Friday, September 29, 2006

Smear

About 10 years ago, a friend of mine that I knew at university died from cervical cancer. She was 28-years-old. I wasn't with her in South Africa when she got so sick, but my friend Andrea, who was very close to her, was. Months of severe abdominal pains had gone misdiagnosed, and when they eventually found the cancer, it was just too far gone to treat. It was a matter of months between diagnosis and her death, the end of which sounded very painful and devastating.

At the end, she had unhealed holes in her upper thighs from an operation in Germany that was unsuccessful, and these needed to be washed out by friends who were bathing her. She was skin and bones, and losing great chunks of hair when she tried to comb it. It was such an enormous tragedy that this vibrant, outgoing, beautiful young woman died in such a terrible way. It was also a sharp reminder to me and everyone else that knew her, that you MUST have cervical smears regularly. Yes, they are unpleasant, and (as I experienced this morning) somewhat painful at times, but a lot less unpleasant and painful than dying from cervical cancer.

When I heard the news of my friend's death I went and had a cervical smear pronto, and guess what? They found abnormal cells, or cells which were 'turning.' It's not cancer, but cells that are possibly becoming cancerous, and an early sign of danger. As soon as the test results were in, my surgery acted fast, and I was scheduled in at the hospital to have these cells lazered away.

That experience, along with the Brazilian wax I had a few months ago, and right up there with having my teeth cleaned by my hygenist Ingalena, was probably one of the most horrible physical experiences in my life. The doctor wasn't particularly, how should I say, sympathetic, and I guess he did that sort of thing all the time and had other people to see, so he was all business. For me, I was terrified; I had my legs spread, a lovely nurse holding my hand (god bless the nurses at Ealing Hospital), and my first experience with an injection directly into my cervix. As much as some men have this thing about seeing blood on their penis (castration phobia), bring a needle or any sharp object near a woman's vagina, and it is frightening beyond description. That injection was bloody painful, but necessary to numb the area so he could lazer away those cells.

The whole process felt like hours, but it was probably half an hour or less, and they successfully managed to get rid of all the bad cells. For a few years following the proceedure, I had to have cervical smears every 6 months to keep an eye on things. Fortunately I eventually got the all clear and went back to only having to have them once a year. The recommendation is that women have them every 3-5 years, but personally I think, especially if you are sexually active, it's worth getting things down there checked out once a year.

This morning was no different in the unpleasant stakes. The nurse, a lovely young woman by the name of Susanna, did the honors. We tend to chat and makes jokes to take my mind off of things, but I still hate having it done. I always feel a bit violated by the process, and sometimes it's actually a bit more painful than the normal 'uncomfortable' they say it will be. But then I think of Nicole's death, and I count myself lucky.

For more information on cervical smear testing, see here.

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