its wonky place among a clutter of books and paperwork shortly. And point at it while speaking what sounded like Russian, or Dwarfish, or some language she was making up and projecting at me from a long way away, underwater.
I walked in. I saw her feet. And before I could lift my gaze to meet hers I saw on her desk, on the righthand corner, closest to me, facing me, a large piece of paper with my name written in bold in the top left corner, and in red, in larger letters, underneath it
Adeno Carcinoma In Situ .
It was the loudest full stop I had ever read in my life. It hit me like a fist.
When a piece of paper is typed out with your name on it, and those words; carcinoma, squanoma, cervix, in situ… voodoo explodes across your life.
You join an invisible pilgrimage being walked mostly silently by millions of others who have received that dread spell, and whose story is almost guaranteed to include meetings with powerful, cold men baring sharp metal claws and hooks, whose chambers include ceremonial reclining chairs with straps and stirrups of nightmarish and Medieval dimensions.
And you are for sure headed toward the terrifying rite known as a Radical Hysterectomy, among 30,000 other women every year – if you are in Australia. That was 30,000. Yes. That is a LOT. One in four women will have their wombs, cervix and ovaries cut out before they die in this country.
What happened to me, in that room, immediately, was that the walls began to melt. The wallpaper, which was a seventies mash up, or seemed to be, came alive. It began to undulate, throb and pulse as it poured in a sickly confusion of bad disco colours down toward the brown carpet, and began soaking into it.
I could see the paint, and how it clung to the walls. I could see behind the skin of paint. And the ugly, death-cold cement that was hidden there. I could see the bars on the window behind her, violent against the silvergrey void of winter sky.
The doctor, shuffling about behind her desk, took on a sudden lizard-like appearance. She was bloodcold. She had a large, thick, muscular tail, I could see, switching powerfully from side to side behind her.
I was in a very dangerous place.
My tongue swelled up to like a whale. Beached.
And then I sat down heavy, but careful, on the cheap metal chair, and hung my head into my hands and cried.
“Why are you crying?” the lizard doctor sounded genuinely surprised.
“This happens all the time.”
At least 570,000 women experience something like this, at a desk somewhere in the world, every year. And so do millions more other people, with other sites of cancer.
Each year, say studies, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the United States alone, and 609,640 people will die from the disease
They all get THE NEWS.
And then they are dragged into an industry worth over US$133 BILLION annually, and exploding on that each year. And mostly, they are easy customers, because they are very unlikely not to shop.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed in women around the world, and accounts for 270,000 deaths a year, according to the World Health Organisation.
The American Cancer Society’s estimates that each year about 13,170 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed. About 4,250 women there will then die.
Along that road, almost all of them will go under the knives that will mark them among what appears to be uncounted MILLIONS of women receiving this surgery around the world every year. And which even doctors say are being over-provided, and badly regulated and are often unwarranted.
In my own case, surgery was provided as my only option. If I wanted to live past 40. I was told I was stupid when I resisted.
one uterus is removed about every minute in the USA.
In Australia, if you zoomed in on a crow’s back, riding the warm, muscular body of that sturdy, dark bird, its sleek feathers slicing the ice-bright air as you cut down, down, down to me, in the chair, on the brown carpet, in the room, with the red ink and the lizard lady in the strange socks, you would see one scenario of about 900 of these that play out here every year.
You would see the beginning of stories that are the same: stories which all include that piece of paper, those red words, the test results, the doctors mumbling in incomprehensible syllables, appointments with surgeons, arranged on your behalf, urgency, talk of radiation and chemo, and hysterectomy, or vivisection, signatures, and quickly, and stale smiles, weak thanks, heavy flesh, and slippery pathways closing in from all directions.
~ * ~
Being diagnosed with cancer is like being hit in the side of the head with a frozen cow.
