The Importance of Routine Pap Smears

As women, we have a lot of working parts…down there. With all those amazing working parts, sometimes a glitch, or unwanted visitor can happen.

According to The American Cancer Society, all women, beginning at the age of 21, should begin cervical cancer screening; women from ages 21-29 should have a Pap test done every 3 years. During this age range, no routine testing is done for HPV (human papilloma virus), unless there are abnormal cells found in Pap smear results.

There are hundreds of different strains of HPV, but the two main strains known to cause cervical cancer are 18 & 16. While our body’s immune system is able to rid itself of HPV more often than not, sometimes it sticks around.

In December 2019, I went in for my routine Pap smear. I’ve always been very diligent about keeping up with my routine exams, but it had been close to 4 years since my last Pap smear.

All of my previous Pap smears had come back normal, and I didn’t think it would be any different this time around. However, it was. And thank God it was. This time, under the care of a different doctor, he had requested I be screened for HPV 16 & 18. I’m assuming this was due to my age, as this seems to be medical protocol, from what I’ve researched.

My results came back: I was positive for HPV 18.

The diagnosis made me feel so icky. “HPV is a sexually transmitted infection!” I thought to myself. My doctor reassured me that it was very normal, but to investigate further he was going to send me to a gynecologist.

Now, I just want to say, if you have tested positive for HPV, there’s no reason to think less of yourself. Approximately 90% of all sexually active people will be infected with HPV, but most cases clear up on their own.

After a consultation to go over my Pap results with my gynecologist, he advised that a colposcopy with a biopsy would be best to make sure there were no precancerous and/or cancerous cells. During my colposcopy, he told me he didn’t see anything to be concerned about, that my cervix looked normal and he didn’t anticipate anything abnormal showing up on the biopsy, but that would be for the lab to determine. So we scheduled an appointment 2 weeks from my biopsy to come back in to go over the results and do my IUD implantation.

One week had passed and my gynecologist’s office called me–they wanted me to come in early to go over my biopsy results. Queue the panic. Unfortunately, they never want you to come in early if the results are good.

I had two days to go over every possible bad scenario in my head. I did pretty well, shutting down my negative thinking and just giving it to God. But I’m human, and I had my moments of despair.

Finally, the morning arrived for my appointment. I just wanted to rip off the band-aid. My doctor came in, then quickly excused himself to go get a pen. That was the longest 30 seconds of my life. When he returned, he said, “I just want to let you know, you don’t have cancer.” A huge wave of relief came over my body. “However, you do have precancerous cells that need to be removed.”

He went on to explain to me that normal cells go through three phases prior to becoming cancer cells–mine was in the final phase. “This is why we stress to women the importance of getting regular Pap smears. You’re an example of how important it is to catch it early.”

I can’t explain to you how incredibly thankful I am. I truly believe God was looking out for me. I had been putting off my Pap smear for various reasons (i.e. out of town, too busy), and a nagging, little feeling would occasionally pop up, telling me I needed to make it a priority.

Thankfully, my treatment for this is minimally invasive and I will fully recover. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for others. But early detection is detrimental in preventing cervical cancer. Many years ago, I lost a dear friend to cervical cancer. My heart aches, thinking she could be here today, if only she had kept up with her Pap smears and pelvic exams.

So, to all my ladies, PLEASE do not take your good health for granted, and certainly don’t sleep on it. Go get your Pap smear and make sure you get a pelvic exam at least once a year. Take care of your amazing girl parts.

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