The Pill + Me

By CAITLIN SHETTERLY  |  May 9, 2006

So at 24, I had a lump and an OBGYN who couldn’t quite manage to take a fine needle aspiration biopsy. She stuck the needle in over and over, leaving my breast black and blue. Finally, she sent me to a breast specialist. The specialist took a proper biopsy and we waited. Cancer can happen in young women, she told me, but it’s rare.

The tests concluded that I probably had a benign tumor in my breast. People whose breasts grow such things are thought to have “benign breast disease,” she said, which is literally breasts that grow rubbery hard lumps (fibroadenomas, in the medical lingo) for no apparent reason. Sometimes they can be left and monitored. However this one was so large it needed to come out so that it could be fully tested. Surgery was planned and I applied for Medicaid. I had no health insurance, no money and I was shocked to find myself at 24, alone in New York City, with an actual disease.

Then, out of nowhere, I began bleeding uncontrollably. I went back to the same gynecologist (New York is a big town and I didn’t know where to turn) and she told me it was the dosage of the pill. That I needed a stronger pill, one with more progestin. I started trying pill after pill. Then, she mentioned, my skin would fare better if I tried Ortho-Tri-Cyclen. My skin, from all the stress on my body and psyche, had erupted like Vesuvius. So, I tried it. The bleeding continued and my skin showed no benefits. Blood was pouring out of me for three out of four weeks a month. I had to wear two pads and two super-plus tampons and change them every half-hour. “Something is wrong,” I kept telling my gynecologist. She suggested another pill. The bleeding didn’t stop. I hardly left my apartment during the weeks of deluge.

I was housebound, sick and alone. I leaned on my family because I was broke and couldn’t work long hours at my waitressing job. I felt like Baudelaire, stuck inside, sick, writing about the outside world as I looked out the window. I kept taking the Pill because it seemed like the only thing to do.

During the one week I wasn’t bleeding I started sleeping with random guys I met out with friends. I felt like a freak, deformed with a huge lump in my bruised left breast. I needed love, care and closeness. This is not what I got, of course. I got nights on the town while ingesting copious amounts of alcohol until I went home with guys who never called me again. I don’t blame them. I was needy, depressed, way too open about my health issues and fears. They wanted a fuck, not a therapy session. I felt utterly terrified that I might die, and I abandoned my body and gave it away for nothing.

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Related: Letters to the Portland Editor, May 12, 2006:, Like blood for chocolate, A bitter pill, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Media, Health and Fitness, Ivy League,  More more >
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