There are a lot of trialling 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 counter parts 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 fuck… I forgot how much that hurts!
When it’s over, you breathe a sigh of relief, wriggle back into your jeans and forget about it for another 2 years.
What you don’t expect us to get a call back from your doctor. You don’t expect to need another smear, 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 an colposcopy, which is a fancy term for ‘burning the shit out of your cervix while you’re still awake’. Prop your legs on the stirrups, 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 old New Idea magazines. I stared at the words on the door… ‘Gynaecological Oncologist’. My life had taken me so many places in 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, potential future pre term labours. He asked if I already had children, and did not hide his disappointment when I replied with ‘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 pain killers later, I set a review with the oncologist for six months later. I breathed a sigh of relief. What a scare.
The six month smear was clear. They put me back to yearly. Year 1 was fine. Year 2 was fine. At 26, year 3, I found myself sitting once again in that all too familiar waiting room, looking at the words on the wall. This time, it 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 this time the pity was evident when I still replied with ‘No’. And I thought my mother made me feel guilty about how I had not yet spawned. I looked him in the eye and told him that when he gets in there, if it’s not looking good, to take the whole damned thing. 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 2 with clean smear results. I still go every year, I still wait by the phone for my results. I shy away from babies, having convinced myself when the time comes it could be a very difficult journey. I’ve built an incredible, full life with people and things I adore. But when I hear other women moaning about, or putting off, their two-yearly smears, I hate that I can no longer be so naive.
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 and forget about it for two years. Your life is worth it.
And 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 something similar. Catch it early, keep on top of your check ups, and this will one day become just another piece of the beautiful puzzle that is you.
Be kind to yourself.