How Your Awkward Pap Smear Could Really Be A Blessing In Disguise
There are a lot of difficult aspects about being a woman. Society demands a million different things from us.
We demand even more from ourselves.
We have a host of health risks our X-chromosome counterparts don't have to worry about.
Pregnancy aside, at times, it can feel like our bodies are actually out to hurt us.
One of the more intrusive, uncomfortable aspects of womanhood is the good ol' pap smear.
Do you go freshly-waxed? Is that weird?
How untidy is appropriate? Why does the doctor insist on making conversation?
Oh God, is that the same lube my boyfriend has?
Oh f*ck. I forgot how much it hurts.
When it's over, you breathe a sigh of relief, wriggle back into your jeans and forget about it for another two years.
What you don't expect is to get a call-back from your doctor. You don't expect to need another smear, and you don't expect to hear the words "unusual cells."
I waited for four days for the results of the second smear. The cells were still unusual.
I was referred to the hospital for a colposcopy, which is a fancy term for burning the sh*t out of your cervix while you're still awake.
Prop your legs in the stirrups and take a deep breath. Here we go.
I waited six months for another smear. The cells were still unusual.
I was referred to the hospital again.
I waited two days for an appointment.
I sat in the waiting room with my mother, both of us nervously flicking through the pages of an old New Idea magazine.
I stared at the words on the door: Gynecological Oncologist.
My life had taken me so many places in my 23 short years, but I never thought it would take me here.
The surgeon was the best in the state. He was also a typical surgeon.
He spoke to me in matter-of-fact tones about cervical cancer, surgery, the risks of ongoing complications and potential, future, pre-term labor.
He asked if I had already had children. He did not hide his disappointment when I replied with a "no."
He booked me in for surgery the following day.
The prognosis was good. It was one stage before becoming malignant.
The surgery was a success, a completely painful success.
The margins of the chunk they removed from my cervix were clear. They had gotten all of it.
A bag-load of painkillers later, I set a review with the oncologist for six months after.
I breathed a sigh of relief. What a scare.
The six-month smear was clear. They put me back to yearly pap smears.
Year one was fine. Year two was fine.
Year three, at age 26, I found myself sitting once again in that all-too-familiar waiting room, looking at the words on the wall.
This time, the situation was absolutely terrifying. The cells had returned.
My body was allowing this cancer to grow.
The surgeon asked if I'd had children yet, and the pity was evident again when I still replied with "no."
I thought about how my mother had made me feel guilty because I had not yet spawned.
I looked him in the eye and told him that when he got in there, if it wasn't looking good, he should take the whole damned thing out.
I'm not coming back. No cervix was worth this.
Fortunately, he didn't need to.
Again, with another chunk removed, the margins were clear. I'm now up to year two with clean smear results.
I still go every year, and I still wait by the phone for my results.
I shy away from babies, as I have convinced myself it could be a very difficult journey when the time comes.
I've built an incredible, full life, filled with people and things I adore.
But when I hear other women moaning about or putting off their twice-yearly pap smears, I hate I can no longer be so naïve.
If it weren't for pap smears, I would not be here today.
Go to your doctor. Get your smears.
Bite your tongue through the awkwardness, get your all-clear results and forget about them for two years.
Your life is worth it.
If you're facing something similar to this, you're not alone.
A surprising number of women I've opened up to about this have had similar experiences.
Catch it early and keep on top of your check-ups. This will one day become just another piece of the beautiful puzzle that is you.
Be kind to yourself.