Before November 9, I had little more than a vague idea of what my cervix looked like. I’d seen the medical drawings, the donut-y likeness sketched in pink in my well-worn What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I’d examined the female anatomy figures at the clinic. But now I know exactly what my cervix looks like because I watched it as it was poked, prodded and biopsied on a television screen, magnified by hundreds of times.
And it was scary as hell.
It’s not my first time around the bend with a health scare, but it’s the first time a doctor has looked at me and said the words “precancerous” and “cervical dysplasia”. It’s not the first time I’ve had biopsies done, but it’s the first time I’ve worried that it might not come back normal.
Why? Because it won’t. The changes to the cells were visible*, right there on that screen, on my little cervix. And it made me feel sick.
*I wanted to take a photo but thought that would be A) weird and B) super gross.*
I was once the girl who skipped her pap tests, but not anymore. I’m still the girl who occasionally forgets to follow the medical advice (like when I carried stuff when I wasn’t supposed to be lifting and went running before my concussion, knee or ankle injury was totally healed), but I’ll never, ever skip a doctor’s appointment again.
Waiting alone in the colposcopy procedure room, I thought for a moment that the whole thing would simply go over without a hitch – that it would all be for nought, nothing would really be wrong and I’d walk out laughing. Seeing the white cells light up under the vinegar solution made my heart sink. Breathing through the discomfort, I tried to will the blood I watched emerge from my body stop.
That’s how I wound up here in the first place: I was bleeding for no good reason. I never want to see my own blood again.
In that little room, we came up with a plan, my gynaecologist and I, and I left armed with the knowledge that we’ll treat, and we’ll monitor, and I’ll ultimately be okay because whatever those pesky cells on my cervix think they’re up to, she and I are one step ahead.
Because I fought for more information. Because I didn’t settle when I was told there was nothing wrong. Because I went, faithfully, for my PAP test every year and I demanded answers when my body gave me cause to question.
As I shared my story with female friends, I realised that many hadn’t visited their physician for years. Some couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a PAP test.
I’m in a relationship, said one, I don’t bother getting tested now. We’re monogamous and have been for years.
But a PAP isn’t testing for STIs like herpes, it’s looking for changes to your cervical cells. It’s looking for cervical cell changes that could impact your life, your health, your family.
I hate it so much, said another, I know I should go but it’s so awkward.
But awkward beats being ill; a few minutes of discomfort now is better than finding out you missed the chance later.
Right now, I don’t know if my next step will be a LEEP, a cryosurgery, or more invasive testing. My biopsy results will come back sometime before the new year, and I’ll know more then. But what I know is this is more prevalent than I ever thought: more women than you can imagine have lived this but no one is talking about it. And it’s so easy to catch. It’s such a simple test.
So, ladies, do me a favour.
Call your family doctor. Schedule an appointment. Get your PAP test done.
Ask questions. Don’t let that lump or that bump go unattended; ignorance is not bliss. Not when it’s your health.
(And guys: get your physicals done, too.)