At age twenty-six, author Michelle L. Whitlock thought she had it all: her health, a promising career, and a budding new romance. Then she learned that she had HPV, and weeks later her worst nightmare became her reality: she was diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer. Adamant to preserve her fertility, she refused a radical hysterectomy and chose a less extreme, fertility-saving procedure. The surgery was a success, but just years later-a week after the love of her life proposed-Michelle discovered her cancer was back.
In this memoir, Michelle narrates her journey through and beyond cancer. She took charge of her health care by carefully choosing doctors and her treatment options. In just eight short weeks, she planned a destination wedding, harvested eggs, and with her fiancé, created embryos-their "maybe babies." She got married and ten days later underwent a radical hysterectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
At twenty-nine, Michelle found herself with a new normal, which included menopause, hot flashes, a shortened vagina, and lack of sexual desire. She opens the door to her most intimate moments, frankly sharing how she worked to regain her sex life and providing other women in this situation a roadmap to do the same.
This is one woman's story of falling in love, battling HPV and cervical cancer, facing sexual dysfunction and infertility, and becoming her own best advocate. Inspirational, educational and honest, How I Lost My Uterus and Found My Voice tells the emotional story of love and loss, resilience and survival, empowerment and hope for the future.
So if you have a vagina or love someone with a vagina, this book is for you!
"Michelle Whitlock takes readers through a journey of loss and love and ends up giving a blueprint on how to make a comeback. How I Lost My Uterus and Found My Voice will make you laugh and cry and leave you wanting more. There will be no pages left unturned in this deeply personal memoir. This book isn't just for those who have survived cancer-it's for the masses. How I Lost My Uterus and Found My Voice is a thrilling look at life."
-Tamika Felder, founder of Cervivor.org
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)|
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How I Lost My Uterus and Found My VoiceA Memoir of Love, Hope, and Empowerment
By Michelle L. Whitlock
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Michelle L. Whitlock
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTurning Point April 2004
This can't be happening. Not again. Not now.
I sat straight up, sweat dripping from my forehead, startled by what had become a recurring nightmare. I wiped the sleep from my eyes. It's just a dream, I realized as I got out of bed, trying to shake the fear.
It was Friday, April 16, 2004, and that time again. It happened every three months like clockwork, despite my best efforts to ignore it. Most women only make an annual trip to the gynecologist, but not me. As a twenty-nine- year-old cervical cancer survivor, I visited my gynecological oncologist at the change of every season. I hated these appointments—the poking, the prodding. No matter how many times I went, it never got easier. This day marked two years since I had been declared cancer free. I should have been celebrating, but I was actually dreading this appointment even more than usual. My annual exams, like the one today, were more extensive than the quarterly checkups. Plus, my doctor took extra precautions, given my cancer history. To treat my cancer, I had opted for a controversial procedure she wouldn't ever have recommended, but now the burden was on her to ensure that my cancer didn't return.
I tried to take my mind off the appointment by focusing on work. I was an assistant district manager for a national shoe retail chain, which is just a polite way of saying district manager-in-training, or as my boss said, "Ain't a district manager yet." I was reading yet another e-mail when I heard the humming of the garage door opening. Mark, my boyfriend of three years, walked in and called up to me, "Honey, I'm home. Are you ready to go?"
"Be right there," I yelled.
"Hurry. We're going to be late!"
I jumped up and raced down the stairs to meet him. "Let me just grab the medicine she prescribed. I'll meet you at the car."
I grabbed the pills and a bottle of water before I headed for the car. As I settled into the passenger seat, Mark asked, "What are those and why are you taking them?"
"One is Lortab for pain, and the other is Valium to help me relax so the procedure will go more smoothly." I added playfully, "That's why you need to drive, mister."
The medicine kicked in about twenty minutes later, as we arrived at the clinic. I reached for Mark's arm and held on as we passed through the doorway. We signed in, sat down, and waited for my name to be called.
Finally, I heard the nurse say, "Michelle Coots?"
Only professional people called me Michelle. My friends and family knew me as Michi, pronounced Mickey, like the mouse.
