The Importance of The Yearly Pap

The summer of 2017 was the best summer of my life. It was the first single summer I’ve had in four years and I felt unstoppable. I was working for the marketing and promotions department at Summerfest, interning at a public relations agency in the Third Ward, dedicating myself to my weight-loss goals, visiting family every chance I had and enjoying the downtown Milwaukee nightlife with my girl squad.

Everything in my life was perfect.

But then I went in for my Pap smear and my perfect summer hit a roadblock.

In the months leading up to my annual check-up, I had noticed some irregular stuff going on with my body. My cramps were insidious, my periods were off and out-of-the blue I would have excruciating and stabbing pains in my pelvic area. I brushed these symptoms off and just dealt with them because I thought, “I am a woman and having uncomfortable periods and random pelvic pain is just what life is.” But I was wrong about not mentioning them to my doctor right away. 

 

I got the call about my Pap smear results while I was sitting at my desk during my public relations internship. After my doctor reviewed them, she noticed some irregular cells that could cause cervical cancer. Having already battled childhood cancer, the word cancer is toxic to me. It turned my rational thoughts to dust and I immediately left work and called my mom crying. On the walk to my car, my brain was thinking about every, and mostly, the worst possible scenarios that could happen. But after my mom calmed me down and translated what my doctor had told me so her sobbing, irrational daugher could understand- we came up with a plan.

Later that week I went back home and visited my primary doctor again. This time my mom went with me so we could both absorb the information. She told me that right now I have cells that were irregular and that could lead to problems in the future like cervical cancer. She suggested seeing a specialist for a more in-depth opinion so that’s what I did. Later in July I visited a specialist in Pewaukee and the information she gave me was life changing.

Right now I am cancer free but the cells in my body that tested HPV positive are known as aggressive cells.

I just want to make things clear right away- having HPV cells does not mean I have a STI or STD and the chances of any past or future sexual partners getting this strain of HPV from me is very rare and highly unlikely.

On the flip side, I do have to deal with these aggressive HPV cells that are in my body. My gynecologist told me that these cells may never fully turn into cancer but it’s a waiting game. If and when it does happen, it could happen in two, ten or twenty years from now. In the meanwhile, I will need to take precautionary measures and go in for regular Pap smears to make sure these cells stay just aggressive cells and do not turn cancerous.

I do have to acknowledge my squad and family behind-the-scenes whom I confided in. I was secretive with the news but I had the best support team. Without their positivity this really could have sent my summer into the toilet. Because of their uplifting spirits and constant support, my summer continued on and was still the best summer of my life.

After going through this my outlook on healthcare did a 180. At 23-years-old, I need to listen to my body and treat it like the temple it is. In the United States, it is estimated that in 2018 there will be about 13,240 new cases of invasive cervical diagnosed and 4,170 women will die from cervical cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women but the cervical cancer death rate dropped significantly with the increased use of the Pap test. This screening procedure can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early − when it's small and easier to cure. And according to Cancer.Net, when detected at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate for women with invasive cervical cancer is 91% and about 46% of women with cervical cancer are diagnosed at an early stage. 

Basically, what these statistics mean is that you need to get regularly tested! 

I know Pap smears suck. Believe me, I know. But you know what’s going to suck even more? When you’re farther along in adulthood with a family and one day your doctor tells you that you have cervical cancer. Take the precautionary steps now to preserve your health later in your life.

Your future self and loved ones will thank you for it.