I Don’t Feel Abnormal, Should I?

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:

ab·nor·mal
adj.

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?

abnormal

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.

photo (5)

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.

glasses in the window

I’m just me. Abnormal and all.

Ever had an abnormal pap? A colposcopy? Treatment? Do you think abnormal is the new norm?

8 comments:

Sylvia said...

At 28, I had to change doctors due to insurance. Waited a bit longer than usual but when I went, came back 'abnormal'. Went again in 3 months, yep, 'abnormal'.
did the biopsy, stage 3 cervix cancer. Talk about life changing event.
Out went the cigarettes, diet coke, junk foods. Crappy boyfriends.
After chemo,and 80% cervix removal, I have been cancer free for 20 years. I married a great man, carried 2 strong, lovely boy babies to term, and have continued to have 'normal' pap smears.
When Gardasil was released, I begged all my sisters and sisters-in-law to inoculate their girls. Now, they are giving it to boys and both of mine have had it.
Keep following up Ashley! My oncologist jokes that if you are going to have cancer, cervical is the one to have. But if you don't take care of it, it WILL kill you.

Stephanie said...

I've had numerous abnormal and regular paps- some were abnormal due to clinician fail, meaning that the doctor got a poor sample, but others were as you described them. I've not had to go through the procedure as you have but agreed, so many women I know have that really, I'm almost expecting something along those lines on my next physical on the 20th. Which- get this- took me 9 months to book. Yes, 9 months to book a half hour physical here in Toronto with my regular GP of 14 years. Fingers crossed for your positive results. And I'll keep you posted as well!

Laura Jill said...

I've been there, sister-friend. More than 10 years ago, I had my first abnormal pap, ended up having to get a LEEP procedure on a couple of spots...due, probably to HPV. For a few years after that, I went every 6 months; now I'm back to once a year. All of my paps since then have been normal. So not a big deal that I hadn't really even thought about it until you brought it up.

Sadly, abnormal IS the new normal, so don't neglect your annual exam.

xoxoxoxo

Christine Estima said...

you described the experience more eloquently than i could! i have gotten used to my situation and i deal with it as best i can, it's scary but you're absolutely right when you say we have strength in numbers. so many women suffer through this, that we are never alone in the fight. positive thoughts! love you, brave girl. xx

caitlin said...

It definitely seems like abnormal is the new normal---I hadn't had a pap in several years (bad me!) due to moving around like crazy and also being lazy, but then I started hearing so many stories from girlfriends about abnormal paps and cervical cancer scares--one serious, most not, but still scary. So I finally got around to going to the doctor--and yep, something's odd in that area and I'm booked for a colposcopy in about two weeks. Crazy! Fingers crossed that all is fine--for you, for me, for everyone dealing with this stuff!

Lindsay T said...

I have been in your shoes before too Ash. I had 2 years of abnormal results..5 pap tests in 2 years that were abnormal...abnormal but nothing to be concerned about. Turned out to be mild dyplasia and after a biopsy and 3 normal results after that, everything went back to normal..

Lindsay

Kaitlyn S. C Hatch said...

I've not had an abnormal test but a friend of mine commonly does and she was told that it's because she produces a higher than 'normal' level of mucus. We did some research into this and found that there is very little to define what is a 'normal' level of mucus vs. what is not.

Ultimately I think it's about having a good doctor who can provide you with detailed information. I've spent years trying to find a doctor who I really trust with my pap test. I've only had one who was really good and could explain everything to me in a way which I clearly understood.

pink♥crush said...

Just recently (ie. an hour ago) started reading your blog and I can't stop. I'm addicted.
I'm no stranger to having various (I think I'm up to 9 now in Toronto) doctors poke and prod at my girly parts - I literally had 4 vaginal exams in one month at one point. I so appreciate your reliability and candidness.
Can't wait to keep reading :)