January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
This post is based on my own personal story, I am not a licensed medical professional and the contents of this post are for information only and should not be taken as medical advice.
The pressure was on, really ON! We had been married for 7 years already and I was in my early 30’s. We both had stable jobs and had recently purchased our “dream home” in our “dream neighborhood”. Life on the outside look just perfect inside was a completely different story.
My story starts in September of 2013. I had gone through a rollercoaster the previous 9 months, which included my Dad being in the hospital for 45 days between December of 2012 and January of 2013. Having to deal with all the worries and emotions of potentially losing him, along with a completely destroyed home (literally, we were in the middle of an entire home renovation we were doing ourselves when my Dad ended up in the hospital) and balancing a full-time job all at the same time.
The stress had me weighing under 100 lbs, but somehow we all made it through in one piece, we conquered what I thought was one of the hardest times of my life. The summer was winding down and the conversation kept coming up. Are we ready to have kids? We think is time.
In my hear,t I felt this could be a huge mistake, but as I had done in the past, I dismissed the feeling as just fear of the new challenge.
That September I went to a new OB/GYN practice as I had been researching the best medical care in case I did become pregnant. During my appointment, the nurse practitioner asked me about the results from my previous Pap smear test. I said it all came back normal and if they wanted I could ask my previous doctor to send the results to their office.
She said: there is no need, since your test was good last year, per medical guidelines, we don’t really need to test you again this year – unless you want to.
I figured I was there already so might as well, plus wanted to make sure everything was healthy and good to go before trying to have kids.
A week later I received a call from the doctor’s office. Something was not right and they wanted me to get additional testing – the Pap smear came back “abnormal”.
Abnormal? What does that mean? We were all ready to go and start trying to have kids, what do you mean that I need a different test?
I had so many questions and thoughts going through my head at that moment. I decided to take a deep breath, schedule the next appointment and get the additional test done. I kept repeating to myself that everything was going to be OK, this was just a lab error, or something like that and we can move on with our lives.
A couple of weeks later I got my first colposcopy done. The nurse said I will get a call with the results and should be good to go for another year. Turns out the results still didn’t look good so I needed to get a second colposcopy 6 months later.
We put on hold our plans of trying to have kids and just continued with our lives. At the 6 months mark I got my second colposcopy done and this time the results were even more worrisome. The test came back positive for the pre-cancerous HPV-16 cells, the ones that cause more than 70% of cervical cancer in women.
How can this be? I married my college sweetheart and only guy I had ever been with intimately. Trust me, the whole sex talk my Mom gave me plus all the STD lessons from high school had left me traumatized, I wanted to make sure the person I married was the only person I ever slept with, but that’s unfortunately a whole different story for another time.
On August 6th of 2014 I had a LEEP done. This was a fairly simple and quick procedure, the physical recovery went really quick but the emotional recovery took a lot longer. At the end, my marriage fell apart and I had to reinvent my life at 33. Going through a divorce is never easy, I shared some insights of how I was handling my own process here.
My health came back, the doctor was excited to report that after the procedure most of the impacted area on my cervix had been cleared and my subsequent Pap smear tests have been normal up to this day.
The reasons why I share my story with you today is because I want to bring awareness to women to make their health a priority. I learned 4 main lessons through this whole journey:
- As a patient I have rights, just because medical guidelines in the USA don’t require you to get a Pap smear test done every year if the previous years have all been normal, ASK for one ANYWAY! If I had not asked for mine at that point it is hard to tell where I would be today. Preventive medicine is KEY!
- Make your health a PRIORITY. So many women skip their annual tests (even regular physical exams) because they don’t feel sick and don’t really have time for it. Don’t risk your future because of “not enough time”. Again, make your health a PRIORITY.
- Even if you have had the same partner for years or you haven’t had a partner for a while you should STILL get checked every year. I am not talking about trusting the person you are with or not, I am simply recommending to have all the facts in your hands. Get tested and protect yourself!
- Learn about your hormones, cycles and all things related to women’s health. After my experience, I have learned so much about my menstrual cycle (check out my interview with Cycle Sync expert Laura Charelle) I can now easily predict when something doesn’t feel right and work with my doctor to get the required tests and medicines needed.
On a side note, there may be a link between the extended use of contraceptive pills and cervical cancer, although more research needs to be done on this area (see reference here). Ask questions if you have been using the pill for an extended period of time.
Beyond getting checked annually, I also recommend reducing your environmental and lifestyle risks for cancer. This includes diet, stress factors, exposure to toxic chemicals, and more physical activity in your daily routine.
For more information on defining your own wellness journey, check out my free wellness training here.
For those of you who are going through these procedures, stay strong and feel free to reach out if you would like to chat.