- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

DALLAS (AP) - She sits with her legs crossed, foot shaking, picking at her glittery nails. With her long brown hair tied in a messy braid, Monica Frasier smiles nervously while the nurse takes her blood pressure.

Dr. Lara Johnson walks past the exam room, and Monica, 27, tries to read her face, to see if the news is good or bad.

She has worried for nearly a year and a half, The Dallas Morning News (https://bit.ly/2fq7DMG) reported.

A silver keychain dangling from her red backpack reads CLEAN & SERENE FOR EIGHTEEN MONTHS. Eighteen months. It’s the longest she has gone without crystal meth since she was 15. Her last relapse, according to her father, Don Frasier, was on her birthday last year in April, when she and her ex-boyfriend smoked meth after a night of drinking.

Then, that July, a doctor told her she had a cyst on her ovary that might be cancer. She was waiting tables at an IHOP in Cleburne at the time, with no health insurance and no way to afford the $700 test that would tell her whether the cyst could kill her.

Two months later, a judge learned of Monica’s relapse. She was sent to prison for violating probation from an earlier meth conviction.

Her time locked up was dark, but it forced her to stay clean. At night, she would lie awake, worrying about her cyst, imagining the cancer spreading. She asked to see a doctor, she says, but was never allowed. (The Texas Department of Criminal Justice would not comment, saying only that it provides all prisoners “comprehensive health care.”)

Now, she’s ready to start her life over. She has been out of prison three weeks, living at a Dallas shelter. She receives free health care in the parking lot, on a Parkland Memorial Hospital bus. It feels like a regular doctor’s office, with a sterile smell and fluorescent lighting. It’s just much smaller.

The nurse, a middle-aged woman in gray scrubs named Tracy Galvan, asks if Monica has kids.

“No children,” Monica says. “I was told I can’t.” Something about the shape of her fallopian tubes.

“Aw,” the nurse says.

“It’s OK,” Monica says. “I’ll get me a rescue dog.”

“I will tell you, I was told at 16 that I’d never have children and I have two now,” says the nurse. “You never know.”

“Yeah, you never know,” Monica says.

Monica never expected to stay clean this long. She grew up in a “drug house” in Cleburne. Her dad is an admitted meth user. Her mom has a criminal drug record. At 9, Monica went to live with her grandmother in Fort Worth.

Her grandma drank too much and yelled at TV commercials, but she took good care of Monica. When her grandmother died, Monica, then 15, lost herself in meth and ended up addicted.

She hated the way she was living but couldn’t bring herself to quit. Some days, she would’ve been fine with dying.

Now Monica wants to live. When she was released from prison, she showed up at the Salvation Army in Dallas because she’d heard it helps people. It did. She’s receiving drug counseling, trying to do the right things.

But every now and then, in quiet times, she remembers the cyst.

On a sunny October morning a week into her shelter stay, Monica boarded the Parkland bus and met Dr. Lara Johnson. Monica told her about the cyst and the worry and the months in prison without a doctor.

“And they just let you live with that anxiety and fear,” Johnson said. “That’s nice.”

“Yeah, very nice,” Monica said, her blue eyes tearing up as she looked into the doctor’s eyes. “I’m just so stressed out. Sometimes I feel stupid because then I’m like: Do I even have cancer?”

“Poor girl,” the doctor said. “Well, good news: We will get this done, and Parkland will pay for it.”

At the shelter, a counselor asked Monica to write a goodbye letter to someone. She addressed it to “the girl I used to be.”

“Hey you! . You who used to find purpose in a smoke filled glass. You who used to kill the pain with a single prick. You whose solutions would never stick. You who cried so many tears + wished it all would end. Your (sic) the one I want to say goodbye to so my life can begin. .”

Two weeks later - the day before her second visit to Dr. Johnson - Monica got a job. The manager at the Marriott in downtown Dallas decided to hire her as a housekeeper despite her felony record. It was the 11th place she’d applied.

The manager seemed to like Monica’s personality - she’d promised to clean each room quickly, “like a ninja.” The pay: $9 an hour. Her life could begin.

The doctor is ready. Monica stands and walks to the tiny exam room in back of the bus. She sits in a chair.

Johnson, dressed in black Converse sneakers and a black shirt, sits with her laptop on her knees, facing Monica. Johnson has been worrying about her. When she saw Monica’s test results, she nearly cried.

“I wanted you to come out today so we could give you your results and let you know there was nothing suspicious on your ultrasound,” the doctor says. “No cysts, no masses; everything looks normal. . I wanted you to know that to put your mind at rest.”

A smile breaks across Monica’s face. She covers her nose and mouth with her hands as her eyes stay fixed on the doctor. She bows her head and tears begin to fall.

“Ah, I’m sorry,” Monica says.

“No, it’s fine,” Johnson says. “How are you feeling?”

“Overwhelmed - well, not overwhelmed in a bad way,” Monica says. “Like, just relieved.”

“Good.”

“Not even a cyst - like, how is that even possible?” Monica asks. She’d seen it herself last year at the doctor’s office.

“It’s possible that could’ve been due to stress or hormonal regulation that you were going through at the time,” the doctor says. “But they’ve since resolved, so it’s all good.”

As she leaves the bus, Monica wipes away tears.

“That feels like a miracle,” she says. “You know how they tell you, if you just do what God says then everything just starts working in your favor? I kind of feel like that’s happening because something good’s happening every day of the week now. Well, I’m just like, stupidly happy.”

Monica knows she faces a tough road ahead. Eighty-eight percent of meth addicts who go through rehab relapse within three years, according to a study in the journal Addiction. She’s content to listen to her counselor and keep life simple: Stay sober. Clean hotel rooms. Open a bank account.

Maybe later she’ll think about college, a career, a family.

Anything’s possible.

Dr. Johnson said her fallopian tubes look fine.

___

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com

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