One for the Ladies

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This month I faced another fear, and made it through. At the end of August I went for my yearly pap smear, and to my horror I received the dreaded phone call “you have high grade abnormal cell changes, and you’ll be required for a colposcopy”. I had a colposcopy done last year when I had low grade changes. My biopsy thankfully came back clear and I was discharged. This time felt worse. I wanted a clean bill of health. I didn’t want more people poking around downstairs. But, that wasn’t my reality. And the fear started to sink in.

Getting told you have an abnormal pap doesn’t mean cancer. It can be anything. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have an STD either. Through my intense Googling over the years, I’ve learned that abnormal paps come from a wide variety of cell changes. But most importantly, the pap is there to help screen you for cells that could become cancerous over time. But for many of us, just hearing the word “abnormal” is enough to trigger anxiety. It’s scary. For me, it leads my mind right to a cancer diagnosis. So as I waited for my appointment at the colposcopy clinic, I did my best to keep myself from totally panicking.

The first step was telling people about the results, and seeking support. I couldn’t keep this to myself. I needed to know I wasn’t alone, and that if things went south that people would be there for me. I needed to hear stories of how others went through similar situations and are OK. My friends were amazing at helping me to stay calm.

It also helped to remind myself that this is exactly why women get pap smears, and why they’re so important. We do this so we can catch things early. Now, I know sometimes people aren’t always so lucky. I know someone right now going through treatment for cervical cancer and she did all the right things. Sadly, life sometimes kicks you in the crotch. I had to just hope that this wouldn’t be my story. I just had to hope that this is just the pap doing its job, and our health care system working in my favour to get early prevention. Therefore there was nothing to fear, because catching it early means not catching it too late. If I wasn’t taking these steps, then yes, I was allowed to worry.

It saddens me to read online stories of how many women are too scared to get their paps done because they fear the results. Or that they avoid their colposcopy for the same reason. Some use the excuse “I am just too busy and keep forgetting”. And assuming “everything is fine” isn’t OK either. I have zero symptoms that would point to me having abnormal results. And this is why I have decided to write about something so personal. We can’t be afraid, or not make time for ourselves ladies. In this case, my anxiety is potentially saving my life because it’s caused me to be diligent about doctor’s appointments. In Canada, especially here in Ontario, we have access to paps covered by our health care system. We are so lucky to have this type of access. We need to be open and honest with ourselves about our reproductive health. Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor and ask about any changes related to your body, or to ask for a checkup if you haven’t had one in awhile. The doctors won’t judge you. They’ve seen it all and you likely don’t have the craziest story to tell. They just want to know how busy your sex life is (or not busy in some cases), if you wear protection, and if you’ve had any changes. This helps them figure out what could potentially be causing any issues. Even if you haven’t had any changes, go get checked if you’re due! And ladies, get the HPV vaccine. You can still get it into your late 20s and 30s. I just had mine done this year because I couldn’t afford it when I was younger. Ask your health benefits provider if it’s covered. Even if it isn’t covered, save up for it, and then claim it on your income tax. It’s worth potentially keeping you protected from the really nasty strains of HPV. But please stop being scared. Please put yourself first. And let’s talk to each other. Keep each other reassured, and share our similar stories. It’s really a shame that so many women feel they can’t openly talk about their reproductive health with each other.

So time ticked on for me, and as the day approached for my exam, I went through a lot of emotions. I was ashamed if it was HPV related. I felt dirty. I was scared. What if it was more serious than the pap let on? I was anxious. I just wanted it over with so I could get rid of these cells. I was worried that if I did need LEEP or laser treatment, that I wouldn’t be able to exercise for a month. I am already struggling with losing weight, the last thing I needed was a month of not being able to bike or run. I was depressed. How did I let this happen to myself? But I was also hopeful, which is an emotion I usually don’t have leading up to a medical appointment. That really shows how far I’ve come. I was hopeful that the doctor would reassure me and tell me I wasn’t sick.

Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. I was told the abnormal cells were quite a small area, and the doctor even told me he thought it was a stretch to call them “pre-cancerous”. He took a sample for biopsy. We’ve set an appointment six weeks from now for a LEEP procedure, but he feels confident that I won’t need it. I feel so much relief. Now, I just get to wait for my biopsy results, and I feel hopeful. And again, I often reflect on those who aren’t so lucky. Female reproductive cancer is no laughing matter. Getting clear test results just reminds me that along my journey to good mental health a strong part of that is embracing the health and wellness I have now, because anything can happen and one day I may not be so lucky. One day I will face adversity. So I need to enjoy myself, be happy, and be vigilant now.

And because things could have turned out so differently, doesn’t mean you (or gentlemen, someone you care about) shouldn’t go. Yes, I get scared about my health. I fear death. But I will never keep myself from getting help. My fear of not knowing far outweighs my fear of finding out.

Take care of yourself ladies. And if you need to talk, I am always here.

Thank you for reading as always. If you want to learn more about pap smears, their results, and next steps I found this website to be very helpful. But always talk to your doctor. If you don’t have one and are a resident of Ontario, you can get on a waiting list here

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