I am one of those people who walks around this Earth completely terrified of my own body.
I don’t understand what comes out of it, I don’t understand the noises it makes, and I swear to God, something has been randomly kicking me from inside like a baby, and I have no idea what it is. It pokes me, I poke it back, it pokes me again… I should be more proactive in addressing it than I am, but I find it oddly comforting sometimes. I mean, I could be watching So You Think You Could Dance on the couch alone, or in the company of my potential toilet baby.
On top of what is happening internally, there’s all these external forces freaking me out. I log into Facebook and I’m surrounded by health scares, unexpected diagnosis, and obituaries of people way to young to have obituaries written about them. Instead of looking at them logically and separate from myself, I devour it and apply it directly to my brain.
Brittany “Everything is Cancer” Gibbons emerged and her 34 year reign was long and tumultuous. There was much speculating, worrying, and over analyzing of lumps, moles, discolorations, discharge and pains. That sounds crazy, but I want to make sure you understand how consuming it really was.
I took the kids to see Boss Baby in the theater, and I sobbed the entire film. Not because Alec Baldwin was brilliant and the movie about a talking businessman baby was meaningful, but because I felt something weird in my breast that morning. I immediately assumed I wouldn’t be there to see my kids graduate, and now I was trapped in a dark theater with nothing to do but stare at them.
“Mom,” Jude whispers. “why are you looking at my hands and crying?”
I skipped the biopsy, chemo and all the other amazing medical advancements and went straight to the coffin. My personal brand of anxiety is often health driven, and everything ’bout this life is intense and emotionally sloppy.
Then, I turned 35 years old. I was sitting in a paper robe that didn’t close on the exam table in my gynecologist’s office for a yeast infection I could not get a handle on no matter what I treated it with (diflucan, coconut oil, holy water), when the nurse came in, verified my medications, and then spun around in her chair and handed me a white piece of paper.
“I see you turned 35 last month, here’s your order for a mammogram.” She chirped.
“Oh no,” I gasped, dropping the paper as if she’d handed me a used condom, “that starts at 40, right? I’m not 40.”
“We like to get a baseline at 35 years of age.” She smiled and picked the paper up off the floor to shove back into my hands.
I went home furious. I wasn’t old enough to worry about this stuff yet, and going to the doctor was a huge panic attack for me, not to mention actually calling them on the phone to make the appointment. You guys, I can’t even use the phone to call to order pizza, and that only results in them bringing food to my house, not touching me naked.
That only happened once, in high school, with a delivery guy named Adam who wrote his number on the pizza box.
Let’s talk, real quick, about why seeing the doctor is scary.
- Everyone is all, knowledge is power, but is it though? Because knowing you have something terrible sounds way scarier than not knowing. That is why ignorance is bliss. Knowledge isn’t bliss. Knowledge is a bottle of Xanax. I mean, I only have full body cancer if you tell me I have full body cancer.
- Maybe going to the doctor wouldn’t be so horrible if everybody wasn’t so obsessed with putting me on a scale. As a chubby girl, I have a long history of being made to feel horrible about my health, having everything to do with the scale and nothing to do with my actual health. As recently as last year, I had a family doctor tell me to keep a food journal and talk to my husband about my activity level when I went to see him for new anxiety medication. I quickly got a new doctor, but my story isn’t unique. Many doctors treat fat people with a bias, and losing weight becomes the default prescription for almost all ailments. As a result, women stop going to the doctor. Are you a doctor reading this right now? WOMEN AREN’T GOING TO THE DOCTOR BECAUSE OF THE SCALE. That should never happen. We shouldn’t feel too ashamed to take care of ourselves.
Then, something just snapped inside of me. A close friend was diagnosed with something real and scary, and as we all waited to find out how advanced things were, I realized I didn’t want to be afraid that I was finding out something was wrong with me, too late to do anything about it. The only way I was going to put any of this to bed was to ask an actual human doctor about the things that were bugging me. Also, Andy got sick of me spending so much time looking up symptoms on the internet that he started changing the wifi password.
So, I decided to go to the dermatologist. It seemed like the least invasive way to start. Even though I fancy myself a bit of a vampire, and I appear to be a genetically moley person, I had a few troublesome spots that Dr. Google assured me were terminal; an uneven, raised, flesh colored mole on my calf, and a raised and scaly mole on my lower back. I know, I’m a sex icon, but here, let me tell you more about my scaly mole…
A full body skin check is surprisingly rapid. You strip down completely naked, and the doctor goes to work with a magnifying glass and a small light, examining every inch of your body. It’s pretty invasive. Highlights include checking between my toes and pulling apart my labia. No fold was left unturned, and before I knew it, she had parted every inch of my hair and declared me clean.