The nurse directed me to the scale for the usual height and weight measurements. I kicked off my heels and stood against the wall. As usual I measured five feet, seven and a half inches. I always wished I were an inch or two taller, which is why I have to include the half. It's also why I almost always wear heels. I stepped onto the scale: 130 pounds.
The nurse escorted Mark and me into the examination room and continued to take the usual vital statistics. "Dr. C. will be in shortly," she said as she walked out.
I didn't need any instructions; I was a pro and knew the drill. I undressed from the waist down and positioned myself on the examination table with the always flattering white sheet draped over my lower half. The next few minutes seemed like an eternity as I sat half-naked, freezing my buns off, waiting for the doctor. I was beginning to feel like I had downed a bottle of wine. Oh, yeah, the medicine is definitely kicking in now!
When Dr. C. entered the room, she began with the usual battery of questions. "How are you feeling? Has anything changed?" Blah, blah, blah. Then she made her normal plea: "You make me so nervous. I wish you would just get pregnant and let me remove your uterus so we can be sure you're in the clear."
Dr. C. was the third in a string of oncologists that had been in charge of my follow-up care since the dreaded diagnosis two and a half years ago. Each doctor had recommended a hysterectomy, and every time, I had refused. I didn't know if I wanted children, but I knew I was not ready to give up my ability to make that choice. Instead, I had chosen a nontraditional procedure—a radical trachelectomy—to treat the cervical cancer. The doctors had removed a large portion of my cervix, but had left my uterus intact. Dr. C. was not a fan of my chosen course of treatment. She felt the radical trachelectomy was too new, that the overall long-term success rate was too uncertain. This was also the reason my annual checkups involved more than the traditional Pap test. She wanted to track my recovery closely because she was skeptical that my cancer was really gone for good.
"Okay, are you ready, Michelle?"
"Ready as I am going to be," I said, reaching for Mark's hand.
"Slide down a little farther," she instructed, as she made a tent with the white sheet over my knees. Even though I had done this a thousand times, those words always made my stomach queasy. I couldn't think of a more vulnerable or awkward situation than lying with my bare butt exposed to the world, having a near stranger poking around inside my most private and personal spot. Reluctantly, I slid down until I felt the end of the table. I hate this position!
"Okay, this is going to be a little cold and you're going to feel me insert the speculum. Now I am going to open it up. How are you doing?"
"Fine." But not really.
"Okay, I need to numb the area with local anesthetic. Take a deep breath and hold it in. You are going to feel the prick of the needle and a little burning sensation."
As the needle penetrated the base of my uterus, where my cervix used to be, I felt the instant burn of the medicine. I had taken the Lortab, but the pain came anyway. My body tightened, and I clenched Mark's hand as I gasped for another breath.
"Are you still with me?" Dr. C. asked.
"Yeah," I mumbled.
"Remember, deep, slow breaths."
I didn't respond. I was too busy focusing on my breathing so I wouldn't knock her over and flee the room.
"Okay," she said, "two more quick sticks. Now we'll wait a few minutes and give the anesthetic time to take effect."
My head felt fuzzy and my eyes were heavy. Those few minutes felt like hours. Finally Dr. C. checked to ensure that the area inside me was numb. Once she was confident that it was, she proceeded with a wet Pap.
"I want to take an extra step today," she said when she was done with the Pap. "It's called an endocervical curettage, or ECC, and it will help ensure that there's no new cancer present."
She talked me through the procedure as she went, explaining that she was making a small incision at the base of the uterus. Next, she inserted a spoon- shaped tool into the incision. She scraped around the interior walls where the uterus and the upper end of the vaginal canal had been sewn together after my last surgery. I breathed in and gnashed my teeth in a feeble attempt to counter the extreme discomfort. A few blessed moments later, she finished and instructed me to get dressed.
"The results should take about two weeks," she said. "Assuming everything is okay, I shouldn't need to see you for another four months."
An extra month of freedom! I was elated with this news.
Mark helped me to the car. Between the medicine and the stomach cramps from the procedure, I was ready to get the hell out of there and home to my bed. I knew Mark had made dinner plans, but they would have to wait until the drugs wore off. Once we got home, I fell asleep quickly and snoozed for several hours.
I awoke still a little foggy from the medicine. "Hello, sleepyhead," Mark teased as I struggled to adjust my eyes to the bright overhead light. "Ready for our big night out?"
