It was April of 2011 when I noticed what appeared to be a pimple on the inside of my left butt cheek.
I ignored it.
A week later I noticed it was still there so I picked at it in the hopes of making it go away but something told me to stop so I did.
I told my sister about it.
It’s amazing what you will share with a sister but not a husband. We talked about it at length ending with her opinion: go to the doctor.
I ignored her.
A few weeks later I was lowering myself into the tub and when water touched the pimple. I just about killed myself getting out of there. The pain was intense, like nothing I had ever felt before and nothing I wanted to feel again! I grabbed a mirror. I pulled my left leg up, resting my foot on the toilet. With one hand I tilted the mirror in order to catch the light and with the other I gently pulled my cheeks apart to reveal the “pimple” that had been causing me so much pain.
The pimple had changed into an open sore about the size of an eraser head.
I called my sister. She insisted I call the doctor. I was hesitant to call him because well, he was a guy and the sore was on my butt. Not a good combination for me at all. I was embarrassed. Even though he had been my doctor for 20 years and knew my body inside and out I was too mortified to even consider seeing him about this.
I bought some Preparation H thinking maybe it was a hemorrhoid. It wasn’t. The pain I felt applying the medicine was similar to the pain I experienced when I tried to take a bath. What did I know? I’d never had a hemorrhoid before so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
I called my sister. She told me to call the doctor and wouldn’t let me off the phone until I promised. So I did. I called the doctor and was seen a few days later.
As I lay on my left side on the exam table, naked from the waist down with just a sheet to cover me. I am making nervous chit chat with him all the while thinking, no; praying that I would not pass gas or spontaneously poop “at him” and please oh please, God, “Let me be CLEAN” down there. Well, he answered my prayers because none of the above mentioned catastrophes happened.
Dr. P said it appeared as if I might have scratched myself and it became infected. “Really?” I asked. I was surprised that a little scratch could cause such pain and I was mortified that Dr. P was now aware that I scratched my butt on occasion… Yes, I know we all do but this was me. Naked from the waist down with an apparent infection from SCRATCHING MY BUTT! I was humiliated. I just wanted a prescription and to get the heck out of there. He gave me a strong antibiotic with the usual, “If it doesn’t get better come back and see me.”
I called my sister. I told her what had happened, how I felt, how I didn’t humiliate myself etc. We had a good laugh. What I didn’t know was that she had breathed a huge sigh of relief because she had begun to worry about my little “pimple”. When I got home I shared the information with my husband who even though we never talked about things like pimples or butts, had been kept in the loop during the last few weeks. He nodded and said something along the lines of “I knew it would be okay.” Of course he did. He’s a man.
I took my antibiotics like a good girl and the sore did not heal. It got bigger and more painful. I couldn’t sit on my left side as even the slightest pressure caused me a lot of pain. I called Dr. P and he called in a new prescription of even stronger antibiotics and told me to call him if it didn’t get better.
Three weeks later I was on the phone to him. I was told that he was referring me to a surgeon. WHAT?!? Yes, a surgeon. He explained that this was a wound that would not heal therefore I should see a surgeon because they were the best in wound care. I was horrified. First of all I did not think I needed a surgeon. Second, I did not want to lay naked from the waist down for a stranger. So I didn’t call the surgeon.
They called me.
One week later I found myself sitting in the waiting room with a lot of very sick women. I already felt as if I didn’t belong there, that I was wasting Dr. W’s time. As I looked around I noticed that almost every woman in there was carrying a binder. The coversheet for the binder read, “So, you’ve been diagnosed with Cancer. What’s next?” OMG! I felt awful that I was taking up time and space when there were very ill people that needed to be seen.
As I sat there feeling guilty it never dawned on me that I might be in the right place. I had a sore on my butt. That was it. I was too embarrassed to think past that. When they finally called my name I was ready to bail. Just leave quietly and take my sore butt home.
I was put in a small exam room. The nurse asked me a few questions, took my blood pressure and told me that Dr. W would be in shortly. As she walked into the room I was struck by how tiny she was. Yes, I said “she” as I had requested a female when they made the appointment. There was no way I was letting some strange man look at my naked butt. Just as I started to apologize for taking up her time she was followed in by a young, good looking male intern. “Seriously?” I screamed in my head. You have got to be kidding me.
