After missing my regular Pap smear due to lockdowns in 2020, having a close family member deal with colon issues, and feeling like something had “changed” in my pelvic floor, I went in for a full checkup in February 2021. My midwife who is also a naturopathic doctor and family physician checked every bit of me, using a speculum and her fingers to swab and feel all the places where the sun don’t shine. She reported that “everything looks pink and healthy, and your pap should come back fine.” It didn’t.
I got the news on a Saturday morning
The last day of February was a Saturday, and I had just been very irritated at my husband for something. I no longer remember what I was mad about, because I got a text from my doctor wanting to know if she could call me. Funny how bad news always eclipses petty arguments.
When we got on the phone, my doc’s first words were that she didn’t want me to worry because I’m so healthy. Gah! As my heart started going faster, she told me that my pap had revealed some abnormal cells that needed treatment, and that she’s done it on other women, and it’s very effective. I didn’t know what “it” meant, and I felt a bit scared. She asked me to come in first thing the following week, and I asked her to send me a pic of my results.
I had HSIL and would need to beat cervical cancer
HSIL stands for High Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion… a precursor for cervical cancer usually associated with HPV. Except I have zero risk for HPV in term of sexual partners, and my test for it was negative. It’s no fun to be a statistical outlier (someone on the edge of the scatter plot of data) BUT as I have shared my story, I’ve discovered I’m not alone. You can be a total virgin and get this without having a single STI, but if it’s caught early it’s treatable!
Left untreated, this type of lesion usually turns cancerous within a few years. The lesions are not always visible with the naked eye, as in my case where my doc didn’t see any problems. I have never been more grateful for regular Pap smears.
Click the worded images to watch my highlight reel on Instagram. I shared a lot and answered a lot of tough questions about my experience. This level of vulnerability is hard but worth it if it motivates one more woman to schedule a pap. I’ve heard from many already, and two have reported a similar diagnosis they wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t been sharing!!!
So what was treatment like?
Well, it wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t “painful.” I’m glad it’s over, but my experience wasn’t as horrible as my friends who got chemo on their cervixes.
Medical doctors will usually offer chemotherapeutic treatments, but my naturopath offered Escharotic treatment that included cryotherapy. After reaching out to some colleagues and friends for advice, I chose the natural route. which involved going in 1-2 times a week to have my cervix frozen, scraped, and a tincture applied + vaginal herbal green tea suppositories every other day + being on full pelvic rest during treatment. My friends who’ve gone the chemo route had fewer appointments, but they reported more painful “coffee grounds” discharge that lasted for weeks! I didn’t notice much at all.
At one point, during a particularly uncomfortable cryotherapy treatment on my cervix, I joked that I’d like to smash the speculum.
Speculums are often made of cheap plastic and discarded after each use. My doctor laughed and said we could have made a mobile out of all of them. The idea came back to me as she did my final treatment and another Pap smear to check and see if our hard work had paid off, so I asked her: Can I keep this one? And if my test comes back clear, I’m going to record myself smashing it!!
… And I did just that! Watch this and have a laugh!
Yes, I beat cervical cancer… for now
After a total of 7 cryotherapy treatments and every-other-day vaginal green tea suppositories (delightful) and not being “allowed” to lift heavy or have sex, my new results came back in mid-April as “atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS).” According to my doctor about .25 percent of women with this develop cervical cancer within 2 years, and it can also show up in women with low hormone levels…. Hello, perimenopause!
Part of my doctor’s final text to me read, “Congrats, I’m very encouraged! It’s close to normal so I don’t think any more cervical treatment is necessary at this time. Just do the nutrients and vaginal sups until gone. Avoid sugar like it’s the plague. You’re going to be all normal I’m betting at the next pap which can be in 6 months to a year… Does Pete have a speculum sledgehammer? 😉 ”
The good, bad & ugly
I had excellent care from my midwife/doctor. She informed me of all my options and let me call the shots. The cryotherapy itself wasn’t painful. It felt like a puff of cold air in my vagina. The speculum was the most bothersome since it had to be so wide. It was like delivering a preemie twice a week, so I have some pelvic floor dysfunction that I’m rehabbing now. Weightlifting boosts my mental health, and being told to avoid lifting heavy + dealing with the stress of this diagnosis landed me back in therapy. I confess I still haven’t finished off the “green tea rockets” which is what I call the vaginal suppositories. They’re hard to remember when I’m not supposed to do them every day or when I’m on period, so I keep falling out of the habit. Also, the instant I was told to avoid sugar, I ate a doughnut. I was actually avoiding sugar just fine until I was told to avoid it 😂
So how did workout on pelvic rest?
Being put on “Pelvic Rest” by your doctor or midwife means no strenuous exercise, penetrative intimacy, or deep squats. It doesn’t mean NO movement, but many people stop exercising because they don’t know what to do. For a hot minute, I wasn’t even sure what to do myself, but then my brain went to work on some options that would honor my doctors orders while allowing me to remain consistent with exercising at home.
I made something good out of something bad
I designed this full body movement session while I was on pelvic rest myself, and I’d like to share it here where other people on pelvic rest can benefit. Battling Gynae Cancers (or any cancer) is hard. This “Pelvic Rest Routine” is my gift for all those in my shoes. It would also be great after any type of pelvic treatment or Pap smear as it’s very gentle and relaxing to the pelvic floor muscle group. I hope it blesses you, helps you move freely, and feel more relaxed and confident in your care.
Now, it’s your turn…
What did you think of my video and how I smashed my speculum? What did you think of the Pelvic Rest exercise video? Have you ever dealt with HSIL? When was your last Pap smear? Are you aware of how long your doctor recommends them to be done? Some do them every year. Others are shifting to every 5 years 😬 Leave a comment below and share this blog to raise awareness!