It’s unlikely. You don’t expect it. It’s almost embarrassingly weird. You are singled out for a hideously public and disempowering assault by forces you didn’t see coming and have no way of negotiating with. You are suddenly utterly alone, in ways that are impossible to articulate. Your body is betraying you. You have a bomb inside you. Nobody knows what to say about it. Or what to do, really.
Being told you have cancer is like accidentally eating the blue pill. or the red one. You’re suddenly off the planet. It wasn’t your choice. You’re out of your mind, and your body is no longer safe to come home to. Everything looks suddenly psychedelic, in a sick way. It’s a bad trip. It’s like getting locked out of the Mother Ship, left to drift about it space, with everybody watching you from the window.
It’s called Trauma.
It is, actually, medically induced trauma. And I am here to tell you that the way Medical Doctors are inflicting it is cruel and violent.
Being told you have cancer has certain measurable effects. Researchers and medical advocates have called one of them The Stunned Mullet Syndrome. People who get news like this stop being able to process information, they experience confusion, sudden loss of memory, disorientation, shock, dissonance and serious failures in even ordinary tasks and comprehension.
They can’t hear things. They can’t follow what you’re saying. They get their kids names mixed up. They lose their keys. They put them in the fridge. They forget who they were. Their clothes look alien to them. Everything looks odd. Food tastes bad. Sleep is exhausting. Waking up is worse. These are medical facts.
But the doctors will march on, as if there was no trauma unfolding, expecting people to make life and death decision, to comprehend scans, jargon, chemistries and scenarios that layer trauma over trauma, with no real interest or effort to care for the psyche, or the soul, or the emotional being that is, actually, physiologically and psychologically no longer actually in the room. And because of this, people like me, we experience shame, overwhelm, confusion, vulnerability, despair and worse, which compounds our psychological pain, and leaves us open to exploitation by medical and other ‘helpers’.
On a body chemistry level, according to studies, those who have been told they have cancer and given prognoses experience a sudden serious collapse in functioning of lymph, digestive, sleep and circulation systems as well. In other words, this news makes us worse. It lowers our immunity. It crashes our overall health. It has the actual power of a curse.
Doctors wilfully ignore it. But every single one of us who has had this experience, and the others who have heard that a loved one has had the dark mantra cancer uttered over them knows this; to be told you have cancer is to receive a hex, and what happens next is occult violence of highest order.
And sometimes, even worse things also happen.
Your family desert you. Your boyfriend ignores you. Your friends dont seem to care. Your wife continues to feed you the poor diet you are finding out is cancer-causing, the alternative cures that seemed so reliable, when you were hearing other people dabbling with them, turn out to be contradictory, sold by charlatans, your whole world starts to warp into a hell that you thought was only possible in movies.
~ * ~
When I got back to the carpark my face was already telling the story. Scott ignored it. He wanted the car. The whale lurched in my arid mouth. “What’s the big deal?” he said later, “sooner or later, we’re all going to die.”
Those things happened to me. All of them. Together. They happened within fractions of seconds, and continued happening for days as the evil firework of that story made an arc, exploded, rained shards of impossible news across my psyche, and then fizzled out in a soggy mess of anguish, loneliness and terror as I found myself face to face with the people who were supposed to help me.
But what also happened was the forced start of leaving my narcissistic partner, giving up on dreams, fantasies and compromises that I was desperately clinging to, taking a dread quest through labyrinths of medical, alternative, yogic and shamanic frauds and wisdoms, into the lairs of dangerous medical experts and money-hunting liars until I finally found an unlikely cure, and learned something profound and deeply sobering about life.
~ * ~
Back home, in Australia, I got sick straight away. From the shock of it. And the work of carrying this hideous and heavy story I’d been given. But things were to get much, much worse.
I was trying to help myself. Make wise decisions. But I was overwhelmed, alone and what I was discovering by research was an avalanche of dread news and conflicting hope.
What I was to find out, along this road though, before I would have to face the question of the knife myself – which was only days away – was that in this country about 1,800 kilograms of uterus and ovary and cervix are hauled out of women’s bodies every year – and mostly not for reasons of cancer.
