Wednesday, April 15, 2009


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.


Amber said...

I will be praying for good PAP results! Please keep us posted!

Leeann said...


First off, big hugs (((((((((((((NATALIE)))))))))))))))))).

Second, you are absolutely right. I am one of those non-rule-following women who don't go to any doctor regularly. BUT you will be pleased to know that I have changed my ways. This year I have been to the dentist and the Gyn. I still have to do the regular doctor. I promise to go more regularly.

Thank you for sharing that with us. I will pray for you that all is just fine.

Jane Copes (Professor Sepoc) said...

AMEN! And I hide my underwear under the rest of my clothes too. J

Stephanie D. said...

Delurking here to say... my prayers will be with you for good news from your biopsy.

Secondly, I am right there with you sistah... I am fanatical about pap smears, mammograms, drs check-ups, etc. Ladies - take care of yourself... life it too short to waste a moment of it just because you were embarrassed or "too busy"!

Great post Natalie!

in a world surrounded by men said...

First of all, I will be praying for great results from the biopsy.

Secondly, funny post about a serious topic. I love the "where is my underwear?" Dern funny lady!

Thirdly, oh girlfriend, we have just entered a new phase of our friendship. Embarassing my friends in this subject matter is what I do!!!

Has Erin not told you???

Of course, I follow Ashley's lead.

You're in for it, my friend!

Hugs and keep us posted.

1dreamr said...

1. I'll be sending you hugs and praying that the biopsy results are good. Please let us know as soon as you can....

2. I thought I was the only one that hid her underwear under her clothes!!

3. Thank you for this reminder. I'm *very* ashamed to say that it's been several years since my last mammogram. Yes, I KNOW..., I'm the big breast cancer awareness advocate... have raised loads of money for the cause, my dear friend died of bc at age 39. And, I suck - I put myself on the back burner on this one; something I swore I'd never do. Too busy worrying about what everyone else needs. But, I'm admitting my stupidity here today and promising myself that I'll call and make an appointment asap...

Anonymous said...

Praying for good results for you. I think every woman hides her underwear. I hate the mammogram worse than the pap. I have told my husband that I think men should have to go to the dr. once a year and let them "check them out". I have to admit I do skip it once in a while but if I skip it one year I have to go the next.


Mamasita said...

Great PSA! Definitely a well needed reminder.

Please keep us posted.

Musings from Me said...

So true. Sending good thoughts to you for a good result.

I hate the whole annual check AND the mammogram, but it is so necessary.

Oh, and why is it that I wear the rattiest looking bra to my appointment. So, I have to worry no only about hiding the bra but about the dr. wondering why I can't buy a better bra.

sportzmom said...

I will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers. I had to laugh about hiding your underwear. I thought I was the only one who put my underwear and bra under my folded up pants. Oh, and I'm calling my gyn today...I am a few months late in getting my yearly exam. Thanks for the push!

Karen Jewson in England said...

Hi Nats. We are thinking and praying for you for next week.
You do make me laugh..Wow the hiding of the underwear seems to be such a common concern with us Ladies, what is it with us and our underwear. (Knickers or pants as we call them)Even when I went into hospital to have my first child I didn't want to take my knickers off..the midwife said it might make giving birth even more dificult so I relented.

You are so right to draw attention to this very important test. In the England we do not have the luxury of having a 'smear test' (nasty name for it I think)every year. Depending on your age you may only have one every 3-5 years. Although that is being reviewed now as a result of pressure from the public and the work Jade Goody has done to highlight the situation. Jade also igorned some of her appointments as she was 'too busy' and has paid the biggest price there is. I read somewhere that while cervical cancer has an 83 per cent survival rate, it kills more than 800 women each year because it isn't picked up in time and is the second most common form of the disease for women under 35 after breast cancer. Not sure if those figures just relate to the UK or not.

PLEASE PLEASE Listen to Natalie's advise.

Anonymous said...

Belatedly, I had my peek-and-poke last week...still waiting on the results. Next week, I have my second (and, also, belated) mammogram.

I would rather a peek-and-poke over a mammogram. I can go to my happy place so much more easily than when the radiology gal's face is next to mine and she's lifting my parts onto a plate of plexiglass!

I'll be praying for you!


Emily said...

(Clap-Clap-Clap) Great job of spreading the word Natalie-we all need to hear it and be reminded. Our prayers will be with you as you await the results.

Kristie said...

Oh, Natalie, I know you turned this into a good deed of public service announcements, but firstly, please know I am putting you on my prayer list for good results next week.

I also consider myself modest, but its not because of my private parts. Its because I'm fat and I don't want anyone to see THAT so I stay covered up. The pap and mammo don't bother me at all, and I faithfully get them regularly .... but I hate the dentist with every fiber of my being. I'll probably die of cavity cancer. (is there such a thing??)

Marisa said...

Prayers for you! Great post.
I hide my underwear and I do go every year!!!

Anonymous said...

Prayers for good results, Natalie!!!

Mary Z

P.S. I'm w/the majority who makes sure to tuck away my undies and bra. :)

kimi said...

I just walked through this with a girlfriend of mine. I "forced" (talked her into, guilted her into...however you want to put it!) her to go have a Pap after about 5 years. She'd had abnormal smears and wanted to hide her head. I told he she needed to LIVE for her 2 boys....even threatened they'd end up living with her in-laws (yeah, I'm ruthless like that!).

Long story short...she's okay. This time.

Thank you for writing about something so personal and I'm praying yours will be okay too. If we don't make our girlfriends do the "yucky" stuff in life, who will?!





Robin said...

Big hugs and prayers for good results. My girlfriend went through much of what you did 10 years ago (including the high-risk pregnancy).

Kudos to you for pestering us all. I am pretty consistent about this stuff, but only cuz I don't let myself slip once. (Good thing they won't give me the pills without a visit!)

I would like to add that we girls also need to make sure that our docs are looking at more than our plumbing. PAPs are very important, but so is cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, etc., etc. I know too many women who do see the gynocologist, but skip all the other health maintenance. Take the time for all of it!