Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The State Secret

I was having this really fantastic day. At 8am I was racing through an exam in Anatomy, getting every question right. Then I went tearing around Bent Creek on my mountain bike. And then the doctor called and put a big spike heal through my week.

I was washing dishes when the phone rang and I didn't hear it. I wouldn't have picked up anyway because I never answer the phone, especially when it's from an unknown number, because I'm afraid of collection agency and doctors calling with tremendously bad news.

And it never is a collection agency or a doctor calling with bad news. Except today, it was.

"Hi Melina, this is Doctor whoeverrthehell from Asheville Family Health Center.  I want to talk to you about the results of your pap smear, call me back, okay then, mmmbye."

I gagged when I heard that message. First of all, CANCER. CANCER? Probably. Also because I hate the term pap smear. I hate it, I hate the whole thing. And now mine had gone wrong and I'd be forced to talk about it and I despise talking about that stuff. I'm very protective of my swimsuit-area, who isn't, and if anyone comes near me with some metal tool in their hand, even a nice doctor, I want to spit at them and punch them. It's just an instinct. I'm not saying it makes sense.

I dialed the doctor, hands shaking, vision shrinking. A nurse picked up. She seemed incredibly put out that I was calling. "The doctor is with a patient. Is this so important that I have to go in and get her?" I said no. Just have her call me.

Well she didn't call me. And I had to truck it over to Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College for a three hour chemistry lab. And I hate chemistry lab on a good day. But this day I hated it even more, since what was the point? Here I was, being stealthily murdered by my vagina, and I'm supposed to be concerned about calculating limiting reactants, nope.

I was so nervous and out of it, I set one compound on fire four times. Each time the flame shot up almost to the ceiling. My lab partner jerked his elbow out of the way just in time, four times.

That evening, I finally got in touch with the doctor. She told me I had a "mild precancerous lesion," and she let the word precancerous linger in the airspace for a bit, just so I knew who was boss. Then she referred me to a gynecologist who would- what, the details were fuzzy- scrape out? carve out? burn out? something-out the bad cells. The conversation lasted for 45 seconds.

I hung up the phone and burst into tears. I said "Son of a fucking goddamned bitch, what the fuck."

Then I sat down on the couch in our nearly empty room and felt very sorry for myself indeed.  Here I'm drinking all these green smoothies every day with the power pellets and the super-powders and the whateverthehell, which costs an arm and a leg, and I exercise all the time and still, my own cells are turning on me. Well Well.

Then fuck it! I adopted a new approach to life right then and there.

That night I drank two twelve dollar margaritas, and the next day, to really demonstrate to the world just how hard I'd become, I slept through my nine AM class. Just slept right through it. I had to call a friend for the homework. Just like elementary school.

Then I got a little bit curious. I realized that I didn't actually understand what 'mild lesion' meant. So I started doing some research. Just a cursory search to begin with, but the more I read, the more I came to believe that this recommended procedure- the details of which were still vague- wasn't entirely necessary. In a lot of cases, mild cervical dysplasia can be healed naturally. The cells grow so slowly that it's not a real risk to give it a go for a while. Then, after six months you go back and get another test, and if things still look weird, then you go ahead with the procedure.

I spoke with a natureopath and did some more research and I felt very good about a holistic approach. I felt much more empowered and in control of myself then I had originally. Then I told my mother and she hit the roof. I mean she lost her fucking marbles. She wasn't onboard.

But the gynecologist office who I'd been referred to, they hadn't called to make an appointment with me. They were obviously in no hurry. Weeks went by. I took a ghastly amount of B-12, drank a whole jar of turmeric and avoided my mother's phone calls.

My natureopath, a very decent man, reminded me that knowledge is power. He advised me to call my doctor and ask for a more thorough review of the test results. That sounded sane. So I dialed her up and sat on the front porch, playing with the zipper on my sweater, somehow anticipating a fight. The annoyed nurse picked up. "But the doctor already spoke to you about the results."

"Briefly-" I said, "but I still have a lot of-"

"Well she's out of town for a while," said the nurse, cutting in. She said she would forward along the results to someone else, a different doctor that I'd seen in the past. (For anxiety! Surprised?)

About a week later, that doctor's assistant called me, sounding puzzled. "He didn't perform that test on you, so he does not know why you're calling."

I said, "Can't he just read the results? I have a few questions. And I'd value his opinion about treatment options."

"You should really be talking to the gynecologist you've been referred to. They'll answer your questions."

I called the gynecologist I'd been referred to. They were not interested in me. They said, "We've never seen you. You should be talking to the doctor that gave you the referral."