Nope. No kidding for me so I took a deep breath and continued with my apology for taking her time for such a silly reason. She was amazing. She reassured me that I had a right to be there and proved it to me by asking a bazillion questions.
Finally, she was done talking and asked me to stand up. Okay… Then she grabbed a sheet and held it up like a drape and asked me to unbutton my jeans then slide them along with my underwear to the floor all while bending over the table. Yup, it was a basic drop your drawers and bend over. So I did… quickly and efficiently so as not to give away how humiliated I felt to be examined this way with a young attractive male audience.
So here I am bent over the table, naked from the waist to the top of my ankles where my jeans and panties had fallen. I am keenly aware that Dr. W is kneeling down, spreading my cheeks and instructing Dr. McCutie on how to examine a sore on a humiliated female’s butt. She urges him to kneel and take a good look. She encourages him to spread a cheek for a better view of the open wound on my butt. I felt encouraged to die of embarrassment.
I decide to take a mini vacation in my head in order to avoid the reality of the situation. Lalalalalala… I am skipping down the road (fully clothed and woundless) just enjoying the day when I am brutally yanked back to that little white room and the reality of hearing that I may not be wasting anyone’s time after all. “I don’t know what it is” she says to my butt, “but I don’t think its cancer.”
CANCER? Who said anything about CANCER? I hadn’t even entertained the notion of CANCER because; well because it was just a sore on my butt! What kind of CANCER would that be?
She finished the exam, had me pull up my pants and sit down (right cheek only) in a little chair. I really don’t know what it is but I am pretty sure it’s not cancer she says to my face this time.. She tells me to give it a month and if it hasn’t healed to come back and see her. This sounds too familiar to me and now the “C” word has been used. I am no longer dealing with pain but have the added pleasure of paranoia. I thank her for her time and leave the building, get in my car and…
I call my sister. She confides to me that she was worried it was CANCER but didn’t want to say anything. Okay. I accept that. We hang up with the promise to talk soon.
Once home I tell my husband about the appointment. I make an attempt at humor by talking about the male doctor, dropping my drawers, etc. Then I tell him what she said. He is a bit shook up by her using the “C” word even though she said she didn’t think that was it. It’s still hard to hear the word. I’d dealt with a lot of pre-cancerous lesions on my face and arm but we always focused on the “pre” part of the word. This was different or at least it felt different.
Being the curious, must have the facts kind of girl that I am, I head to the PC and start searching. I search for hours using different words, phrases anything that comes to mind as I look for answers. I even searched images to see if I could find a picture of what my butt sore looked like. It was not a pleasant process and it got worse when I saw a picture that looked almost identical to mine. It was a squamous cell carcinoma. Okay, so skin cancer… but on my butt cheek? Now that I had a name I start searching on that. I find a list of symptoms. I begin to feel nauseas as I realize that I have a lot of those symptoms but never thought about it because there was no reason to! I can’t stress enough that I only had a sore on my left butt cheek, not CANCER.
I don’t confide this to anyone. I go to bed in order for time to pass quickly and I can get up and call Dr. W and let her know what I found. It wasn’t a great plan as I didn’t sleep at all that night. My dark fantasies had me planning my funeral, eulogy and who would attend; who would weep the most or the loudest. I was sad I wouldn’t be there to enjoy all of the love and grief exhibited on my behalf.
I get to work the next morning totally preoccupied with myself which renders me incapable of doing my job. I get up to use to the rest room and when I’m done I notice that there is a lot of blood and I know it isn’t my menses as I haven’t had one of those in over 20 years thanks to a medically necessary hysterectomy when I was 26. I am slightly panicked at this moment. I am frozen to the spot with bloody tissues in my hand. Where on earth did this come from?
As soon as they open I call Dr. W’s office. I speak to a very kind, understanding nurse and tell her I don’t think I should wait for a month because I have Googled everything there is to Google and I have symptoms I didn’t know I had and now there is blood! The words flow from my mouth hot, fast and engorged with fear. The first thing she tells me is to stay off the internet. Then she says she will speak with Dr. W and see about getting me in sooner. The last thing she says to me is to stay off the internet. She calls me back 20 minutes later with an appointment for the next day.
