My name is Lola and I\^m a living breathing cautionary tale of why you should get regular pap smears. There are other examples. Many of them in fact. But not enough of them are living.
Until diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2000 I had not had a pap smear since 1980. Twenty years. The reasons aren\^t important, but the results certainly are.
In 2000 I went to a mobile clinic because I\^d had a persistent cough for 7 months. A cough you say? What the heck does a cough have to do with cervical cancer? Well, a lot it turns out. The cough was the latest domino in a long series to fall, being the major symptom of an opportunistic pneumonia attacking my depleted immune system, which was caused by anemia, brought on by minor, albeit nearly continuous, bleeding (menopause I\^d convinced myself) which was the direct result of cervical cancer at such an advanced stage that not only was it weeping blood but it was actually protruding from my vagina. In my phenomenal ignorance I\^d assumed it was a prolapsed uterus, a condition my mother had had surgically corrected 3 decades earlier.
I didn\^t know, or even suspect, I had cervical cancer. If not for the dogged, nagging persistence of my then 23 year old daughter, who insisted that I make and take with me a list of all my \"problems,\" and a truly caring volunteer doctor who followed up on what must have seemed like a hypochondriacâ€™s laundry list of symptoms, I would probably never have known and you wouldnâ€™t be reading my story. Well, at least not from my point of view.
After she\^d quickly diagnosed my pneumonia (and not the TB I\^d feared), and written a prescription, I brought out \"the list.\" Timing is everything. I was the last patient of the day and she decided she could perform a quick pelvic exam. Well, maybe it wasn\^t supposed to be that quick, but one look evidently was enough. She scheduled a follow-up appointment to monitor the pneumonia and wrangled me an appointment at a womenâ€™s clinic to assess the other problems.
At the conclusion of the exam at the women\^s clinic, I was delivered a lecture on the importance of regular pap smears, told the news that I had cervical cancer, that it was very advanced, and that I should get my house in order. No other tests or appointments were scheduled. Needless to say, I was devastated.
By the time I went back to the mobile clinic for the follow-up, I was feeling pretty good. The pneumonia was on the run and I\^d accepted my fate on the other matter. When the doctor asked what plan of treatment had been decided on, I told her I\^d been informed nothing could be done. She was incensed, flatly refused to accept that and sent me to another clinic, where, after tests, x-rays and MRIs, I was told that even though it looked grim, amazingly there weren\^t any signs of spread to other organs. An aggressive plan of treatment was devised and we all hoped for the best.
I won\^t go into the details of the treatment but it consisted of blood transfusions, chemotherapy and massive amounts of radiation, both external and interstitial, a medical term Iâ€™d never heard of before that when experienced I\^ve decided must be indistinguishable from medieval torture. Suffice to say it was hell on earth. There were some very low times when I couldnâ€™t comprehend how I\^d be able to force myself to complete the course, but in the end I did. It was a terrible price to pay then and 8 years later I still battle with the after effects of all that radiation. But, I\^m here, glad to be so, and grateful for every day.
Now listen up. Here\^s the important part. All of the foregoing .... every bit ... would have been avoided if I\^d had regular pap smears. It\^s really just that simple.
Have you had yours lately? No? Then set it up now. Has your wife, daughter, mother, aunt, sister, girlfriend had theirs lately? Nag, plead, cajole, make threats, do whatever it takes .... just get them to do it.