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TAKING A LEEP: With Cervical Cancer, Early Detection Can Save Your Life

TAKING A LEEP: With Cervical Cancer, Early Detection Can Save Your Life

…by Bee of  83toinfinity.com

Today’s post isn’t hair-related, but is health-related. Sometimes we need a reminder that what’s going on in our bodies deserves just as much attention as what’s going on with our hair. I made a comment earlier on Twitter about how my blog has opened my mind to so many possibilities that I never would have considered before. The main catalyst for my openness? The fact that now, I’m able to write about things that a year ago, I may not have shared with anyone. Today’s post will be one of those things. Get comfy and read on!

As I mentioned before on the blog, I recently had surgery to remove a pre-cancerous lesion from my cervix. I’ve been struggling with how to write this post – one edit was like a novel, and another was like a cold, impersonal WebMD article. I almost scrapped the whole piece until I read that Yvette Wilson, the actress who played Andell in Moesha and The Parkers, is currently suffering from aggressive cervical cancer and kidney failure. My goal is to share my experience with the hopes that at least one person out there will be educated, will embrace the importance of prevention/early detection of disease, and/or will realize they’re not the only one out there dealing with this. So…how did this all start for me?

Recently, HomieLoverFriend and I decided we were ready to jump into parenthood. Annual checkups were done, the fertility/conception conversation was had with the doctor, and we were on our way. About a month after my annual GP/GYN visit, I got a call from my doctor that my Pap test (which checks for changes in the cells of the cervix) had come back with abnormal results. Before I had a chance to let that sink in, I was told that another procedure had already been scheduled to confirm the abnormality. My tentative diagnosis was HGSIL – high-grade squamous intra-epithelial lesion, and the procedure I was set to have was called a colposcopy.

Cervical Health Lesson: Thanks to my frantic Google search after I received my paperwork, I learned that cervical cell abnormality is also known as cervical dysplasia. Cervical dysplasia is not a one-size-fits all condition – there are varying levels of cell abnormality. Atypical squamous cells show some change in cell structure, and is the most common abnormal finding in Pap tests. Low-grade squamous intra-epithelial lesions show change in the size and shape of cells, and is considered a mild abnormality. High-grade squamous intra-epithelial lesions show more evident change in the size and shape of cells, and is considered a severe abnormality. You can read more here. HGSILs look extremely different from normal cells, and are listed as pre-cancerous, or carcinoma in situ. Needless to say, I clicked on that red X after seeing one too many cancer references. I did go back to Google the colposcopy procedure, but I’ll tell you about it from my perspective.

A couple weeks after I got the news, I was headed to a downtown Toronto hospital for my colposcopy. Overall, a colposcopy is very similar to your average Pap test. However, the doctor uses a microscope and an acetic acid solution in the cervix (which turns the lesion white) for clear identification. My doctor had his microscope connected to a flat screen TV, so aside from the initial shock of seeing my lady parts in high-definition, it was cool to watch the entire procedure. I thought the lesion would be an actual raised area, but it was just an area of abnormal cells surrounding the cervix. The doctor decided to take 3 biopsies from the affected area, and let me just say, that was the strangest feeling I’ve had in a long time. No real way to explain it, but the pain was sharp, though it didn’t last longer than a few seconds. Within the span of 15 minutes, I was done. The doc used a solution to help stop the bleeding and sent me on my way with a diaper-sized hospital pad for the spotting that would follow after the procedure.

“Spotting” actually became full-on bleeding that lasted for nearly a week. Being anemic as well, this wasn’t a fun time. About a week after that, I followed up with my doc. He confirmed the HGSIL diagnosis, and expressed his concern at how quickly I had gone from Normal Pap Lady to HGSIL Sufferer. He explained that certain types of HPV (human papillomavirus) can cause cervical cancer, so he suggested I also get the Gardasil vaccine for further cervical health. HPV has been all over the media lately – this virus affects up to 75% of all sexually active Canadians, but is usually cleared up by healthy immune systems. So what would the next step for me be? A procedure called a LEEP, which would remove the pre-cancerous lesion.

