When I received my self-addressed post card from my gynecologist with my Pap results I was calm and confident it would be “normal pap smear. Follow up in __months.” My stomach dropped when I read that my Pap was in fact abnormal and required a follow up colposcopy and possible biopsy.
In 2009 I had received an abnormal Pap smear result and, not knowing what to expect, had gone in for my first Colposcopy. While it sounded scary, I soon learned a Colposcope is actually just a fancy pants microscope to better examine the cervix. My doctor examined my cervix and noted areas of abnormality on my chart but said a biopsy was not needed, I was flooded with relief. My doctor advised that I just remain under close supervision with a Pap smear every three months. A year passed and after 3 consecutively normal Pap smears I was allowed to go back to my annual schedule of testing.
Fast forward to July of 2013 when I received notification that my test results again showed abnormalities that would require further investigation. “I’ve done this before,” I thought to myself, “It is all precautionary, he will examine my cervix and see that nothing has changed and bring me back for observation.” As an artist, I joked with my family that I had to go in for my doctor to draw another “Still Life with Cervical Cells” on my chart.
When the day of my appointment came I was quite nervous, but lucky to have my mom as my hand-holder on stand-by. Before beginning, my doctor reviewed my chart and said that since I had a past of abnormalities that this time he may take a biopsy just to make sure nothing was going on. I took a deep breath and glanced at the nearby tools that resembled torture instruments, but replied, “I trust you so do what is necessary—I would rather be safe than sorry.”
Upon his first view into the Colposcope my doctor immediately said, “Yes, there is definitely something new here, I need to take a biopsy.” I wanted to say “Time out! Go get my mom in the waiting room” but instead just took deep breaths and imagined I was camping with friends in Colorado. Over the next 20 minutes, my doctor probed and scraped areas, drew the new abnormalities on my chart, took a punch biopsy, and then used what I thought resembled a mascara wand to further collect cells in my cervix.
Afterwards, my doctor showed me on my chart my new areas of abnormality and told me that if the results came back as showing anything more advanced than previously, he would recommend a surgical laser treatment that would destroy the layer of abnormal cells in my cervix since these abnormalities were the very earliest signs of precancerous activity.
Over the next few days my mind raced with what would happen. “I don’t want to undergo anesthesia and surgery.” I thought, “I don’t want someone to laser a layer off my cervix! Is this going to affect my fertility? Having kids? What if it is all worse than expected? I’m 26 years old with no boyfriend, I assumed I had at least a decade to decide on the whole motherhood idea.” I also couldn’t help but think of my mom’s close friend from childhood, Carol Jean, who passed away two years ago after a long and arduous battle with cervical cancer.
Carol Jean had always kept up with her gynecological exams, but one year her test results came back as not only cancerous but as having spread to many of her other organs; surgery, chemo and radiation were all advised immediately. Her doctor was in tears as she delivered the horrifying news. Cervical cancer is virtually symptomless until it is often, like Carol Jean’s case, too late.
When my doctor called I was a nervous wreck, but it was nothing but good news. Although there were those new areas of abnormality, they had not progressed to a level that needed treatment at this time! I was just back to the close monitoring and Paps every three months. ‘Relieved’ does not begin to express the feeling that washed over me.
While this entire ordeal was unnerving, it incited reflection upon my life. I began to assess how I was spending my time and if it was truly what I wanted to be doing and if I was surrounded by the people I desired. I had always tried to live in the present, but after days of my mind racing through worst-case scenarios as I waited for the results, my priorities in life were presented more clearly than before and I gained a new appreciation for everyday.
I was granted a happy ending for the moment, so why am I sharing my story? Because I am lucky! I am lucky to have access to health care, I am lucky to have a doctor that truly cares for my well-being, I am lucky to have a phenomenal support group of family and friends, I am lucky to live in a time when medicine has advanced enough to not only warn us of possible dangers but to also treat the majority of them. I am also lucky to have had abnormalities that did not grow at the rapid and unrelenting speed of those that other women, like Carol Jean, have to sadly experience.
So here is my task to women across the world: take advantage of what is available to you! If you are reading this, you now have the knowledge and awareness to take your health into your own hands. Be vigilant about your health care. Go to your annual Pap smears and gynecological exams. Find a doctor you trust. And most of all remember you are not alone and should not bear an ounce of shame.
Share your experiences and talk to your female friends, relatives, and coworkers about their reproductive health. All it takes is one conversation, one video, one (House of Femme :D) article to remind a woman that her health is not to be taken for granted.
If you are looking for a gynecologist, visit: http://www.healthgrades.com/obstetrics-gynecology-directory to view doctors in your area and read patient reviews and ratings.