I’m pretty sure that at least 85% of my readership is female, so they’re going to be able to relate to this post. For the men - here’s another fun thing about being a woman in addition to menstrual cycles and giving birth…
Oh, the joy of the pap smear.
Pap smears are a screening tool used to identify abnormal cells or dysplasia in the cervix as a means of early detection for anything troublesome. I’ve been getting paps faithfully every year since my late teens and have never really had any problems. I go to the doctor. I spread my legs. It’s unpleasant. But then it’s over. It’s not my most favourite thing in the world, but I understand why they’re important.
But then this little word came along:
Not typical, usual, or regular; not normal; deviant.
If abnormal is not typical, usual or regular, as well as “not normal”, how am I supposed to feel after having 2 “abnormal” pap smears in the last 6 months? Am I some sort of freakazoid?
After my first abnormal pap in April, my doctor told that we would just redo the pap in 6 months rather than wait the requisite 12 months. He said that if my next pap resulted in another abnormal result that I would be booked in for a colposcopy.
Even though I did some research following my first abnormal, I would be lying if I said I didn’t freak out a little. I’ve been through invasive tests before, and even though a colposcopy is really just a closer look at the cells on your cervix with a possibility for a biopsy, I didn’t feel like having anything be wrong with me.
I calmed down and waited for my colposcopy appointment last Wednesday. Jessie came with me for moral support which was so lovely. (Seriously, not being alone in a hospital waiting room makes such a huge difference – love that gal) I was handed a piece of paper describing the procedure, the potential causes for abnormal pap smears and what to expect following the procedure.
My doctor was awesome. He immediately made me feel well informed, cared for and comfortable. He explained the reason for my appointment and said that my second abnormal wasn’t a total abnormal, but also couldn’t be called a normal so he needed to take a closer look. (I swear he explained that better than I just did) He told me that if he saw anything questionable, that he would be taking a biopsy for further testing. Did you know that the cervix has no pain-carrying nerves? He told me that most women said “ow” after he took the biopsy only to smile and laugh afterward upon realizing that it didn’t actually hurt.
I asked him if “abnormal” was becoming the new normal. He said that it’s estimated that 75% of women in Toronto carry HPV (Human Papillomavirus), which is one of the causes for an abnormal pap smear. HPV can lead to cancer, but most infections don’t cause disease. He followed up this statistic by telling me that he hadn’t seen 75% of women in Toronto in his office, so he couldn’t really say that it had become the new normal.
He did another pap smear (now my 3rd in 6 months), had a look at my cervix and ended up performing a biopsy on an area he said was slightly irregular. He was totally right in saying that it didn’t hurt, and I was actually laughing with the nurse for much of the procedure. He warned me that there might be a bit of bleeding to follow (true story), but that I would be fine in a couple of days. He made an appointment for me to come back in 6 weeks to discuss the results and treatment options if necessary and let me know that I’d be seeing him for another pap in 4 months. The objective is for me to have 3 normals before we move back to the regular once a year pap cycle. I’m glad he’s so awesome, because it seems like we’re going to be spending a lot of quality time together in the next little while.
I’ve been talking to my circle of friends about this and the abnormal pap result is so much more common than I realized. Many young women I know have had abnormal results, and some of those have had subsequent treatment to deal with their dysplasia or abnormal cells. The reassurance from these lovely gals was comforting and great to know that I wasn’t alone in worrying about what was happening with my lady bits. I’m not a freakazoid after all, and even though it was a little scary leading up to the procedure, I recognize how important it is for these screening measures to exist. I’m not sure what to expect when I go back, but I feel confident in my doctor’s ability to communicate the results to me and ensure that I’m well taken care of.
I’m just me. Abnormal and all.
Ever had an abnormal pap? A colposcopy? Treatment? Do you think abnormal is the new norm?