I love being young. That may seem unusual, but I love having a fully functioning body, non-graying hair (although with my genetic luck, that will be short-lived) and the promise of endless possibilities.
But what I love most about my youth is that I feel invincible, like nothing can ever happen to me, and that if something does, I’ll bounce back immediately.
Well, I felt invincible until I got my pap smear results back.
The doctors found evidence of a “low grade squamous intraepithelial lesion encompassing HPV and mild dysplasia / CIN 1” in my cervix, otherwise known as cervical dysplasia.
For those of you whose eyes glazed over those words (no shame if you did), that means I may have a collection of precancerous cells lining about one third of my cervix’s epithelial tissue.
When I read the results on the MyChart app, my heart fell into my stomach. Suddenly I could feel every aching joint and muscle in my body. I could instantly feel myself decomposing.
Nothing shakes that feeling of youthful invincibility like finding out your cervix could end up being a ticking time bomb 40 minutes before your Spanish class.
The questions started racing through my head about as quick as my objectionable speeds on the I-90: “Will I get cancer? If I get cancer, what does that mean for my career plans? What would my treatment options be? Chemo? Biopsy? A hysterectomy—?”
At this point in life, I have no desire to carry my own kids; everyone close to me can attest to my reluctance to becoming pregnant. But even the thought of infertility made me shudder.
I wouldn’t know exactly what was in store for me until I had more tests done. Pap smears only screen for cervical cancer cells, but they don’t yield any conclusive results. And it is true that many women live with cervical dysplasia without ever getting cancer. Even if the cells do become cancerous, that is often a process that takes place over a long period of time, which makes it easy to monitor — and makes it treatable.
But the point is, none of us are invincible. My oxygen saturation level may be 100% and my liver may digest an ungodly amount of hard liquor from time to time with no hangover, but that doesn’t mean I’m immortal.
Don’t fall into the trap of youthful ignorance; if you’re above the age of 21, take the time when you’re home to go to the doctor’s office and get a pap smear. Even if your parent has to make the appointment because you have social anxiety, make these parts of your life a priority. Because, like me, you’re not immune to everything.
And I know, the idea of having someone stare down the hole between your legs isn’t very glamorous, I get it.
But it takes two minutes.
You spend more time in the waiting room than you do with the physician assistant nose-deep in your birth canal. Oftentimes you don’t even need to see a gynecologist; pap smears are tests that are offered at pretty much every general provider and are covered by most insurances. Women’s health providers such as Planned Parenthood offer services which can be scheduled on their website.
So get over it and take care of yourself. Because there is no need to go on living with very treatable conditions if you have access to treatment.
For more information on getting a pap smear, please visit: https://www.geneseo.edu/health/first_gyno_exam
Natalie Doller is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org