Another sleepless night.
As I sit in the waiting room I feel like I belong this time. I am wondering if I will get a binder that indicates I belong in this chair, taking space and time from someone else. I don’t have to wait as long this time and as I am escorted back to the exam room my imagination is telling me it’s because I am sick when in fact they just aren’t as busy this day. I sit in the little chair waiting for Dr. W and when she arrives she is confused. Why didn’t I mention these things the other day. I tell her (and Dr. McCutie) that I didn’t realize they were connected. Also, she didn’t ask about “symptoms” only history. She tells me that they we are going to a different room. One that is more appropriate for this type of exam and if she feels the need she will ask Dr. R to come in and take a look as he specializes in this area of the body.
Great… another strange man.
We walk down the long hallway make a left then right turn. I am led into a room that has this funky looking table in it. It is definitely designed for people to drop them drawers and bend over the table. I do as I’m told and wait. A nurse walks in, tells me her name and holds my hand. She assures me that she is there for me and will not leave. She is true to her word.
Dr. W and Dr. McCutie assume the position aka kneeling at my feet and spreading my cheeks apart. They had better lighting thus a better view and decided to call in Dr. R; the butt specialist. I must have started to breathe heavily as the nurse patted my hand while telling me to relax. Take slow deep breaths… it worked… for a minute.
I am keenly aware of what I must look like to anyone that comes in the room and am struggling not to feel embarrassed.
It felt like forever for Dr. R to get there but once he arrived things got a bit more serious. It took him about a Nano second to announce, “I don’t know what it is but you need to biopsy that thing.” As I heard the word biopsy a dull roar begins in my ears, my heart leaps into my throat while at the same time remaining in my chest; thump, thump, thumping in what felt like an effort to escape. I must have jerked because Dr. W spoke gently, encouraging me to relax. No one would do anything without talking with me first. The nurse kept patting my hand, telling me to breathe. Dr. R kept speaking but I couldn’t really understand him in that moment. All I could think of was having a biopsy done in an area that should never be biopsied in my opinion.
About 20 minutes later, after they explained exactly what the biopsy would entail and I had signed a consent form, I was numb and waiting. I’d been on this special exam table with my head pointing to the floor for about an hour now and was ready for it to be over. By the grace of God and really good numbing juice, I barely felt them rip a chunk of flesh out of the inside portion of my left butt cheek. It was over. I got up, got dressed and drove home.
Once home I told my husband what had happened and he was appropriately horrified for me. Asked if I was hungry (his go to way of comforting me) and when I said no, he sat next to me and held my hand for the rest of the evening.
9am the next morning I got the call. It was CANCER; squamous cell carcinoma of the perianal region. I would need surgery to remove the diseased area and likely chemo afterwards. I was very calm as I spoke to him, asked pertinent questions, and listened to the young doctor who was obviously uncomfortable giving me this news. I hung up the phone and called my husband, then my sister. They were upset. I was calm.
Always the calm one. Always the strong one. It could be worse but it’s not.
This is really brilliantly done! You take us readers through the experience of diagnosis in such a way that we can relate almost every step of the way. I also love your play on words and the humor you include. 🙂
Thank you very much. I am glad you experienced it the way I intended. I appreciate you following my blog.
I know how difficult it must have been for you to write that post, Nat. Well done. You may not realize it right now, but someone may be googling things to figure out what they’re going through and they may find your blog and I would venture to guess they’d be comforted by your story. This is why we write. xoxo
This month is the two year anniversary of when I found the lesion. I didn’t realize that until I started thinking about why I felt compelled to share this particular story now. I wrote it with the intention of being able to help someone who may be going through a similar situation. Thanks for your ongoing support, Jenn. XoXo!
Just came through that awkward dance of me, the medical team, a few extra tests, the Internet and time. You captured it well, the way it plays out and messes with your head—and the the heads of those we love—along the way. I like the way you touched on the binders throughout your journey, I liked that very much. And the power of having a name for what’s wrong, and a sister to call when we don’t even know what we’re feeling. I like way you tell your stories.
Thank you so much for reading my stories. I am sorry you have been through a similar situation. I hope that you are okay.