I’m sitting on the dingy, old rug in the hallway, waiting for my son to go to the potty. This could take a while, so I pull out my phone and start cruising Facebook to stifle my impatience. I come across an article on cervical cancer and give it a quick scan.
Cervical cancer rates are up, I find out. More women are dying of the condition than previously thought.
I sit up straight. My heart starts beating a little faster. Suddenly, a gloomy feeling comes over me. In the moment, I try to think back to the last time I went to the gynecologist for a pap-smear and I realize, it’s been years.
Current recommendations from ACOG say to go every three years if you’re in your 20s, and every five if you’re in your 30s (provided you’ve always had normal results). I’m not overdue by that much, but still: I’m instantly nervous. My mother had a bad pap in her 20s and I’ve long-since known, I should be on top of this part of my healthcare. Especially because cervical cancer is one of the most curable cancers there is, when it’s caught early enough.
Silently, I start beating myself up. Why didn’t I go to the doctor sooner?
I’d never miss one of my kid’s appointments, check-ups, vaccines, or dental visits. But when it comes to my own health, I’m easily more relaxed. Yes, I exercise daily. I try to eat right. But as for going to the doctor … well, I don’t.
Honestly, it’s hard to find the time. And dragging kids to the gynecologist isn’t exactly tempting. I can see myself lying there, feet in stirrups, while my daughter puts stickers on a model of the female pelvis and my son pulls gynecological waste out of the trashcan.
Maybe this is at least part of why I haven’t seen a doctor in years, I think to myself.
But according to Dr. Jennifer Lang, who once worked primarily with the organization Cure Cervical Cancer, it is a preventable illness.
“If people stopped smoking and got regular gyn visits with standard screening, we would practically eliminate cervical cancer in the U.S.” she later tells me. “Globally, it is a massive problem that kills 300,000 women a year purely because of lack of access to screening and early treatment of precancerous cells.”
And that’s when it really hits me: I have no excuse not to take care of my health.
Less than a week later, I’m sitting in the waiting room of my local Planned Parenthood watching Fixer Upper and nervously drumming my fingers. I’d realized — after picking up the phone to make an appointment — that I no longer actually had a regular gyno. (Yes, it had been THAT long.) But I’d been here many years ago, and remembered it was much faster to get an appointment, no questions asked; so here I am.
As I wait, I overhear a woman discussing payment options. She doesn’t have insurance, so she’s brought her pay stubs so that she can pay on a sliding scale and still get her screening. With the ACA on the verge of being overturned, I think about just how much more valuable this service is about to become — how many women won’t end up with end-stage cervical cancer, because they’re able to come here and receive quality care at a price they can actually afford.
Planned Parenthood fills the gap for so many women — even ones like me, who may put off going to the gyno for years on end, and just want to get care quickly and easily, without any judgements.
After a few more moments, my name is called and I head to the back room where I’m weighed and have my blood pressure taken. I answer a series of questions about my physical, emotional, and sexual health. I get a well-woman exam including a breast cancer screening, an HPV test, and yes, the dreaded pap-smear.
I’m out the door and on my way home in an hour. An hour.
A quick phone call and an hour of my day was all I needed to check a huge task off my to-do list — one that I’d been pushing off for literally years. One that had been looming over me, making me feel guilty for far too long.
I shouldn’t have waited a single day beyond the recommended time for a visit. But I’m sure many of us, especially moms, are all guilty of the same oversight. There’s just constantly so much to do and other people to tend to.
But to the mom who got too busy, or too nervous, or just had too much on her mind, remember that you’re important, too.
Instead of beating yourself up, make the call — no matter how long it’s been and even if you’re afraid. For many American women, being proactive about our health and well-being could likely be a bit harder in the coming years. So there’s never been a better time to put yourself on your own to-do list and follow through, for your kids, for your family, and especially, for yourself.More On