So I got angry! And I changed the tone of my voice to reflect that. I called back Asheville Family Health and I said, "Listen, nobody will talk to me! There is medical information out there, about me, and you have it, and you won't tell me! Is my vagina a Secret of the State? Why won't anyone talk to me?"

She said The Doctor Will Call You Back.

The doctor never called me back. I consumed an incredible amount of cabbage and carrot juice, cut out sugar, wheat, alcohol, and bought a cookbook written by an ultra marathoner. Which turned out to be useless. I could have seen that coming. And except for the worrisome nuclear secret I was harboring in my vagina, I felt super.

It had been about six weeks since the first phone call, since the day I'd almost set my lab partner on fire, and I couldn't keep avoiding my mother. By now, the gynecologist office had called to schedule an appointment with me. But I remembered how they refused to talk with me, or answer any questions I had about the procedure, so I fired them. A few friends recommended a new place out near Biltmore. My friends assured me that the doctors there were all women, were all liberal (this is unabashedly important to me), were all pretty cool. I made an appointment.

I phoned Asheville Family Health (me again!) and asked them to send the tests results over to the new office I'd chosen. They said they would.

They didn't. I showed up on a Friday for the Thing, whatever it was, and there were no records for me at all. I started to cry in the little room, on top of the metallic table. But the doctor here was cool. She spent her lunch hour on the phone with Asheville Family Health and finally wrangled the results out of them.

"Oh," she said, studying the sheet of paper in her hand. "This is very mild. You can totally go six months and try to heal it if you'd like."

I considered this. I liked this doctor, trusted her. And I was very curious to see if I even still had dysplasia after six weeks of this strict diet and all the hypnosis and sleep and everything else I'd been trying.  Most important, I'd just swallowed the last of my Ativan: it seemed like now or never. So I said, "You know what? Do the Thing. Let's see if I've cured myself. "

Here's what the Thing turned out to be, and if you're a boy, and you're still reading, I applaud you. They put vinegar on your cervix, which will stain any cell that's gone astray. And when they find those cells, they cut them out and do a biopsy.

So they put on the vinegar and nothing happened. "Looks like you're fine," she said, and I was wondering if she was beginning to regret giving me her lunch hour. "We will scrape a few cells and test them just in case."

And they did, and those cells were fine, too. All evidence of dysplasia, of the mild precancerous lesion, was gone.

Or maybe it was never really there to begin with. That's what my friend Erich says, and he's in med school.

"What do you really think happened- do you really think it was the fact that you...drank....turmeric? Or did some dude just misread a microscope slide."

So anyway. That's what I've been up do these last few weeks. That's where I've been.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

All in 2 weeks

1. finally cooler weather 2. alone with the bike 3. the dog loves Wednesday ultimate games 4. heading towards the crag in the Obed, TN 5. early autumn sunlight on the approach trail 6. in the blue ridge for the night 7. weekend of rock 8. lymph system, cardiac system, immunity, thermodynamics, enthalpy and limiting reactants 9. a cold night 9. the best view 10. Nell climbing back after a fall 11. run therapy with Kelli along the French Broad River

Monday, October 6, 2014

photobook: fall night in the Blue Ridge

On Saturday night we slept outside. We had no tent and no tarp. It was freezing. Actually, it was well below freezing.

I have a daily identity crisis over being in school again and having to be more sedentary then I'm used to. I start to feel very bad about myself when I look back through photos of magnificent places in Washington and all the time I spent wandering through them, because hour by hour there is a stark contrast between my days now and my days then.

Then we drive an hour on the Parkway and get to this wild and endless stretch of mountains and those feelings snap away in a cold gust of wind.

Our plan was to sleep on top of the ridge and look up all night at a big bowl of stars. But someone did not bring enough armor against the cold- I'll give you a hint, it's the person with a history of being ill prepared. Even after I borrowed all of Dave's extra layers and blankets, including his gloves and his bivvy sac, I was still too cold to risk sleeping.

So we watched the sun drop, and then retreated down and slept in a grove of pine trees.

It was still a brisk night. I had two stretches of sleep and one long interval in the middle where I shivered myself awake. I needed a sip of water and there was ice in the center of the water bottle.

I love colder weather. I love the way it makes me feel so snappy and alive and grateful of the tiniest comforts. In fact, I was so excited to embrace it that I forgot to pack for it.

But even a little bit of suffering yields tremendous rewards. The weekend drained to its last drop and as I got ready for my early morning class, moving effortless around the warm house, I felt much easier about things. My bed was soft and warm and I fell quickly asleep, which is something I can almost never do.

Check out the unearthly beauty from one night in the Blue Ridge, my home for now, a place I have barely begun to explore.