"Can't I have just a few more minutes?" I pleaded.
"Not a chance, baby. I've been planning this all week! Get those pretty baby blues open and your feet on the ground. I'll start your shower."
He turned on the water in the bathroom. Starting my shower was part of our usual morning drill. I hated leaving the comfort of my warm, snuggly sheets and being smacked in the face with the chill air from the air conditioner. A hot shower was one of the tricks Mark had learned to get my ass out of bed. I climbed in and let the water cascade over me. As I stood there with my eyes closed, I sighed as the tension of the day washed down the drain with the water.
Mark's voice snapped me out of my reverie. "Hurry up! Our reservation is at eight. We need to leave in thirty minutes, hot lips. Chop, chop!"
I got out of the shower and sat down on the vanity stool in front of the mirror. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I had learned to cultivate a tough exterior, to guard my vulnerabilities. In some ways, my makeup was like my armor. It was my way of choosing which version of me the world would see. With each stroke of the brush, I covered my visible imperfections, the ones that might leave me exposed, might make me seem less in the eyes of another. But it was more than that. I had grown up with a single dad who raised me the best way he knew how. However, let's just say that he wasn't into lipstick and eye shadow, so I missed out on a lot of the feminine rituals most girls shared with their mothers. Even now, thirty-odd years later, the girly stuff—picking out clothes and applying makeup—felt like such a treat that I liked to take my time with it.
After applying the requisite color to my cheeks and the perfect shade of mauve to make my blue eyes "pop," I quickly used the blow-dryer on my shoulder-length red hair. I had always had a thing for loud, attention-grabbing red hair, so I went and got some. I slipped into my favorite jeans, a low-cut cotton shirt, and three-inch wedge heels. I took one final look in the mirror just as Mark poked his head in the door.
"Any day now!" he said, grinning.
I grabbed my bag and off we went.
Thirty minutes later we arrived at our favorite restaurant, ready to chow down on some the best Thai food Memphis had to offer. The hostess recognized us immediately and greeted us with a hug. Since the restaurant was packed, she asked us to wait at the bar.
Mark and I perched on stools and ordered two glasses of pinot grigio. As we enjoyed our wine, I found myself lost in thought, staring at the mirror hanging over the bar. The visit to the doctor weighed heavily on my mind. I tried each day to live my life in the present and to forget that I had even had cancer, but the appointment that day had brought all the memories rushing back. I couldn't help but wonder what my future held. What will I look like as an old woman? Will I even get to be an old woman?
I turned to Mark and asked, "What do you think I will look like in fifty years?"
He chuckled, but then he got a serious look on his face. He told me how much he loved me and loved our life together. He said he didn't think he could love me any more than he loved me at that moment, whether we were married or not. I wasn't sure what he was saying, but something told me it wasn't good. Mark had broken up with me once before, at a time when I was sure things were going great between us. Oh, no. Not again. Is he trying to tell me that he loves me but never wants to get married? Or is this another attempt to break it off by letting me down easy? My heart began to beat faster, and I felt like a brick had dropped into the pit of my stomach. As I sat in silence, avoiding looking at him, I felt my eyes grow heavy with the weight of oncoming tears.
Of course Mark noticed the change in my expression and instantly asked what was wrong.
"Nothing, I'm fine," I said, which really meant that everything was wrong and, no, I wouldn't talk about it.
Mark tried to get me to open up. "Baby, please talk to me."
I resisted. I just didn't want to get into it. I stared at the ceiling, an old trick I used to fight back tears. Finally, I broke. "If you didn't want to marry me, you could have told me months ago. You let me think our relationship was leading to something more." Mark tried to interrupt, but I cut him off and continued. "I was fine before, thinking we would never get married, but then lately you started talking about marriage and got my hopes up. Hell, Mark, you even took me to the bookstore to look at wedding vows." By now the tears, mixed with black mascara, flowed down my cheeks.
"No, baby," Mark said, "you have it all wrong. Will you marry me?"
I felt my face heat with an angry flush. "No. Don't patronize me by asking me now."
Mark slid his stool back from the bar. "I am really serious. Will you marry me? I was trying to ask you all along. I brought you here to propose!"