“Well, I have this mole on my lower back.” I said, twisting and touching it with my finger. “It keeps getting scaly and shedding a scab, I read that was bad?”
“Actually, that’s not a mole, it’s an age spot. I can freeze it off for you quick if you like?” The doctor smiled.
“Oh. And I also have this growth on my leg, it is skin colored but it keeps growing and changing shape.” I explained.
“Yeah, that’s actually a wart that you keep shaving the top off of with your razor when you shave your legs.” She assured me.
I left the office with two sore spots that had been frozen off, no suspicious moles, the realization that I am old and a terrible shaver, but holy shit… it felt good to know all of that to be true. Not just good, fucking empowering. This was body love. This was what I was missing. I didn’t need to be afraid of my own body, I needed to have somebody look at it and explain to me how it works.
Next up was back to my gynecologist when I noticed- what I would qualify as- a dimple on the side of my left breast. Don’t google it. Nothing good comes from the google. But I saw it, Andy admitted to sorta seeing it when I held my boob in front of him a certain way under certain lighting, and so I decided to let my doctor take a look.
She saw nothing except for some stretch marks from weight fluctuations, but she helped me finally schedule that baseline mammogram to be sure, anyways.
“Now remember,” She said, placing her hands on my shoulders and looking me in the eyes before I walked out of the exam room, “it’s completely normal to be called back for more images the first time. They have nothing to compare things to the first time around. Do not freak out if they call you.”
A couple things about mammograms. First, you can’t wear any deodorant or perfumes, which seems like no big deal, except that by the time I showed up for my afternoon appointment, I smelled pretty ripe. Second, the goal is to pull all of your breast tissue between two clear glass plates, and by all your breast tissue, I literally mean all of it. My tech pulled breast tissue I didn’t even know I had, some from as far away as my clitoris, it seems. Third, the whole thing takes less than 10 minutes and oh my god, what was I so afraid of? It pinched, minimally, but I wouldn’t qualify it as painful. I once let a guy in high school use his roach clip as a nipple clip. That was painful, this was nothing.
The wait for results was three days, and I refrained from mentally chronically who will be willed what of my personal belongings long enough to be told, all clear. All. Fucking. Clear.
I AM THE HEALTHIEST PERSON ALIVE. The power was addicting.
Two weeks ago I faced the most involved preventative health measure, yet… my throat. I have been on prescription heartburn medication since my junior year of high school. My dad has reflux, and everyone I know walks around with barrels of Tums in their bags, so it all felt very normal to me. Then, while unable to sleep and searching the internet, I came across an article about the growing concern about the link between heartburn medications (PPIs) and cancer.
Yeah, apparently they can lead to some not so great things like cancer, dementia, or Barrett’s Esophagus, a pre-cancerous change in your esophageal lining due to long term exposure to acid, and what the fucking fuck, this wasn’t even on my radar, you guys! Clear my calendar, get me a paper bag to breath into, and ready the WebMD, Babycenter forums, Yahoo Answers, and all other online places people type their symptoms into so that doctors they’ve never seen can offer them diagnosis, and random strangers can chime in with, hey my neighbor’s friend had that, he died. This was my version of the dark web.
I made an appointment with my normal doctor, who agreed that I had been on prescription medication for a really long time, and it was probably a good idea to look around in there, just to be safe. I was referred to a general surgeon who specializes in throats and butts, and got on the calendar to have a scope done. Basically, they’d knock me out, put a long camera down my throat, and check out my esophagus, stomach and small intestine.
Courtesy the propofol, I remember nothing about the procedure, and woke up to learning I had several biopsies taken, I had an irregular z line in my esophagus, and they found and removed a few stomach polyps. I was told to google none of that.
I totally did, ugh, please play Hall & Oates at my funeral.
It turns out that the biopsies of the polyps and my linings were all clear, but all other signs pointed to “when” not “if.” So, okay, this would be something I need to monitor, and when the cells change, we deal with it. Until then, scopes remain in my future.
Pssshhhhh, totally doable.
Here’s what I learned over the course of the year I’ve spent prioritizing my health: GO. Go to the doctor. If your doctor is an asshole, go to a different one. It’s okay and normal for it to take a little bit finding the right doctor. I went through two others until I found one I finally felt comfortable with. Be picky about this, aside from who you have sex with, this is the most important person you are letting into every hole of your body.
So find a doctor, make a list of things you want to talk to them about, and then show up to your appointment. Because if you find out one day something is wrong that you missed or ignored or put off, your regret won’t be what was on the scale that day or that the stupid robe didn’t close in the front… it will be that all of that was more important than your health. And it’s not. It sucks, for sure, and we can’t stop fighting to educate and change it, but don’t let that small shit sideline you taking care of you. Because I love you, and I want you here for as long as I can have you.