Abnormal cells.

Undetermined significance.

“It’s probably nothing,” the doctor told me over the phone.

She couldn’t say why the cells of my cervix were abnormal or whether the results of my physical exam were worrisome. She could only say that I needed more tests, which she encouraged me to get as soon as possible.

“We just want to get it checked out,” she said.

So did I. As the single mother of a 5-year-old daughter, cancer is the scariest thing in the world to me.

It wasn’t the first time that a doctor has called with questionable results from a cervical exam. The same thing happened when I was 22 years old, freshly graduated from the University of Maine. I had bigger things on my mind back then, or so I thought. I was single, childless and eager to put my new journalism degree to use.

I didn’t give much thought then to what “abnormal cells” might mean. I simply went to the doctor on a Friday afternoon for a biopsy. The doctor called a few days later to say the test results were normal.

The second time around, things were more complicated. My doctor was back in Maine and I was away at graduate school. A quick trip home for a follow-up exam was impossible.

So I arranged for a baby-sitter for Angie and made an appointment at Planned Parenthood, where I sat in the waiting room doing homework and trying to think about anything but cancer.

But cancer was all I could think of.

The waiting room was crowded. There were younger women texting on their cellphones and older ladies reading paperback Grisham novels.

There were mothers my age, too. They were holding sleeping babies or trying to occupy restless preschoolers. I watched one little girl crawl into her mother’s lap, watched them both blow kisses into the air between them.

There’s a question that lurks in the back of every single parent’s mind. When it creeps into consciousness, we push it back, farther into its darkened corner.

Who would take care of our children if we became ill?

From there, more questions sneak out. If I died, where would my daughter go? What would the rest of her life be like? How would she survive without me?

Being a single parent is difficult. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a single parent with cancer. And I certainly can’t imagine Angie walking this earth without me. Who would make sure her favorite socks were clean for school on Monday morning? Who would carve funny faces into her peanut butter sandwiches?

Who would she blow air kisses to?

When the receptionist finally called my name at Planned Parenthood, a nurse escorted me down a long hallway to the doctor’s office. The doctor asked a few questions and performed the biopsy, which took about 10 minutes. Then I went home, and waited two weeks for the test results.

It was grueling.

As single parents, our lives feel so precarious. Even on our best days, there’s so much to juggle, so many things we have to do and be. How do single moms with cancer do it?

While I waited for my results, life seemed to slow down for the two of us. Angie and I dawdled on the way to kindergarten in the morning, picking up every stick or leaf that struck our fancy. After school, we baked chocolate-chip muffins and pumpkin cookies. At night, we read a few extra books before bedtime.

We lived like bad news was coming. Or I did, at least.

When I finally went back to Planned Parenthood for the test results, the doctor told me everything looked normal. Normal and healthy. But she suggested another exam in six months.

Just in case.

My news was good news. But for many women in this country, it is not. This year, 11,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer. More than 4,000 will die.

So for them, I will try to live every day like bad news is coming. I will dawdle on the way to school. Read an extra book before bedtime. Blow kisses into the air.

Just in case.

Wendy Fontaine’s “Party of Two” column appears every other week. Her e-mail address is: [email protected] or follow Party of Two on Facebook.


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