Side note: I’m eating porridge (gluten free obvs) with coconut milk, cinnamon spiced apple and smooshed banana. IT IS SO DAMN GOOD!
So the last time I wrote on here I’d just had a pre cervical cancer scare – a week after the EndoActive conference. Crikey what a come down! I really was in a glass cage of emotion. Since then I have been back to see my surgeon for a follow-up appointment on June 19 to discuss my results. As I said in my last post, my colposcopy showed pre-cancerous cells on my cervix. It was really scary at the time and I was worried. It just came as such a shock because I always expect investigative medical procedures (including both my surgeries for endo) to come back negative and for all the fuss to be for nothing. Yet they always seem to wind up quite serious! The good news about this one was that by the time my results came back, I’d already had the procedure to laser off the abnormal cells and there was nothing left to do. Despite the initial shock I can honestly say that after my follow-up appointment I’m feeling surprisingly at ease and really not at all concerned.
We are so lucky here in Australia and especially in a big city like Sydney to have the medical care that we do. So so lucky. My doctor told me that he used to work in India and diagnose a bunch of people with cervical cancer every day. Here, relatively few people are diagnosed within an entire year.
According to Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF):
- In 2009, 631 Australian women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and in 2009, 152 women died. (AIHW)
- About 5% of Pap tests are diagnosed as being abnormal.
- In 2009, 2,086,583 Pap tests were conducted and of these 112,000 were diagnosed as being abnormal of which 84,000 were low-grade abnormalities and 28,000 were high-grade abnormalities or cervical cancer.
From writing publicly about this experience I’ve learned that having the pre-cancerous cells is common. Like, extremely common. It is scary to hear that word, the C word – cancer – but just because you have pre-cancerous cells does NOT necessarily mean you’re moments away from having cancer. So if this happens to you, breathe. Don’t panic. You do not need to start saying goodbyes. In my mind I had imagined that any mention of the word ‘cancer’ – even if it was pre-cancer – meant you’re in trouble. This may be true for certain types of cancer and I’m by no means saying it isn’t to be taken seriously but in this case, finding abnormal cells early on means that they will be swiftly removed and that will be that. As my doctor explained it to me there is usually a long way to go between pre-cervical cancer and cervical cancer. Years even. Phew! Great to know.
I published my last post on our EndoActive Facebook page and from the amount of comments underneath I could see that so many other women had gone through exactly what I had – even women in my close family. I was actually stunned at what a common story it was. But in sharing their story those women also revealed that, years later, they’re perfectly healthy and everything is under control. I guess that with a ‘scare’ such as this it forces you to be vigilant about your health and careful about check-ups so that it doesn’t happen again.
Fortunately for us in Australia we are encouraged to be regularly screened every 2 years with Pap tests so that if those pre-cancer cells are picked up they are treated and thankfully never have the opportunity to progress into cervical cancer. And so those ‘cancer scares’ so many of us have had mostly remain just that. A scare.
So what now? Well, my doctor has assured me that all the abnormal cells that were there are now gone. Done. Finished. Zapped. Laser beeeeamed. Adios. In 3 months I’ll go back to him for another colposcopy which he will perform the normal way – is his rooms rather than in hospital under anaesthetic. If any of those cells have returned, they’ll be zapped away again. In 6 months I’ll have a third colposcopy and then one each year after that instead of a regular Pap test to continue making sure my cerveza is sweeto burrito. And by that I mean make sure my cervix is ok.
Truly I feel like with all these future screenings practically booked into my calendar and the watchful eye of several wonderful doctors that I have nothing to worry about. I’m confident that I am in such good hands and under such close supervision that even if those cells were to return, they wouldn’t have time to cook long enough to turn into something more serious.
I feel extremely lucky that unlike women in developing countries or even women in this country who aren’t within the health care system, I will not slip through the cracks. Even if I forgot all my future appointments or couldn’t be bothered going to my next one, I would be hounded with phone calls, messages, possibly emails and definitely letters reminding me – urging me to come in for a check up. Many of my girlfriends have experienced this incessant communication and have (to my horror and now theirs) ignored the phone calls, trashed the reminder letters and put off their looming or overdue pap for a better day.
Let’s face it. You will not spring out of bed one morning, stretch those arms above your head, whip open the curtain, let the sun stream all over you body while your face relaxes into a post-coital smile, exhale into downward dog and say “ahhh today is the day I choose to have my doctor lube me up, place my fists under my butt and have a speculum pry open my vagina.” That day will never come. Girls, there is never a good day for a pap test. There are worse days, but there’ll never be a good one. So just bite the bullet and rip into it.
Something I learned from talking to girlfriends about this is that they were either
- unaware the pap tests were designed to pick up cancer (and if they weren’t concerned about having an STD they didn’t see the point of having one) OR
- under the impression that the cervical cancer shot we received in high school protected them from cervical cancer and therefore felt they were exempt from needing pap tests and not at risk
When I informed them that both of these assumptions were wrong they were horrified. I was equally horrified because I’d been living under the same false truths for years. It dawned on me that so many of have no idea what a Pap test really is – despite either having them or deciding we don’t need them. I personally have never bothered to Google it until now and I bet you haven’t either so for the health and safety of your cervix people, READ ON as I source the critical facts from reputable websites and re-publish them below.
IT IS IMPORTANT OK !
What is a Pap test?
- Pap tests are used to detect changed to the cells of the cervix
- These changes can almost always be treated if found early. WOO!
- A Pap test does NOT automatically test you for STDs (like I thought) You must ASK to be tested
- You should have 1 every 2 YEARS (so book one in if you’re overdue)
- Cervical cancer is one of few cancers that can be largely prevented through screening (Pap tests), yet over a third of women do not have them regularly.
- Most cases of cervical cancer take at least 10 years to develop. Any changes that are missed on one Pap test are usually picked up two years later, well before they become a problem
- Regular Pap tests can prevent around 9/10 cervical cancers and remain the best way for women to protect themselves against the disease
What if your test is abnormal?
- An abnormal Pap test or Pap Smear result means that some of the cells of the cervix differ in some way from the normal cells.
- It very rarely means cervical cancer.
- Of those requiring treatment, the vast majority can be treated easily and successfully.
So how do you get tested for STDs?
- You must ask your health care provider to give you an STD test
- Some people assume they will be tested for STDs when they have an exam for another reason, such as when a woman has a Pap testor when a man has a physical. This is not true — you will not automatically be tested for STDs.
You guys, it is believed that over 300,000 women a year worldwide die of cervical cancer, which means a woman dies every 2 minutes. In developing countries where vaccines and screening are usually not available, cervical cancer is one of the leading cancer killers of women. (Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation) We have the screenings available here but you have to make use of them in order to not become a statistic.
Just a reminder, having a Pap test every two years could save your LIFE!
Think about your vajayjay ladies. Treat her with respect. Would you discourage your son or daughter if you had one from getting regularly checked? No way. So lead by example and take care of that bod. Treat yo’self to a Pap test today!
To find out more about gynaelogical cancer, check out ANZGOG’s website here. They are a wonderful organisation right here in Sydney.
(I wish I could say this was a sponsored post but it isn’t. I’m just on an educational rampage. If you are reading this and would like to sponsor me, I would be fine with that.)