A Cancer Scare

A few weeks after we arrived back in Algiers, we had settled back into our routine: Working from home Sunday-Thursday, an hour of early evening exercise, shaking up an ice cold gin martini at 7, making dinner, kitty cuddles and TV before bed, socializing with a few friends on the weekends. In the midst of the resettling, I got unsettling news: The results had finally come in from a routine gynecology visit I’d had when I was in Michigan in December (thanks COVID for some seriously delayed lab results). The first call reported a positive HPV (human papillomavirus) test, which was a surprise as my last test from five years ago had been all clear, but it wasn’t alarming. I know that nearly everyone has HPV at some point (and it can clear up and return) and anyways what was I to do about it in Algiers? A few days later my doctor called and said my pap test result had shown adenocarcinoma, aka, cancer. (Cervical cancer is almost always caused by HPV). This is very rare for some cells on a slide to be read as “cancer,” as cancer is more often detected from a much more sizable tissue sample. I’d have to have a procedure called a cold knife cone biopsy to cut off the cancerous part of my cervix and biopsy it to see just how severe the cancer is and it should be performed ASAP. What fun news to receive! Happy New Year!

What ensued was the stressful process of figuring out how to get this surgery while living in North Africa. Our medical providers at the embassy, and folks in the State Department in Washington advised us to go back to the United States, from where we had just come, to get this surgery.

Gus seemed to know what was up when I started packing. Worry not, he’s well taken care of in our absence!

Last week, Adam and I took our millionth COVID test of the season (really, our fifth) and flew from Algiers to Frankfurt, had a layover in a wee little hotel room in the airport as no one is allowed to actually enter Germany, and then a layover in Newark, and then onto Detroit. We arrived Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday morning I was at the surgery center. Another COVID test (my sixth) in the parking lot, and then I went inside, put on that lovely gown that leaves your booty exposed to the breezes, and I was knocked out for surgery. What felt like four seconds later, I was back awake, listening to the calming and familiar voices of the nurses outside the curtain who were discussing the news that on Trump’s last day in office, he pardoned Detroit’s disgraced and imprisoned former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick. I was handed a Styrofoam cup of Vernors, Michigan’s most beloved pop and released soon after. I more or less laid around on my parents’ sofa in front of the fireplace for a few days after. My friends sent care packages and I’m almost embarrassed at their generosity and how loved they made me feel: My DC friends sent a massive amount of cheese from an Austin cheese shop, and a really special bottle of wine, and we did a virtual cheese tasting class. Sarah in Paris Doordashed me Target goodies, including soup, ice cream, and a soothing candle. Our friends in Algiers (who are already easing our stress by watching our cats for the second time in two months) sent us a breakfast goodie package with coffee, bagels, cream cheese, and lox from Zabar’s in New York City). Family have sent flowers, a German chocolate cake, and an entire home cooked meal and several bottles of wine. It’s actually been quite relaxing to be in my parent’s cozy house, snow on the ground, a soothing fireplace, 5 o’clock red wine happy hour, 6 pm dinners.

The biopsy results from the surgery came in a few days later and they were, thankfully, NOT CANCER. So the original pathology report was possibly wrong. But there were enough and a certain type of abnormal cells that they’ve recommended I get the same procedure, a cone biopsy, after I’ve healed from this one in order to cut off more of the abnormal (basically, precancerous) cells and to biopsy that. That will take place between three and five weeks from now. Then, I could presumably go back to Algiers. Another option is to get a hysterectomy, and I’m waiting to learn more about that possibility from my doctor. One thing that makes this whole crappy situation, I don’t know, easier, is that Adam and I were long planning on not ever having kids. So I wouldn’t feel a great loss if I was without what has been, for me, an entirely useless organ. I suppose there’s the possibly that its loss would reveal some hidden attachment to it — the whole you don’t know what you had ’til it’s gone theory — but I’d be surprised.

I know I’m risking being thought of as an oversharer. Maybe this is too much personal medical info for a public blog, or too much detail about cellular changes to my internal lady parts (I just apologized to my best friends for texting them so much news of my vagina) but I wanted to share about what’s going on right now, in this highly disruptive time in life. It’s very strange to have abruptly stopped our normal (and lovely) lives in Algiers, flown across an ocean, and to be at my parent’s house getting multiple surgeries. But it could be so, so much worse. It could be cancer. I could be without such a wonderful support system, number one in that system being Adam, who is my favorite sweatpants-lounging, cocktail-sipping, and workout-doing partner. (Although he may head back to Algiers as I’ll just be waiting around here for another surgery). Also, spread the word: Regular exams, HPV testing, and pap tests can catch these things, don’t miss an appointment! And boys and girls, get the HPV vaccine (or vaccinate your kids) if that’s an option.

More soon.

Emily

10 Comments

  1. Hey Emily, I am so sorry to read this and how heartbreaking it must have been for you and Adam. I am pleased that it was caught on time and managed to get the necessary treatment. Lots of hugs and kisses. Medina

  2. HI, We don’t know each other but I do read your blog. I had the same situation over 10 years ago. I had a procedure called the LEEP, used Beta Bannon for 6 months and have not had another positive HPV test again, also, negative paps. I am currently 76 and so having this diagnosis in my 60’s was scary and most discouraging. People my age do not usually clear it on their own so it was my interventions that took care of it.

    Your blog is great.

  3. Definitely not oversharing to this reader! Sorry this happened but glad it turned out not to be cancer. Thanks for reminding us how important it is to keep up with regular health checks. Envious that you got to travel home for Christmas, even under challenging circumstances!

  4. Thanks for sharing, Emily. We miss you and everyone here in Algiers sends their wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

  5. I feel you! I went through a similar scare when living in DC. It wasn’t fun at all to have so many invasive procedures, but everything has been normal ever since. I hope you get the care you need and enjoy the unexpected time at home. And, everyone with kids, get them the HPV vaccine!

  6. Sending you wishes for a speedy recovery, and no more scares. I just googled HPV vaccines and will be getting my kids those when they are old enough. Thank you for the PSA.

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