Before a serious health scare I experienced, I certainly didn’t treat my annual appointment at the gynaecologist as a precious gift I give myself. It was more like an item I dreaded having to check off my to-do list. That all changed after my annual exam about 10 years ago.
10 years ago I had gone in for a routine appointment at the gynaecologist, just as I had every year since I was 19 years old (as recommended by my physician), only this time a month early because of scheduling. I had all the routine tests done: breast exam, pelvic exam, smear test (pap), and STD testing. Everything seemed fine and I awaited a call from the doctor the next week to confirm the results of the smear and STD tests.
When I received a call a few days later, the doctor was concerned because she had found abnormal cells on my smear test and wanted me to come in as soon as possible for further testing. I remember feeling shocked and confused because I had no symptoms and had always had normal tests. I was hoping it was just a mistake and a false positive result. On the contrary, I was also very aware of the possibility that the result could show cancerous cells since it was a cancer screening test.
Cancer had never seriously crossed my mind as something that could happen to me. Sure, I’d thought about it, just like I’m sure most people have at some point. It was different this time, because the possibility of cancer could have been real for me.
Following the abnormal smear test, my doctor’s recommendation was to do a colposcopy and a biopsy if needed. A colposcopy is a test that allows the doctor to see a more magnified view of the cervix and further identify abnormal cells. It takes longer than a smear test and is a bit more uncomfortable. During my colposcopy, the doctor ordered a biopsy to be done. She explained that the cells she was seeing were abnormal and a sample needed to be taken for testing.
At this time I knew something was wrong. The doctor and her nurse were comforting me as they knew I was scared now, but they reassured me this was a routine test. I remember fighting hard to hold back tears of fear and confusion as I stared up at the poster on the ceiling, hoping to distract myself.
The biopsy caused a sudden, sharp pain that soon became a deep throbbing sensation coupled with menstrual-like cramping that lingered for 30 minutes after the exam was over. The doctor sent the biopsy to the lab, and I went home and again awaited the results.
The days of waiting for the biopsy results were agonising. I didn’t know anyone else this had happened to so I felt isolated in my panic and fear. It also felt deeply shameful to be affected in such an intimate area of my body. I turned to the internet where my research sent me on a roller coaster. All I found were medical journals and articles, some that reassured me and some created more worry. I called my mother who comforted me, explaining there was nothing I could do and it was only going to make me feel worse to agonise over it. I knew she was right, and over the next several days, I did my best to go about life as normal.
Then, the phone call came and the doctor asked me to come in right away to discuss the results and next steps. At her office the next day, she informed me that I had some severe dysplastic cells that needed to be removed or they would likely turn into cancer eventually. I felt an overwhelming sense of relieve that I didn’t have cancer yet, but was still shocked and confused how this could happen without any warning signs. This was also the first time I’d heard the word “cancer” from my doctor.
She further explained that she would perform a LEEP procedure, which meant she would cut out the dysplastic cells while I was under twilight anesthesia. She explained that this procedure is highly effective, but does carry some risks such as scarring and trouble getting pregnant. The choice was easy for me to do the procedure. I was reassured that I had done the right thing by having the routine smear test done to catch it at a treatable and preventive stage.
I booked the LEEP procedure a few days later and everything went as planned. The twilight anesthesia was easy for me to recover from and didn’t cause any nausea. I had light cramping for a few hours and some light bleeding afterwards for a day. Full recovery was a quick six weeks later when I went back for a follow up exam. The doctor was very pleased with the procedure and I was ordered to have a smear test done at 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months. All of these came back normal and I resumed smear tests on a yearly basis.
Since the LEEP procedure, all of my smear tests have been normal. I make an appointment every year with my gynaecologist for a full exam, and treat this as a precious gift I give myself. Thankfully, my journey ended on a healthy note, and I can attribute it to being diligent about preventative care and prioritising my health.