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Cancer.

If you had to categorize this among a list of other scary terms, it’d be right up there with murder, rape, and permanent vegetative state. Most of us know people who’ve had cancer, some who’ve survived against the odds, others who didn’t make it, even if they went through all the required tortuous medical protocols.

My Grandma Bea, Dad’s mom, died of colon cancer during my junior year of high school. I’ve been afraid of cancer ever since, and a bit of a hypochondriac about the disease, as well. With the state of our environment, if a person lives an entire long life without getting cancer, it’s a miracle.

A few years ago, Cancer Scare #1 hit. I found a lump in my right armpit. A lump. It arose suddenly and was big. I could actually see it. I immediately scheduled a doctor’s appointment. The week I had to wait was one of the longest of my life. I held it together, trying not to worry, until the day before the appointment. Then I broke down in anger and tears because, of course, I feared the worst. Cancer is so scary for our society that we rarely hear about other kinds of breast lumps. Lump equals Cancer and that’s the only equation there is.

I got a mammogram. Funny thing was that the person giving me the mammogram couldn’t find the lump with her machine, even though I could grab it with my fingers. That’s what I did, showing her just where it was. I was referred to a surgeon without a definitive diagnoses. Meanwhile, the lump shrunk. A couple of weeks later, when I saw the surgeon, I told her it was smaller and she confirmed this. She said that it was no more than a cyst. Nothing to worry about.

A while later I saw a doctor who also specialized in natural medicine. I wanted a second opinion and a possible reason for why I had the lump. He did a needle biopsy. If you want to talk horror movies, imagine a giant needle coming for your armpit. It, too, showed that the lump was a benign cyst.

The doctor ordered a test to check my hormone levels. He suspected that my progesterone levels had dropped, typical for women in their mid-30s. He gave me some wild yam in order to boost my progesterone. Within a week of faithfully taking it, I developed an interior rage that made me want to jump out of my skin. I called the doctor and he told me to stop taking the wild yam. When my hormone results came in, he discovered why I’d had the severe reaction to the wild yam. It wasn’t my progesterone that had dropped, but my estrogen. A drop in either can cause breast cysts.

I got through Cancer Scare #1 and I still have the cyst. It cycles with my monthly cycle, expanding and retracting with regularity.

This past summer, I went in for a physical. I wanted to have one within the year of my 40th birthday. The physical included a Pap Smear, which came back normal. Within a few months after my physical, I developed an itch “down there.” To put it delicately, the itch is in the interior crease of my right leg. I figured it was caused by dry winter weather or a change in laundry detergent. I’ve done what I could to eliminate these potential causes, but the itch is still there. As I was looking through my news feeds, I found an article from Discover Magazine called “The Cancer That Itches.” Curious, I read the article. To my surprise, it discusses a woman who had a deep itch “down there” that turned out to be cervical cancer.  (Her “down there” was her lower back.)

Enter Cancer Scare #2. Never in my wildest imagination would I have assumed an exterior itch could be a sign of an interior cancer. I’m trying not to freak out about this. To be on the safe side, I am calling the clinic tomorrow and scheduling an appointment. My hope is that the exam rules out cervical cancer and that my itch is no more than an itch.

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