For more photos of little adventures, follow me on Instagram @melinadream

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Obed

I woke up early on Saturday morning. My two friends and I drove down that horrendous strip of I-40 West, through Knoxville and into the endless cliffs of the Wild and Scenic Obed River. I left behind all the stress of chemistry lab, and the maps of the cardiac system that tend to overwhelm, and all the shitty phone calls from doctors. We brought the dog, Rocket Girl Beer, a complete trad rack and too many ropes and instant coffee. We sailed down to into Tennessee with weak arms and all the dust that had collected on our climbing gear and so much excitement that I don't think I stopped talking, once, ever, the whole trip.
It's been forever since I've been on a climbing trip. I didn't realize that when I left Seattle, when I left Index and Leavenworth and the Exits and the Tieton and Squamish, Snow Creek Wall, Orbit and Outer Space and Heart of Gold and Total Soul and Infinite bliss and all of the rest, that I would quit climbing nearly completely. I never intended to do that, but I fell into other things. 

I sunk a lot of money into a mountain bike and I fell in love with the endless tangle of trails that are right down the road.  Then I fell in love with a redhead who claims to be afraid of heights, although I know that's just code for I'd-really-rather-kayak, and we got a house that needed to be skinned and gutted, and I went back to school, and I got a job, and I got a little lazy about meeting new climbing partners. 

I have a lot of excuses but I think it boils down to this: I let myself forget how purely and perfectly and I love to be outside on rocks, and the cool nights of woodsmoke and the sore, slow early mornings that follow. 

And then Rip moved to the Southeast. Rip, one of my best friends from Seattle, moved to Nashville two weeks ago, and now the Obed is directly between us.

So if you think about it, I didn't quit climbing. I just waited around until my favorite climbing partner to join me. And it took him just over a year.
Thankfully, Nell and Josh were in the same place as me- they'd taken a rest day that had lasted about a year, so we all struggled and fell and slowly made our way to the top of the some not-too-crazy routes. The woods were red and apple green, a mix of sweltering summer and new autumn, and the dog barked at every leaf that twirled down from the sky. 

I remember one glorious moment where Rip, belaying me from far below, said two words, some Arrested Development joke we used to say all the time, and I laughed so hard that I fell off.  I was leading, a foot above the bolt, and I landed halfway down the route. I have rope burns on my back from getting twisted up at the impact and all I was thinking is, "This must have been how Tina Fey felt when Amy Poehler joined SNL; 'My friend is here! My friend is here!'"  
That night we slept at Lily Pad campground with a lot of other climbers. Nell and I drank the Rocket Girls and then the marshmallow lover's hot chocolate with the little packs of freeze dried marshmallows. On the tin roof on top a the shed, a dog named Monster dropped tennis balls on our heads.

There was a crowd around the campfire but everyone was tired out, and sat at Rip's feet and tipped my head back, watching the white smoke turn into a fresh white spray of stars. The crickets were very loud, and in the shed behind us four musicians played Angel from Montgomery and House of the Rising Sun. Hometeam made a few discerning laps around the fire before choosing a young blonde man to curl up with for the the evening. When I went off to bed a few hours later and carried her with me, she was obviously angry at being pulled away from such a scene. 
Dave spent the weekend paddling the Gauley River in West Virginia. We got home at the same time on Sunday night, and used our last shred of energy to bike into West Asheville for dinner. Then we went back home and struggled to stay awake through one episode of Breaking Bad before that hard-won fatigue caught us in its jaws.  

I used to climb every weekend in Seattle. But this was the piece of the puzzle that I'd been missing for so long. I'd always been elated to leave the city on a Friday night and drive towards mountains and rivers and rocks. And I still am. But now on Sunday I'm elated to come home. And between the happy leaving and the happy return, I think that covers it all. 
For more photos of adventures, coffee & dog, follow @melinadream on Instagram

Friday, September 26, 2014

All in 2 weeks

1. fighting flu season 2. on a trail somewhere after class 3. a caveman feast in the countryside- hands, knives and goblets only 4. lots of raw food lately 5. without her I'd be glued solid to my text book 6. Wednesday ultimate- losing by a lot in a little rain, Ryan turns to drinking 7. Caveman games 8. coffee & chemistry at 5:30am  is, absurdly, a combination I've grown to like (stockholm's syndrome?) 9. post lab farmers' market 10. zonked out on the ultimate field 11. a rare, long, precious solo ride  

If you like coffee&corgis&calculator, follow me on Instagram. And hey, I'm about to leave for a climbing trip, so it should only get more interesting. @melinadream