LEEP stands for loop electrosurgical excision procedure, which uses a low-voltage electric current to sear off the affected area. The LEEP is preferred because it only requires local anesthesia, is a precise and quick procedure, and does not damage the removed tissue, which allows it to be sent for further testing. Last week on my birthday, I found myself back in the hospital and in that oh-so-stylish hospital gown. Once the anesthesia was administered, I was feeling warm, fuzzy, and in a calm albeit high-as-a-kite state. I heard the doc say he was looking for the lesion, then heard the whirring of the electrical wire. What seemed like 5 minutes later (but was really about 20), I asked the doc if he found it, to which he replied,“Found it? I’m almost done!” The area was cauterized and another special solution was applied to help stop the bleeding. Once I gathered myself, I was on my way – with another diaper-thick pad in my possession.

Going Forward: Once the anesthesia wore off a couple of hours later, I started to feel some serious cramping. Cramps and bleeding are common aftereffects of the LEEP, and I enjoyed all of that plus increased fatigue. I’m on a no sex-no tampon-no heavy lifting-no exercising diet for the next 3 weeks until I follow up with my doctor again. Can you tell how excited I am about that? In all reality, it’s a small price to pay in exchange for a healthy cervix.

The moral of the story? As I said at the beginning of this post, early detection, if not full-out prevention, is your friend. Had I skipped this year’s physical and decided to put it off until next year, things may not have been so simple. Having worked in global healthcare, I know all too well the disparities between various countries and access to quality care. However, being your own health advocate is worth more than gold. Keep up with regular appointments, and never shy away from the professionals if you think something is wrong. It just literally might save your life.

  • Trae

    Thank you kindly for sharing your intimately personal story. I agree that we must be very diligent in taking care of our bodies and ensuring we are well informed of what is happening. Early detection is crucial. I quite appreciated this article and encourage Three Naturals to continue to keep this type of dialougue on-going.

    Nuff respect.

    • http://www.83toinfinity.com Bee

      Thanks Trae! Funny that I felt so nervous about sharing this story at first, but now I’ve met so many women who have dealt with the same thing. Feels good to have and give that support.

  • keisha

    was hpv the cause of the precancerous lesion?

    • http://www.83toinfinity.com Bee

      Hi Keisha!

      The doctor stated he had no clue what the cause was. He explained (and I was already aware) that some strains of HPV can lead to abnormal cervical cells and cervical cancer, but he didn`t confirm that with me. He did advise I could get the Gardasil vaccination if I wanted additional protection.

      • Keisha

        Ok. If u don’t mind me asking how old are u?

  • Rockpea

    Informative article. I too had undergone the LEEP procedure at the age of 17. I am now 36 and have not missed a pap smear since. One thing they did not tell me as a potential side effect and maybe because I was so young was that the LEEP procedure can cause your cervix to scar over when it is healing. After the procedure, every pap exam I had the doctors would say that the opening to my cervix was extremely small. It wasn’t till my husband and I decided to conceive a child at age 26 or 27 that I began to have issues with it. After two years of trying at 29 I went to a doc and they said that my cervix would need to be opened. It took me three years of trying and then I had a surgery to open my cervix some. After first child that I had at age 30, decided to try again after about a year and a half. Took another two or three years of trying. Went to a specialist and was told cervix would need to be opened again. This time doc did it in her office. Conceived a few months after this. Fastforward to after second baby, went in for annual and was told that cervix opening was very narrow again. I’m not concerned with it now because I’m not going to try conceive anymore.
    Just wanted to make others aware of possible side effects. I could be abnormal case but it can happen.

    • http://www.83toinfinity.com Bee

      Hi Rockpea!