That hysterectomy is one of THE most commonly performed surgeries in the world. And one of the easiest. And most profitable. A hysterectomy also earns an Australian doctor about $10,00 a pop. And, if you listen to the surgeons, as I did, also among the least significant. “It’s an easy operation, no consequences. There are no consequences, really, to a hysterectomy at your age.”
But that’s not true either, as I was also to find out.
If you look online for the total of number of hysterectomies done on women around the world a year, you will not find that number. The figures are hard to find. They are hidden as percentages of sample groups, instead of given as actual totals, and many surgeries are not reported.
In Australia and the USA alone, more than 103 kilos of gynaecological material are cut out of women every day.
You find these sorts of things out when you have been given the hex.
You do research. You find yourself going down terrifying, blood curdling rabbit holes trying to find out what’s going on, what’s going to be next, where are the exits, what to do, and who to trust. Your plane is going down. You are searching everywhere, going insane and delirious, looking for crash instructions, trying to find a life jacket, waiting for the dream to end, not washing your hair.
You find out terrible news. You do research. The lines all seem loaded, you read between them furiously. This is the beginning of bad things.
About two days later I was booked in to meet the Gynaecologist. The surgeon. His name seems to be now completely scrubbed from all online searches.
His office was in a small, frigid cottage in Bathurst, NSW, and looked like it was being packed up. There was Egyptian occult art on the walls. He said to me things like, “radical hysterectomy, as soon as possible, radiation, dead in five years otherwise, probably, yes, that’s the uterus, cervix, ovaries, everything. Sign here. Next week. Public Hospital. It’s fully covered by Medicare. Nothing to worry about. No side effects.”
I, however, was in outerspace for the entire appointment, trying to focus on the doctor as he, too, started developing reptilian type movements, his shirt rippling with muscle and scales, his eyes beady on me, he said, in a slithery way, “I don’t think you’re getting how sssssserioussssss this isssss.”
I didn’t like him. Scott said it wasn’t probable that I would like a guy who was going to fillet my guts. Scott was an asshole. That was becoming vivid clear. But I was in no position to believe it.
Later, he was to be revealed as not only the cause, but the solution to my cancer story as well, because THIS IS THE TRUTH – it was for me – when I agreed, through the terrible Armageddon what was my cancer story to give up, let go, unhook, and admit that I was disastrously entangled with a man who was no good for me, and a destiny that was going sideways – when I crashed to the bottom of a very deep, dark, slimy tunnel infested with goblins and rats and other horrors, then rose up, cancer free.
That is really true.
That is how it went.
And while I know that this may not be the case for everybody, and it is WRONG and misleading and corrupt to promise otherwise, I truly did clear and survive Cervical Cancer without treatment, despite being told I would be dead within five years if I refused it. And that was ten years ago now.
I am writing this story, even though I have wrestled with ever doing so, because I know that it is true that for some body, or a few others out there, what happened to me was a serious, vicious direct challenge from life to CHANGE. NOW. Or else. And it worked.
It wont work for everybody. I am not saying I have a cure. But it did work for me. And I am going to tell you how it went….
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Writing this story has taken ten years because of the terrible responsibility of persuading others, in any way, about what course to take to treat a life-threatening illness. I know that. And I am loathe to ever take the role of influence in these dangerous territories. In the time since this began, I have lost one friend to liver cancer, medically treated, and one to breast cancer, treated by advice from a guru. This is serious. However, it is also true, and is a taboo to discuss, that there are some of us who have escaped the prescribed path for cancer and lived. And I am one of those. And perhaps this story will snap somebody, somewhere, out of terror, and toward an adventure like mine, and for that one – or maybe more – this story is necessary. I offer it therefore, carefully, and without persuasion, but with the true knowing that sometimes we get sick so that we can find a new path, live a new life, shed stories that are killing us, and step into ones that make us thrive.