Every month seems to be an awareness month. A ribbon of color is placed somewhere and people talk about it for a week or so and then the awareness fades.
For me though, this month’s cancer awareness is something that hits home for me on a few levels and that is why I talk about it a lot to everyone and anyone who will listen.
September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. This month focuses on women’s cancers: Ovarian, Cervical, Uterine, Vaginal, and Endometrial Cancer.
When I was four months pregnant, it was time for my annual PAP. They took the swab and sent it off. I didn’t think anything of it. I had always had normal test results. I was more focused on my pregnancy and all the other things going on in my life at that time. When I got the call that there were some abnormalities, cervical dysplasia to be exact, I didn’t know what to do, what would come next, or how this would change my life (if at all). These cells themselves are not cancer cells, but when left untreated, they turn into cervical cancer. Early detection of these cells is the most important thing and is what saves hundreds of women’s lives every day.
I was really scared. I was pregnant and things were not 100% ok. Thankfully, I had a great OB/GYN and she and the rest of the doctors at the practice were fantastic. They helped me get through my pregnancy (which was not easy since I ended up with pre-eclampsia) and two months after I had my daughter, I had to have a colposcopy. Not really knowing how to talk to someone about this or even knowing anyone who had gone through this, I was terrified since I am the kind of person who gets afraid of the unknown. I went to the colposcopy procedure, completely nervous, afraid of the potential pain, the side effects, the recovery. Luckily, the procedure wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, just a little mild discomfort but no real pain. It was over relatively quickly. The doctor did the biopsy and then the waiting game began.
Those days, waiting for the results, were the longest days ever. They were most likely compounded by being a new, sleep-deprived, emotional mom but let me tell you, those days sucked.
The doctor called with the results that I was going to need to have a LEEP procedure. Talk about scary. The pamphlet the doctor gave me was nothing short of terrifying. They talk about how they use an electric current to scrape the abnormal cells from your cervix. Doesn’t that sound fun? Well, let me tell you, it was not. Anytime you need to be grounded before they start a procedure, it’s a nerve-wracking experience. This procedure took a lot longer. They had to numb me up and then they used this little metal loop that runs an electric current through it that scrapes the bad cells off your cervix. The whole time, you feel this weird buzzing. My doctor was fantastic because she kept telling me “25% done; 50% done; 75% done. Just a few more seconds.” I really consider myself lucky because of the medical professionals I have access to.
I am glad I had LEEP procedure done and the bad cells removed. Every year, I go and have my annual PAP and wait for the results. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous every time I am waiting for results. So far, I have not had any abnormalities. I am thankful every year when I get that letter with the check-mark next to that top line “Your PAP results were normal.”
Now, while all of this was happening, my aunt had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cervical cancer. I was seeing first hand what happened when this went untreated. I was seeing the pain, the strength needed to go through the chemo, the toll it took on this active and vibrant woman. It was so hard to not be angry that she didn’t catch this sooner and could have avoided having to go through this. We didn’t talk about it. It just wasn’t something we talked about. When she lost her fight, it hit me harder than anything else I had ever experienced next to the birth of my daughter.
I think that’s partially why I feel like I need to talk so much about it. So many women don’t have anyone to ask about these things. So many women are afraid to ask the questions. So many women don’t understand how a simple swab once a year can save their lives.
This Friday, I have to go in for some tests on a cyst that has formed on my ovary. I have PCOS or Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. It’s a fun syndrome that results in all kinds of awesome symptoms. I’m hoping that the cyst they found when removing my gallbladder is just something from the PCOS but there is a possibility that it’s something more. I’m not going to mess around with it. I’m going to go and have the tests needed and if I need to have it surgically removed, so be it. I’m just going to chalk it up to 2012 – the year I got healthier.
If one woman reading this gets a little better understanding of the procedures that may be needed and is a little less afraid of them, then this blog post has done what it was meant to do. So ladies, if you haven’t been to the GYN recently (like in the last year), call their office and make an appointment. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t be ashamed of it. Five minutes of uncomfortable pressure is worth more than months of chemo. Gentlemen, if you have a woman you love, don’t be afraid to ask her if she’s had a check-up recently. Talk to her about it. Let her know that you support her. (And also, make sure you go for your regular cancer screenings too!)
Talking about cancer and the different procedures is important too. People need to lose the fear and nerves over the different tests and procedures. If you have had a procedure, share your experience. Let people know how you handled it. Sharing your story could save a life!