      Thanks for adding your comment. The doc did tell me that there may be some issues with the cervix similar to what you experienced. In layman`s terms, he explained that either my cervical walls may be weaker (leading to greater risk of miscarriage), or the cervix could tighten up (leading to difficulties conceivingédelivering vaginally). He did say that these were pretty rare, but there were ways around both scenarios if I did end up experiencing either one. I have no kids yet, so we`ll see what happens when we start trying!

  • Keisha

    @rock pea was the cause of your LEEP due to hpv?

    • Rockpea

      I believe so, but I don’t remember them saying that word. The first doc I went to just said I had cancer. Talk about crying. We got a second opinion and was told that it was cervical dysplasia. Not yet full on cancer, just abnormal cells.

  • Keisha

    Wow @rock pea! Glad you got a second opinion!

  • Nadia

    Hi, thanks so much for sharing. I went through something similar (had cervical dysplasia and tested positive for a strain of HPV that causes cervical cancer) and it scared the heck out of me for several months. I really sympathize with what you’ve been through and want to share a piece of information that helped me immensely. I saw a nutritionist who felt like the HPV and cervical dysplasia was very easy to cure – with Folic acid. Apparently, it plays a key role in synthesizing healthy cells and has been shown to help clear cervical dysplasia. After testing positive for HPV, I took it for 2 months and then had a colposcopy where she took a biopsy for testing. I was really hopeful, and…. a month or so later, my results came back negative. Not even a bit of cervical dysplasia! My family doctor thought the first HPV test was a false positive (which I think is unlikely given 2 abnormal paps and the HPV test..) but.. when I went in for my results, and told the gynecologist that I had been taking folic acid, her response was: ” Yes, folic acid is amazing! I prescribe it to my patients who chronically can’t clear cervical dysplasia, it works EVERY TIME” . I was both pleasantly surprised (to have a confirmation that what I had done worked) and was upset about it. I strongly feel like women need to know this. I wondered why she would wait months or even a year to prescribe a vitamin when she knows that it will help treat the problem. I suppose there are politics involved, but it really would warm my heart to know that this piece of info could help other women who are going through the same thing I did. I’ll continue to take a lower dose for prevention (I took 4 tablets of 800 mcg of ‘Folapro’ from Metagenics for the two months) I myself did a nutrition degree a few years back and feel strongly about how much it can help to prevent disease. Much love and thank you for sharing your story.

    • liteiceberg

      Thx for this. I was diagnosed with LGSIL about 5 months ago and began folic acid about 2 months ago. Hoping this does the trick, and its not too late to start. I hear its good for dysplasia, but I thought dysplasia is pre-cancer, and squamous cell is actually cancer.

  • mary

    I also was diagnosed with high abnormality of precancerous cells in 2007 when I was pregnant with my son. I had a biopsy done and came back CIN3…I had a leep performed after my sone was born the dr said they went a far as they can go. I was supposed to go have a pap smear every 3 mos for a yr and they were all supposed to be neg result…of course me being stubborn as I am I never went back to have the erest done…now I am having severe pains in my stomach annd have more then what I thought were periods in a mo….whn I am on my period I bleed heavier then I ever did. I’m scared to go to the dr cause I’m afraid of what they will tell me because I could of pos prevented it….what does this mean?

  • Nadia

    Hi Mary,
    I’m so sorry to hear you are having pain. I can imagine, it must be scary. I felt the same way when I didn’t go back to get retested for a whole 2 years after an abnormal pap. I’m not sure what it means, but I’d suggest you go see your family doctor. I was completely cleared of my precancerous cells – and I 100% believe that it was due to the help of my rockstar nutritionist. She has been teaching nutrition for over 16 years and is incredible at what she does. I was really scared when I went for my first appointment with her and she made me feel very at ease and assured me that she had worked with many women with varying levels of HPV with success. All this to say that my suggestion would be to go and see her… and to consider taking folic acid supplement (in addition to seeing a doctor) – (see my post above). My gynecologist said that when she gives to her patients it “works every time” … I hope this is helpful – If you would like the info for my nutritionist, let me know your email address and I can send it to you.

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