What one woman went through due to gross negligence.
Photo: Cindy Fernandez
Speedoc recently caught up with a 53-year old cervical cancer survivor, who, like many others out there, made the biggest mistake of avoiding her Pap smear tests for the past few decades. As lucky as she is to be alive today, she admitted that it was irresponsible of her to gamble her life the way she did, and she hopes her story will move women everywhere to do the right thing, take cervical cancer more seriously, and go for their routine Pap smears.
Here is her story:
In February 2020, just a couple of months after I celebrated my 50th birthday, I took a fall in my bathroom after a dizzy spell. I also happened to experience intense bleeding, which felt like a ‘horrendously heavy period flow’ at the time.
Prior to that incident, I have been experiencing irregular periods for about two years. It (my period) would come, then disappear for a few months, and then appear again, and so on and so forth. Having this checked out by a doctor is what a sensible woman would have done, but not me though. I simply opted to self-diagnose my case as premenopausal, and decided to just wait for the day when to throw away my sanitary pads for good. Oh yeah, and also, I always knew that if I did see a gynae, a Pap smear would be inescapable. I had been avoiding this procedure since my youngest son, now 23, was a toddler - that was when I had it done last!
The fall that day, together with the bleeding, saw me being rushed to the hospital. Needless to say, a long-overdue Pap smear was inevitable, whether I liked it or not. I only had them 4 times in my entire life. Imagine that; at 53, with four grown children now between 31 and 23, and I had less Pap smears done than the number of fingers in one hand!
The test came back positive, and I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, also known as cervical cancer. An MRI scan revealed that I was at stage 4, and that the cancer mass was aggressive and spreading. I was also informed that there was a possibility that the cancer had penetrated my rectum, as well as my bladder.
Physically and emotionally wrecked, it was sheer terror for me. I kept wanting to slap myself for not having a routine Pap smear, for that would have changed everything! Seriously, ladies, early detection is everything that they make it out to be: It saves you from having to go through so much trauma, and in many cases, it may literally save your life! As for me, there was no use in crying over spilt milk, so I had to deal with all that followed.
It was time to walk the talk
In a way, I’m certain that it was my background and occupation that saved me though, for I had many years of experience as a health magazine writer and editor. So, if all the while I was talking the talk, after my diagnosis, I had to walk the walk, and walk it well. I found out very quickly that dishing out advice is hardly the same as following them through. There was my diet to totally and completely change, my stress levels to manage, my lifestyle and habits to rethink, etc. All easier said than done.
I had to undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy (many rounds of each), and four painful sessions of brachytherapy. The treatments were invasive, painful and unsettling. I would have happily traded them all with the few seconds of discomfort from a Pap smear, which I had always nagated from!
Somehow, owing to some applied knowledge and of course, with a dash of luck, I pulled through and am still alive. Plus, I am well and cancer-free. It was sad though, losing a few friends along the way, who just could not hold up any longer. And please, no one can tell me that it was ‘their time’, because I know that it’s a big, fat lie. All of those whom I knew, who passed, came in seeking treatment at similar stages as mine - no one was at an early stage. Like me, they found out when their cancer was at a dangerous and life-threatening stage. A simple Pap smear earlier on would have reaped a completely different story.
There are probably many others out there who are still taking cervical cancer too lightly, hence may have neglected their routine vaginal exam, which is essentially the only way to detect this killer disease. It is up to you to avoid being one of them! Hence, the question here is: Have you been missing your routine Pap smears?
Just say the word ‘Pap smear’, and chances are, a smile will not be the first thing you’ll see on a woman’s face. Instead, it will probably be a grimace (either a real one, or a fake one!). Well, we won’t lie, a Pap smear isn’t a very comfortable procedure to go through. But if you’re a woman, that so-called discomfort is a small price to pay compared to, perhaps…losing your life?
A Pap smear test, which was, by the way, a vaginal examination introduced to the medical world in the 1940s, is still to date, the most reliable way to detect cervical cancer, even as early as its pre-invasive stage. This crucial vaginal exam is conducted by collecting cells from the cervix, which are sent for testing, to detect changes in them that may indicate the development of cervical cancer. In case you didn’t know, ‘Pap’ is short for Papanicolaou who is the doctor who came up with the technique. And… cervical cancer is one of the most life-threatening diseases a woman can be afflicted with.
According to the most current estimation on Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and HPV-Related Cancers fact sheet released by our HPV Information Centre, each year, in Malaysia, there are around 1740 diagnosed cases of cervical cancer, with 991 lives lost to it! It is also the 4th most frequent cancer among women in Malaysia.
Yes, cervical cancer is rampant among us, and it kills. For women living in Malaysia as well as in Singapore, if you’re wondering by now, “Where can I get a Pap smear near me as soon as possible”, we applaud you, for it simply means that you intend to take your health, as well as cervical cancer, seriously.
To keep you adequately informed, here’s what you can expect during and after a typical Pap smear procedure.
During the Pap smear:
The calmer the body, the smoother and easier this procedure will be, so try and relax your muscles as much as you can. A speculum will be inserted into the vagina to hold its walls open. Samples will be obtained using a tiny sweeping brush. The samples will be preserved and sent to be tested. If cervical cancer or precancerous cells are present, it will be detected thanks to this Pap smear procedure.
After the Pap smear, there is a possibility of some minor bleeding in some women. This bleeding is usually in the form of spotting, and as long as it does not prolong or worsen, this is absolutely normal. It may take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days to subside. Although quite unlikely, you should, however, consult your gynecologist / doctor if you are experiencing abnormally or unduly heavy bleeding after your Pap smear.
It is worth noting that sexual intercourse should ideally be avoided for a day or two prior your Pap smear appointment, and so are douching, as well as the use of spermicidal products. All these are said to interfere with the results of your Pap smear.
Plain and simple, cervical cancer can be managed effectively if it is detected early. And the only way it can be done is by having regular Pap smears, as advised by your doctor. Your Pap smear results will determine the next course of action if needed, which might save your life.