I was nervously pacing across the tiny room. I knew I was crazy to be this scared but that didn’t make it any easier. I told myself this was just routine and nothing would go horribly wrong. But I didn’t believe a single word I told myself. I was in the Cervical Cancer screening room waiting to be screened. You would think that I was waiting to hear my HIV status by the way I paced.
Cervical Cancer is the most common cancer in Zambia and Zambia has the second highest rates of Cervical cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa. I knew all this and that’s why I was nervous. I have heard of women who have died from Cervical Cancer. It shows no signs or symptoms until the cancer is in full gear. Many people have crazy misconceptions on how a woman can get it. But the simple explanation is that it is caused by the viral infection of the cervix by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Oh yeah, and this HPV is sexually transmitted.
But here’s the crazy thing about Cervical Cancer; it can be prevented. See, before the viral infection causes the cancer, there are some precancerous cells that can be detected and removed to prevent the cancer. So routine screening is very important. Now I know all this but I still hadn’t gone for a screening yet. The thing is I don’t trust “routine” checkups. Each time I have gone for a checkup, they always find something wrong with me. And because I work in a place where I see pictures of full blown cancer ridden cervices everyday, I had the worst-case scenario in my head.
I was tired of the anticipation so one morning I just walked over to the clinic and told the nurse that I was finally here to do it. She had been prompting me to do it for a while so she was ecstatic. She left me in the room and told me to get ready, I already knew the drill. I took off my underwear and got on the bed. Oh, I forgot to mention, the Cervix is slightly past the vagina and is the door to the uterus. So taking off my underwear is a necessary move. When I get nervous, I get a gassy stomach so I was so worried I would accidentally fart in the nurse’s face.
The nurse then inserted a Speculum that looked quite scary, I must say. The key is to relax, then it will only be slightly uncomfortable. Try thinking of chocolate cake or something.
Then she swabbed my cervix with vinegar and waited for a few minutes. The vinegar makes everything on the cervix visible enough for inspection. Then the nurse got a camera which was connected to a T.V besides the bed and got a picture of my cervix. Because it’s impossible for the human eye to detect anything, they use the camera to zoom in and pick up every single detail. If there are any precancerous cells (cells that will turn into cancer after some time), they show up looking white on the picture. So while the nurse was taking the picture, I was on the look out for anything that looked anything close to white. I think sometimes knowing too much is a bad thing because the worry is unbearable.
She showed me the picture on the TV. It was clear! I had a very clear and pink cervix. No precancerous cells and no cancer. The relief I felt was almost tangible. I almost cried. The picture of my cervix stared back at me like a pretty little baby. I thought it looked beautiful. If I had got the picture I would have shown you guys. I have encountered cases of women younger than me who found out they had the early stages of cancer so I knew just how blessed I was. I got up from that bed feeling so relieved, I didn’t even care if the nurse saw my stretch marks. I was also so happy my sphincter muscles hadn’t let me down.
The whole procedure took about 15 minutes. 15 minutes that made my life a bit lighter. 15 minutes that took away the worry of cervical cancer. Even in the event that I had been found with cancer cells, it wouldn’t have been so bad because I would have caught it early and something would have been done about it. Most women die from Cervical Cancer because they catch it really late.
Any woman who has had sex needs to get screened for cervical cancer. It is done for free in government-run clinics. Go to a clinic near you and get screened. Have you been screened for Cervical Cancer? You might want to do it soon. Early detection leads to early treatment.
My next appointment is in 2018, three years from now. I’ll make sure I keep it.