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Who Has What You Have?

Something happened to me yesterday that I’ve not yet shared with any of you.  My husband knows.  My mother knows.  My boss knows.  A dear, dear friend at work knows.  I wanted to say something about it yesterday because it’s consuming my thoughts and energies.  I just…couldn’t.  Ever have a pervasively awful thought that just doesn’t go away…and if it does, it manifests itself immediately after a good or a happy moment comes?  That’s what’s happening to me today…and what happened most of yesterday afternoon and evening.  Maybe by putting it out there and sharing it with all of you, it will have less power over me.  Maybe doing so will give it less sanctuary inside me to cause worry and upset.  Perspective is something I lose quite frequently and have often a hard time finding in the first place.  I guess you can call this blog entry my shot at trying to see things in the proper light. 

People who truly know me will probably tell you that they see me in wonderful ways – funny, happy, loving, caring, sweet, smart, witty, clever, goofy, strong in fighting for the people she loves.  There’s a word that they’d never use, though, and when I myself use it, they cringe in horror and tell me that it’s hurtful when they hear it.  Fat.  I’m fat.  Unhealthily fat.  I have been my entire life.  For an embarrassingly long time, that’s how I identified myself – “the fat girl.”  Everything that happened in my life happened in conjunction with (or because of….and even sometimes, in spite of) my weight.  People were heartlessly cruel to me in grade school and I suffered…because I was fat.  The cute fraternity boy guy didn’t ask me out…because I was fat.  Those people across the room are laughing….probably at me because I’m fat.  I got the second female lead in the senior play…in spite of the fact that I’m fat.  The sorority I loved with my whole soul chose me…even though I’m fat.  An amazing man with a beautiful heart and an wonderful soul loves me with all he has…even though I’m fat.  Fat to my left and fat to my right.  For reasons much better saved for less emotional day, I have allowed that horrible self-identity to hold me back on many an occasion, and to cloud my judgment when I knew other thoughts to be true.  While I can honestly tell you that my life has changed so much in my thirties…and that so much of that self-loathing (God, that hurt to type) has been replaced by deep joy and a profound love of the person I am inside, there’s still a part of it that’s very much alive inside me.  I don’t like it.  And the only way to let it go is to illuminate it before all of you and to stop hiding it away like a dirty little secret.  In just a moment, you all will know… the words are typed and published and you will have read them.  My secret will be my secret no more.  Now I will be accountable to all of you for moving on and letting that piece of myself go.

(Fair warning, here’s where it gets really personal.)

As many of you know, I have a nine-year old daughter.  I delivered her on September 18, 2001 via Caesarean section.  In the months following her birth, I went for the typical well-woman, post-operative appointments.  I did everything my doctor told me to do.  And once released from post-surgical care, I promptly stopped going to see her.  Initially, it wasn’t intentional.  I got busy.  I was a working wife and mother who had no time for…well, anything.  I certainly didn’t have time to take off work for an uncomfortable examination.  I was fine.  Certainly if something was wrong with me, I’d feel it.  I’d know.  As the years wore on and weight I’d lost in my late twenties slowly crept back on, my excuse for not going changed.  This time, it was…because I was fat.  I didn’t want my doctor to feel uncomfortable examining me…because I was fat.  I felt like it was a horrible position to put her in.  Sure, giving these sorts of intimate exams is the nature of her job.  She’s probably seen it all.  But I….couldn’t.  I couldn’t risk making her feel uncomfortable or grossed out having to examine me.  Typing those words makes the emotion behind them feel and look so unbelievably ridiculous, and I guess it is.  But in my heart of hearts, I just couldn’t bring myself to let someone else see the me hidden behind my clothes…or risk her discomfort or displeasure or disgust or judgment.  So I didn’t go.  For a reason too private to share, I decided to go yesterday.  Just decided to buckle down and do it.  Suck it up, swallow hard, and go.  So I did.  I bared much more than my overweight body and let it all out…all of it.  She was absolutely amazing and understood my feelings and was reassuring and comforting and did and said everything right.  I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to repay her for that kindness.  She also gave me news that I wasn’t prepared for.  In the light of day, I suppose the news isn’t as bad as it probably could have been.  But it’s bad enough to frighten me.  I have two polyps on my cervix, and she believes that the lining inside my uterine wall is abnormally thick.  For that reason, I’m scheduled for an ultrasound on March 2nd, after which a decision will be made regarding removing my polyps and potentially scheduling a D&C.  All of the cells they collect will be sent off for a pathology screening to see if I have cervical or uterine cancer.

To say that I’m scared is the understatement of the century.  She told me that cervical polyps are almost always non-cancerous, and she tried to reassure me on multiple occasions and convince me not to worry.  She did say however that it is not uncommon for overweight women in my age group with thickened uterine walls to have pre-cancerous or early cancer cells, hence the potential need for the D&C.  All in all, she told me not to be afraid.  My mother and boss have both undergone a D&C, and both told me that it’s truly an easy and relatively painless procedure.  I believe them…and I believe that I’m truly blessed to have not received worse news yesterday…but I am so scared.  And so unbelievably angry at myself.  I let my fear of being “seen” potentially endanger my life.  Sure, no one knows when my polyps were formed, or when my uterine walls grew thick.  Last week?  Last year?  In late 2001 after my post-operative care visits stopped?  No one knows.  But ten years have gone by since I took the proper preventative and very simple steps to keep myself healthy.  If we find out that I have cancer, I will never forgive myself for allowing my weight yet again to hold me back…for giving it license to blur my judgment.  And for worrying more about the impression it leaves upon others than my own personal welfare.

When telling my dear friend at work this story today, she did as any loving friend would do…praised me for taking the proper steps to safeguard my health while coming down on me for not having done so sooner.  She said something that resonates inside me…that I can’t shake:

“Think of all the women in this big city.  Who has what you have, Jennifer?  Who has what you have?  A husband that loves you so, so much and a beautiful daughter who is healthy and alive and well.  And a good job and wonderful friends who love you.  Who has that, Jennifer?  You do.”

She implored me to take better care of my health and my life…for all the goodness that it is and entails and all the people who love and rely on me.  She even went so far as to offer to have her annual exam on the same day as mine next year so that she could hold me accountable for it!  While I declined her kind offer, I did make a vow to myself to go again next year on my birthday….and on or around every future birthday.  After all, a birthday is a celebration of life.  Life can’t be lived fully in the absence of health.  This exam was my gift to myself.  Reading this story and sharing my secret is your gift to me.  Please vow to yourself never to let anything stand in the way of your health, especially something foolish like self-doubt or worries about the perceptions of others.  Nothing in this life is more expensive than regret.  My prayer is that I won’t find that out for myself in the weeks to come, and that I am cancer-free.


  1. Jennifer – what a beautiful thing to share. I, too, can relate to reluctance to go the doctor, though for different reasons. I also have not been to the doctor in over 7 years, and have been 3 times in this month, with an eerily similar outcome. Please know that my thoughts are with you during this trying time and with your family. You should know that you are correct in listing the adjectives that one would describe you and the ones that they would never think of. You think of yourself as fat first sometimes, but your personality and everything that is Jennifer Gotshall Smith clarifies your image for others, and we don’t see anything except your beautiful smiling face and your HUGE heart. We love you and thank you for everything you are and everything you do.


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