My Smear Campaign

Ladies, you should take care of your vaginas. No I don’t mean as in a get waxed or dye your labia or whatever whacked thing people are doing nowadays. You should go get a pap smear. Every. Two. Years. I’m surprised how many women don’t. Friends and family guiltily admit, “I’m so overdue. I can’t even remember the last time I did it.” Or even worse, “I’ve never had one.”

Recently I had an operation under general anaesthetic to remove precancerous cells from my cervix – with a frikkin laser beam. But seriously, it was a quick, painless and common procedure. Cervical cancer is one of the most avoidable cancers and a routine pap smear is the best way to pick it up. Having a pap smear is a real pain in the … front bum, but it saves lives.

What are some of the reasons we lady folk don’t get it done? A) It’s a hassle, B) It’s uncomfortable, and C) Embarrassment about people going “down there”. If only it was like checking for lumps in your breasts, which takes a minute or two in the shower. Instead you have to make an appointment, sit in the waiting room, and see the doctor while thinking: “I hate this.” The name doesn’t help. Mammogram sounds fine, as though you are sending a memo or telegram to your bosoms along the lines of: “hey, we good? Good.” A pap smear should really be called a “cell sample” or “fanny test” or anything else really. So maybe if instead of thinking you are going for a pap smear giving it a silly name will put you more at ease.

Still need more enticing? Well, I also think women deserve to spoil themselves after a pap smear. Have a soothing cup of Earl Grey with a big slice of carrot cake, or do some much-deserved retail therapy and buy yourself a handbag or pair of shoes. Or call in sick (you are doing something health-related after all) and book yourself in at a day spa, spend the afternoon at the beach, or the park, or watching movies in bed. Once every two years we deserve to treat ourselves because we’ve taken an important step to ensuring we’re healthy. No one wants us to get sick, even bosses. So if you need to, chuck that sickie.

If you get the “abnormal” result stay calm. The odds are in your favour that there is nothing wrong, and if you do have some dodgy cells, cervical cancer usually forms very slowly. The next step will be to go for a colposcopy. When you tell people you are booked in for a colposcopy they will think you’re a moron who can’t pronounce colonoscopy and you’ll have to say: “colonoscopy is bum. Colposcopy is vajayjay.” This will be amusing. At the clinic a doctor will see you, and chances are they’ll be a friendly and compassionate person who will give you the rundown. Basically, they pry you open with tongs (I mean a speculum), whack in a microscope, throw some vinegar (no joke) on your cells. If the cells turn white they take samples for further testing and then plug you up with iodine, or what I like to call a cervical band-aid.

My colposcopy was surreal. My doctor explained because there would be a screen next to me I could watch the whole thing. At first I thought this was repulsive which is weird considering I had given birth 12 weeks before. But I got over that. When else would I get the chance to see a close-up shot of my vagina the size of a large flat screen TV? (Sex tapes and mirrors aren’t my thing.) The whole experience was so abstract it was like car crash viewing:

“And there’s your cervix,” the doctor said as she pressed the microscope into me.

“So, that’s what dilated to 10cm?” I asked.

“Yep, and then your baby came out of it and it went back to this size.”

“Amazing,” the accompanying nurse said, a big smile on her face.

“It really is,” the doctor replied as she poked around with a q-tip that under the microscope looked to be the size of my arm. “I just find it so … interesting.”

And there you have it: the thought process of a gynae. We may stress about waxing and whether we smell funny down there or if they are looking at us thinking ‘how revolting’, when in actual fact these medical people stare into our vajayjays and think: “Wow, look at this absolutely fascinating body part. It rocks.” How cool is that? They think your vagina rocks, and it does. So take care of it and get that pap smear.

Published in Lip Magazine online on August 17, 2012

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