He went down on his knee and asked a third time. "Will you marry me?
"Mark, stand up and stop this! People are looking at us!"
He stood and placed his hand in his pocket. "What do I have to do, pull out a ring?"
I looked down at his hand, which held a sparkling round diamond set in a beautiful gold band. I was speechless.
It finally dawned on me that he wasn't kidding. "Yes, of course," I shouted as I threw my arms around him.
The sound of wild applause filled the restaurant just as the hostess came over to seat us. Over a dinner of green curry and rice, we laughed and joked about the catastrophe that Mark's proposal had almost become. I had truly thought he was telling me that he never wanted to marry me.
That night as we drove home, I pulled out my cell phone and called everyone I could think of to share our news. I couldn't believe we were actually getting married!
The next morning, Saturday, as I began to talk about wedding plans, Mark set a few ground rules. He wanted a barefoot beach wedding and our own vows. He rejected traditional vows in favor of something more personal: a passage from the book Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch. My only stipulation was the date: June 18, the anniversary of the night we met. It just so happened that we already had a beach getaway planned for that date. Every June for the past three years, we had taken a trip to celebrate our anniversary. This year, we had plans to vacation in Negril, Jamaica. The aptly named Couple's Resort had come highly recommended by a colleague and close friend of mine. When we had made the reservation several months earlier, I had had no idea we'd be getting married, but now it seemed like a no-brainer. Our beach vacation would be the perfect time and place to make it all official.
Once we agreed on Jamaica, we jumped out of bed and ran upstairs to the computer. Mark typed "Couples Resort Jamaica" into the browser line, and within a few minutes we had all the answers we needed to arrange our wedding. We sent an e-mail to the resort's wedding coordinator, reserving our date and requesting the last ceremony of the day. (The sun setting over the ocean would make the perfect backdrop.) The rest of that day and most of the next was consumed with wedding talk, and before we knew it, it was time to get back to our busy work schedules.
The start of the week was a total blur. I was covering for the district manager who was out of town, which meant double the workload. I didn't even know where Monday and Tuesday went. Wednesday, however, was a long day—eleven hours to be exact—but I didn't mind because I was still on cloud nine. In fact, I was so wrapped up in engagement bliss, I had completely forgotten about my visit to the doctor the week before.
I pulled into the driveway a little before nine Wednesday night and noticed that Mark was not home yet. As usual, when I opened the door, our dogs George and Charlee came running, wagging their tails and covering me in wet kisses.
As I kicked off my shoes, I noticed the answering machine light blinking red. I didn't check the message immediately. Instead, I began my evening ritual of running a hot bath in our large Jacuzzi-style tub. I undressed, dropped my clothes on the floor, and turned on the water.
Excerpted from How I Lost My Uterus and Found My Voice by Michelle L. Whitlock Copyright © 2011 by Michelle L. Whitlock. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1. The Pivotal Week....................1
Turning Point April 2004....................2
Part 2. Everything Before....................11
Initiation Fall 1992....................12
Chance Encounter June 2001....................19
Fireworks July 2001....................30
Feminine Itch July 2001....................34
Magic Words August 2001....................37
Trouble on the Horizon October to November 2001....................41
The Breakup December 2001....................47
Results December 2001....................50
The Getaway December 2001....................56
Reality December 2001 to January 2002....................60
Research January 2002....................65
Options January 2002....................70
Surgery February 2002....................75
Healing March 2002 to May 2003....................80
The Morning After April 2004....................86
Coping May 2004....................91
Maybe Babies May to June 2004....................96
Jamaican Wedding June 2004....................105
Dreaded Surgery June 2004....................115
Another Crack July 2004....................122
Decisions July 2004....................125
(Another) Health Insurance Nightmare July 2004....................128
Heavy Artillery August to September 2004....................130
Aftermath September to December 2004....................144
New Beginnings Winter to summer 2005....................151
Reclaiming My Sexuality Fall 2005 to spring 2006....................157
Two-Year Checkup, Round Two August 2006....................159
Finding My Voice Late 2006 to early 2007....................163
Prayers Spring 2007....................166
HPV and Cervical Cancer Facts....................173
Tips to My Girlfriends....................177