Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Smear Fear: How Regular Pap Screenings Can Be the Key to Your Health

As women we endure all sorts of discomforts. Some of them are self-imposed, mind you. Waxing comes to mind, three inch heels, the girdle. If aliens were to observe us they might be forgiven for thinking of these things as some sort of torture, yet we ladies don't even bat our perfectly curled, mascarad lashes at them.

We are fearless in the face of beauty.

On the other hand, there are some facts of life to which we simply cringe. Strange looking spiders, taking out the rubbish, appointments to see the gynaecologist.

Yes, that's right. The dreaded Pap smear - the thing we all know we are supposed to have regularly but somehow find ways to avoid for as long as possible. And why not - we feel healthy enough, we feel young enough. And anyway, there's no one there to remind us about it except ourselves. And so we delay.

The thing is, regular Pap smears are the only thing that stands between us and, if luck is against you, preventing cervical cancer. That's right - the C-word. But it's not as scary as you think.

Cervical cancer has almost no symptoms in its early stages, yet is one of the most preventable types of cancer out there. By having an annual Pap smear, you and your doctor are keeping track of the health of your cervix, and monitoring any changes that could, if left untreated, lead to cancer.

This is healthcare in its truest form - not "sickcare". Modern medicine is so advanced these days that we can get a second chance, which is exactly what happened to me.

The Pap smear is the first step in identifying any abnormal cells in your cervix. If any are found, the level of the abnormality is graded from CIN 1 and 2, up to 3. After finding ways to delay my Pap smear (I skipped one... oh, ok maybe two), I landed up with a CIN 3. This is considered to be a pre-cancerous stage.

There's that C-word again, and I panicked. I am in my early-30's and not ready for children- just yet. My future and all of its never-to-be-fulfilled dreams swept before my eyes, and I felt as if I had just missed the bus on the road to my life.

But I needn't have worried.

For some reason, we ladies keep this kind of experience to ourselves when it happens. Only when we have a friend or a relative encounter the same bump in the road do we feel it necessary to share our story. The thing is, my situation is apparently more common than I thought - which is to say I thought I was the only one on the planet going through it - and I took great comfort in speaking to other women and realising that they hadn't missed their bus, and there was no reason for me miss mine either.

I went to see a specialist, who performed a colposcopy- which is a scary-sounding word for an relatively-nothing exam. A solution is washed over your cervix that reveals any funny-bits for closer examination through a sort of magnifying glass. The abnormal area can then be observed, and in some cases a biopsy will be taken for lab testing. In my case I was scheduled for the LLETZ procedure, a minor surgery where the abnormal cells are removed using an electro-magnetic current that requires relatively little recovery time. In some cases, if all of the abnormal cells are removed in the LLETZ procedure, this is the only treatment that is required.

I was still a nervous wreck when it came time to check into the hospital. I arrived at 6AM, along with all of the other soon-to-be-patients scheduled for surgery that morning. It was easy to see which of us were the sitting ducks and which were there for support. Those of us on the Ducks Team sat with pinched smiles transfixed on our faces while those on the Support Team looked around aimlessly whilst alternating between big, greedy yawns and slurping at their coffee.

I had never wished to be slurping a coffee more in all of my life.

Once I checked in I was shown to my bed for the morning, my backless gown and the most gigantic pair of disposable panties ever known to man. One size does not fit all, it must be said. As they wheeled me down to theatre I felt rather silly- afterall, I still had the use of my legs- but with the backless gown and giant panties, walking myself was clearly out of the question.

Once in theatre I looked up at the ceiling while things were passed over me, just like the movies, before the anaesthetist- who goes by the name of Pieter Uys (this is not a joke)- demonstrated that he was in fact an anaesthetist and not the cross-dressing political satirist that goes by the same name. This was of course a great relief to me, given the circumstances.

When I woke up it was all over and I had no recollection of anything since my introduction to Doctor Uys. I had a fabulous nap, snacked on a cheese and cucumber sandwich and caught up on emails whilst in recovery. A nip here and a tuck there, my procedure had been a complete success. I walked out the door a few hours later a brand new woman.

I was fearless in the face of health.

The Pap smear is a screening test used to detect abnormal cells in your cervix, including the earliest signs of cancer. If you are sexually active or over the age of 21, you should have regular Pap smears. Talk to your doctor about how often is right for you.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to talk about this important subject and sharing your personal story! Best of luck!

  2. Hi Theresa

    Poor you. So cool of you to put this up on your blog. Eleven years ago I had an abnormal pap smear, CIN 3. I had to have a Colposcopy, all results were fine. I had a pap smear every six month after that.

    Last year I had again an abnormal pap smear, CIN 2. Exactly ten years later. I had the LLETZ procedure done. It is unnerving me, and I keep asking myself why. I reckon this is life, there are good times and then there are the bad times. Chin up Theresa, all the very best to you.


  3. hi Theresa,
    I started a blog a year ago but only just started writing in it about a week ago!! so now I can also follow my blogger friends a lot easier! I will message you in FB.
    I appreciate your candor here, I am soooo glad it was precancerous and you got it taken care of.
    the one scene was totally a Jack Nicholson moment huh?