OK, I've debated for a few days about posting what I'm about to post here because, well, it's personal and talks about female body parts. My family's mouths will drop open in perfect "Os" when they realize what I'm posting about because I've always been so overly modest that it makes them laugh and has been a family joke for years.
I used to panic in the fitting rooms at department stores if I thought my mother wasn't holding the door shut tight enough. Someone might see me in my skivvies, after all. Going into a store and buying tampons? Unthinkable. If I had to do it myself, I buried them under everything else in the cart and searched frantically for a female cashier (wait, I still do that). Into my 20s, my Mom and Tara would try to make my blush by spelling out S-E-X and then laughing at my discomfort.
Yes, I am modest. I will always be modest. But there are times when you throw modesty out the window. This is one of those times.
So here goes.
About 10 ½ years ago, before kids, I went in for that good old yearly “woman” exam. Don’t you just love those? No? Me either. But I’ve always gone regularly because, you know, that’s what you should do. And I’m pretty much a rule follower.
So at this particular exam, I had an abnormal pap smear. My first ever. They did another one. Abnormal. And yet another. Abnormal. And finally, a biopsy that revealed highly aggressive pre-cancerous cells—a precursor to cervical cancer. See? We’re talkin’ private parts here. I’m blushing.
Anyway, the cells were aggressive enough that my ob/gyn at the time said that if I had already had children, she would recommend an immediate hysterectomy. But good grief, I was 31 years old and we were just getting ready to start a family.
There were some different options, all with different risk factors. Eamonn and I discussed the fact that we might have to adopt. We were fine with that. We definitely went through all of the options before making a decision.
Ultimately, instead of a hysterectomy, I had something called a LEEP/CONE procedure where I had surgery to remove the “bad” cells from my cervix. The area affected was pretty big—big enough that my first pregnancy was treated as high risk, and I had to have an internal exam every single time I went to the ob/gyn during my pregnancy. Ugh. That’s a lot of checkin’ out of the parts. Plus, I had to go more often than a “typical” pregnancy. Instead of once a month, I went every three weeks. And, because I was this interesting specimen, the doctor was always asking if med students, residents and the guy who filled the snack machine in the waiting room could take a gander at my parts. No lie. A lot of people looked at my parts. You’d think I’d be slightly less modest after all of this gandering, but no. At least I didn’t know any of them who were taking a look up there. About the time some of my friends were delivering their babies, guys from our high school class were becoming doctors and, oh yes, happened to be on call the night my friends went into labor. I think I would have just shriveled up with embarrassment.
But I digress.
In the end, I carried Declan for 38 weeks before I had an emergency c-section because he was breach. Out he came--all 9 lbs. 10 ounces of him. Yes, I’m grateful for the c-section. None of the complications they worried about ever developed.
Then 2 ½ years later, along came Finn. Also a c-section.
Frankly, as time went on, I always went to my yearly exam, but I pretty much forgot about those abnormal pap smears and the surgery. We had other types of cancer to worry about anyway. When I would go for my annual exam, I never worried that the results would be abnormal. My biggest concern was whether or not I had shaved my legs or had remembered to hide my underwear under my clothes. Because how embarrassing to have the doctor see my underwear. Never mind that she is peering at my female innards. Where did I leave my underwear?????
And then suddenly, this winter, there was Jade Goody, all over the news with her cervical cancer. Not sure who Jade Goody is? Well, neither was I until about January or so. She was a reality TV star in the UK who was suddenly all over the international news because last summer she learned she had cervical cancer. She died in March. By my calculations, that’s about seven months.
Just a bit of a subtle reminder, don’t you think?
In March, I went in for my annual exam. And you guessed it—abnormal. Sigh.
On Monday, I had a biopsy. I’ll get the results next week and hear what my options are.
But my point here after this huge long story and a few random ramblings, isn’t to make you worry about me or make you feel sorry for me. No, I want to scare the crap out of you. Seriously. After I had my original surgery, I had several friends confess to me that they hadn’t had a pap smear in five years. One hadn’t been in 10 years. I don’t want to be mean or anything, but that’s frickin’ stupid. Don’t do it again.
It’s true that cervical cancer is a relatively slow growing cancer, but don't you dare use that as an excuse not to go get your pap smear. Because it wasn’t slow growing in Jade Goody’s case. Cervical cancer can be treated—-but it needs to be discovered early, and it can be with a pap smear.
I may be crazy, but 10 minutes of embarrassing discomfort once a year sounds infinitely better than chemo, radiation or, let’s face it, dying. Dying from something that has a lot of treatment options.
So there you have it. Yes, I’m embarrassed to write about my parts, but if it makes just one of you remember to schedule your exam, I’ll be happy. I’ll be the Lance Armstrong of cervical cancer. Only slightly less athletic.
PS: And while you’re at it, get a mammogram, too.