Thursday already? That means it’s time for Mama Kat’s Writers Workshop!
2.) What was your medicine? Write about a time you remember being ill.
(inspired by writingfix.com)
I’ve never really been seriously ill, knock wood. But last year, I escaped serious illness thanks to some routine tests and a simple preventive procedure. And I am so grateful that I’m smart enough to look after my own health.
Like most American women, I know all about getting pap smears. In fact, I know MORE about it than most because my mother has worked in women’s health and I am professionally affiliated with a cancer organization so I’ve heard the pap smear message loud and clear in both ears. I’m super duper conscientious about getting mine for a number of reasons. For one thing, the Annual Visit is the gateway for getting the Pill from most doctors. For another, a number of years ago, I tested positive for HPV. Don’t know what that is? It’s Human Papiloma Virus, a virus that hangs out on the cervix. Sometimes it causes genital warts but, more often, it just lingers, causing no symptoms at all. Sometimes the body eventually rids itself of it. But sometimes, it causes changes to the cervical cells that lead to cancer. It’s incredibly common, there are many varieties and not all of them cause malignant changes but once you know you have it, or even if you don’t, your should shove your feet into stirrups once a year like clockwork. Because what happened to me could happen to you and, trust me, the story I’m about to tell is the best possible outcome.
I went in for my annual last spring and went through the usual rigamarole; breast exam, pap, discussion about birth control, questions about when I might think about another baby (Side note: OB/GYNs always want to know about the next baby. Do you think they’re taking that info to their financial planners?). No biggie, nothing I haven’t done a million times before.
Then a week or so later, I got a call. I was positive for HPV (no surprise), and there were significant abnormal cells in my pap. I needed to have a colposcopy to take a closer look and see if I needed a biopsy.
Huh. I’d had a colposcopy once before and it was ok but further discussion with my doctor about what was going on left me scared and shaken because the abnormalities sounded like something I wanted OUT OF MY BODY RIGHT NOW.
I went in for the colposcopy, which, in and of itself, is painless. It’s basically an internal exam where your doctor looks at you cervix through a magnifier that looks a lot like the thing in the eye doctor’s office that they use to peer into your retina. She also did a biopsy of whatever suspicious stuff she saw in there, which sucked. I’m not gonna lie. It hurt. It was over quickly but it was painful while it happened.
The biopsy came back with the same abnormalities that they’d seen on the pap (I’m sorry I can’t remember the technical terms for everything. I don’t want to use the wrong term and misinform so I’m staying very general with my descriptions). My doctor told me I needed a LEEP, an outpatient surgical procedure to remove the top layer of cells from my cervix, and hopefully take off all the abnormal cells in the process. Because those abnormal cells? Left alone? Could become cancer. And removing them? Would likely prevent cancer.
That’s right. Prevent cancer. Two of the most beautiful words in the English language.
The LEEP was performed at the same hospital where C was born so I walked in the door already feeling a little warm and fuzzy about the place. It was nice to sit in admitting without amniotic fluid dripping out of me and contractions distracting me from answering questions about my address and phone number. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about going under general anesthesia. My mom was with me, which was reassuring, and I knew C had been safely deposited at daycare by my husband. But I was still freaking out a bit.
The wait for surgery to start was longer than I wanted and I was pretty tightly wound by the time I was wheeled in. The anesthesiologist asked if I wanted something to take the edge of my anxiety and I said yes. That’s the last thing I remember before waking up in the recovery room where I told a nice nurse that I’d love a cup of coffee (she brought me one when I was back in a regular room and I’ll love her for that forever). I was able to go home in time for lunch with only the minor complication of my mother really hating having to drive in DC.
The pathology after the LEEP showed exactly what the doctor expected: moderate abnormalities with no invasive growth. A a follow-up pap six months after the LEEP was clear, with no sign of HPV. I need to go in for a 12 month follow-up next month. I have every reason to hope the results will be the same. In short, I prevented cancer. BOOYAH!
It’s possible, I suppose, that the HPV will reassert itself and it could cause the same cycle to repeat but I’ve spoken with a number of women who’ve been through similar situations and never needed a repeated LEEP. It should also have no effect on future pregnancies, though I will be at higher risk for incompetent cervix and would need to be watched a little more carefully.
But today I sit here with a clean bill of health because of a routine pap smear. And I ask you to check your calendar and see if you might be due for one and schedule it if you are. Sure, they suck and all but they are the first line of defense in preventing cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a disease that can be prevented before it even develops and there’s no good reason to skip one. If you can’t afford it, your state has programs to help you get the test. All the states have such programs through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program out of the CDC. But please, PLEASE, get your pap smears. It could save you life before your life even needs saving.