Lessons From Having an Abnormal Pap Smear

I remember hanging up the phone, looking out the window and saying out loud, “Did he just say I needed a biopsy?” One minute I was cooking dinner and the next my doctor was calling me to say my annual Pap test came back with an alarming result. “It’s not just that the cells are abnormal,” he said. “It’s only been a year since your last Pap came back normal and the dysplasia is already pretty advanced. A biopsy is the best way for us to see exactly what we’re dealing with so we can treat you properly.”

I was in my mid 20s. All I could think was, “Am I going to be able to have children?” Then, “Am I going to die?”

It’s tough to hear scary medical news about ourselves or our loved ones. Our minds go right to the worst-case scenarios many times. Since I hoped to have children, the doctor decided my best course of action was to undergo a surgical procedure called a conization or cone surgery, where a cone-shaped piece of tissue is removed from high in the cervical canal. Doctors remove a small amount of healthy tissue as well to make sure there are clean margins and no abnormal cells left in the cervix.

It’s been more than 20 years since I had the procedure and I’ve had normal Pap test results ever since. It’s one of the reasons I’m diligent about my annual checkups, and why I’m such an advocate for regular health screenings.

I think about it sometimes: What if I hadn’t been in the habit of getting my annual Pap test? Would those pre-cancerous cells have turned to cancer? Would I have found out too late to save my chance to have children? Would I even be here to share my story with you?

I can’t imagine my life without my daughter Riley, who is now 15. I don’t like living in a world of “what-ifs,” but sometimes I make myself think about it so I don’t forget how important my yearly checkups and screenings are. I’m proud of myself for being diligent about that; proud that I caught it early enough that I was able to realize my dream of having a child, and blessed that I am still alive to share this message!

Do yourself and your loved ones a favor: Take a minute right now to do a quick health inventory. Are you overdue for a yearly checkup? Have you been putting off a screening like a Pap test or mammogram? (If you aren’t sure which screenings you should be having check out this article for women and this one for men.) Pick up the phone and call to make an appointment. Make yourself think about it. “What if” it’s a call that saves your life?

IMG_9319Chrys Peterson is a correspondent for ProMedica HealthConnect and spokeswoman for Friends for Life, a monthly newsletter for women that offers health and wellness advice with a focus on cancer prevention.