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December 16, 2008

it's nice to know that your cervix is lovely

Posted by dogpossum on December 16, 2008 11:06 AM in the category dogpossum | Comments (2)

Yesterday, as we prepared for my pap smear (yes, I am blogging about this - brace yourselves, boys), the doctor asked about my aunt who had cervical cancer: "Did she survive?" I had to think a minute. Yes, she is alive. Survive? Hm. I think that she's a different person, now, and that having cancer (cervical cancer) is something that changes you. So no, I don't think she's the same person she was, so perhaps she didn't survive if by survive you mean 'stayed the same' or 'continued as she was'.

I'm always surprised by how unwilling the women I know are to talk about pap smears. They'll talk about it together, in groups, but with men... not so much. Are men so delicate that they need protecting from the idea that they are not the only ones with access to a woman's cervix? It's not even a particularly urky process. From my end, it's all 'knees up' and then some business at the nerve-ending free part of my insides. I don't see anything (though I guess I could - should I have asked for a mirror?), it's painless (though kind of unusual-feeling), it's quick. Frankly, the syringing of my ears is far more disturbing, what with the rushing of water in my ears, the giant inserting-injecting thing, the dislodged wax, the discoloured water... And we go about with our ears just sitting there on our heads, open and exposed.

I'm also surprised when women haven't heard of the 'fists under hips' technique which helps make the whole process a lot less uncomfortable. A friend told me a few years ago, and it's changed my pap smearing life. Basically, if you tilt your pelvis up (by propping it up, either with your fists under your buttocks, or with a pillow), it's much easier for the doctor to see your cervix. Because, basically, a pap smear involves the doctor having a look deep, deep inside you at your cervix (mine is quite lovely, apparently. I felt a moment of pride for my perfect cervix, there with my fists under my bum, my undies on a chair beside me and a strange woman with a cue-tip saying hello to my ovaries). And when you're that deep inside someone, you need some light so you can see what you're doing, and you really like a nice, clear path to your destination. You want to be able to look the cervix right in the eye before you brush it or swab it or whatever it is you're planning on doing in there.

At any rate, tilting your pelvis up with fists or cushions makes this whole process easier. I was surprised my doctor didn't know the trick, or own one of those special pelvis-tipping cushions. [Speaking (in a brief side point) of pelvis-tipping cushions, did anyone else notice George Clooney's purple velour one in Burn After Reading? Magic. That's a man not only with an eye for ambitious machinery, but also the finer details.] But I made sure she knew just how useful the technique is.

The strangest part of a pap smear is always the thought that there's someone right inside your body. I always think of that when they're examining my ovaries from the inside. It's strange to think that someone's hand is so deep inside you. This is serious business. Part of me always wonders what my ovaries feel like. I mean, I feel them inside me, sometimes, but we're not on a first name basis. And it's not as though I feel I have a gaping hole or emptiness inside me. But suddenly, there's room inside me for someone's hand.
And then, of course, five minutes later you're back in your clothes, on the bus and on your way to the fabric shop. And no one knows from looking at you.

Anyways, I guess the point of this post is to encourage women to get pap smears. And to encourage men not to be afraid of the topic. It's a bit weird and it can be uncomfortable, but it's better than the anxiety of wondering if you have cancer. It's better than not knowing that you're capable of dealing with your body and knowing your body from the inside out (if only via a doctor's flashlight and observation). And there are tricks for making it more comfortable. Not just the pelvis tilting thing.
There are doctors who have mad skills - I always pay them a visit for something minor before I invest in a pap smear with a new doctor. I like to see how they look at me. I choose something that requires physical contact. My ears always need looking in. Sometimes I need my glands checked or my throat peered into. Whatever it is, I pay attention to the way they touch me and the way they talk to me. I like a doctor who's reassuring, who listens, but who's not alarmist and isn't prepared to let me push them around. I like them to take time and to explain things and to make me laugh sometimes.

Not that I need to laugh when I'm having a pap smear, but it's nice to know that someone's paying attention and is gentle and is confident when they're elbow deep in you.

And it's nice to know that your cervix is lovely.

(I think this post was inspired by Stephanie's, mostly because I think her writing about breast cancer is important. I've been thinking about these things lately (because it was this time a few years ago my mother was very, very ill in hospital) and I've been wondering why I can talk about my stupid ears but not my lovely cervix).

Posted by dogpossum on December 16, 2008 11:06 AM in the category dogpossum


Posted by: Francis Xavier Holden at December 18, 2008 9:40 PM

You must mix with a different mob to me. I quite frequently get told in detail about pap smears and cervix deep diving. I'm working on my talking about prostate cancer exam skillz. In my experience it talking about prostate doesn't hold a crowd as well as paps.

Posted by: Francis Xavier Holden at December 18, 2008 9:40 PM

Posted by: Amanda at December 23, 2008 5:01 PM

I got a pap smear test result back today in the mail and it has this huge stamp across it :

Ho ho, if only they knew!

Posted by: Amanda at December 23, 2008 5:01 PM

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