The Eurobodalla Relay for Life was held over the weekend at Batemans Bay’s Mackay Park, and was “better than expected” according to Cancer Council community engagement coordinator Grant Plecas. Zoe Simmons reports.
No, but seriously; let’s. We really don’t talk about them enough—especially in a non-sexual context. The word feels strange to write, and even stranger to say out loud. Even my phone corrects “vagina” to “cagina”, as if an inanimate object could also feel awkward. Well, that taboo ends here! This is an important issue that could save your life—and a lot of young women really don’t have a clue about it. Now that is awkward.
Okay, brace yourselves, ladies (and any men who were unknowingly lured into reading this through the word “vagina”) here it comes: pap smears. What a terrible name. Smear. Smear. They really don’t make it sound appealing, do they? But in all honesty, It’s not that bad. The procedure takes probably less than thirty seconds in all, and it doesn’t hurt even slightly.
You can get a pap smear by booking in an appointment with your doctor, or at a women’s health clinic. Basically, they take you into a private room, just like any other doctor’s visit, and ask you to remove your underwear and lie on an examination bed. This bit is rather awkward, but remember: they are trained professionals and have probably seen thousands of vaginas in their time. They use a hard plastic tool called a speculum (not to be confused with a spatula) in order for them to see your cervix. From there, they take a quick sample of the cells and send them away for testing. And then you’re done!
Now, I would definitely recommend seeing a female doctor—at least for your first time. It’s much less awkward. My usual doctor is male, and I’m also friends with his daughter. The vagina jokes he made certainly didn’t make me feel more comfortable. The female doctor I sought out, however, was kind and made general conversation and even gave me some information for this article.
So, what the Pap smear actually does is test for any abnormalities in the cells around your cervix which can eventually lead to cervical cancer, as well as testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is present in 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. HPV, which is an infection of the skin around think, moist linings of the body (like the nose, mouth, throat and genital) results from close skin contact, isn’t something to be overly concerned about: 4 out of 5 people will have it in their lives, mostly with no symptoms. Your body will usually clear it naturally in 1-2 years, but in some cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer.
According to the Cancer Council, about 1 in 10 Pap smears reveal abnormalities, though less than 1% of these abnormalities lead to cervical cancer. Even so, all women, regardless of age, sexual orientation or number of partners, should be tested every two years from the ages of 18-70 (or younger, depending on what age she became sexually active).
In 2017, based on recommendations from the Medical Services Advisory Committee, the Australian Government will make some changes to the Pap test. Women aged between 25 and 74 will undertake a HPV test every five years, which may also include various other tests. These changes are estimated to reduce the number of cancer cases by a further 15%. Hooray!
However, until then, Pap tests are absolutely necessary. Soldier through that awkwardness, and it could potentially save your life! Eighty per cent of women who develop cervical cancer had not had regular check-ups. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with a simple test—these tests have halved the mortality rate. Can you really ignore that?
Listen to your vagina, and don’t be afraid to talk about any problems you may have, no matter how seemingly miniscule. Don’t become another statistic because you were too embarrassed to ask. After all, happy vagina, happy life. Preach it, ladies!
My grandfather, Paul Simmons, passed away on Valentine’s Day, 2014 from cancer. I wrote this for a creative writing subject at university; it was all I could write about at the time. Rest in peace, I love you.
‘Are you shouting at me, dead man? Cry louder, beat the windows, bawl your name!
But not a mouth could fly the pygmy strait.’
-Excerpt from Kenneth Slessor’s Five Bells.
It was horrifying.
Skin that had once been taunt and tanned now hung limp off frail, fragile bones. He was skinny; oh so skinny. Gone were the days where muscle and sun-kissed skin told the tales of a once vibrant life. Lips, once joyous, were now dry and cracked; it was clear from his gasps and raspy voice that words caused him great pain.
His hair-hair which as a child I had rigorously tried to grow with all sorts of absurd concoctions (like shaving cream and body moisturisers) by massaging them into his head-was now sparse and dull. I recall how I had stubbornly, in the way only a five-year old child could, insisted my efforts had worked. He’d always loved my attempts. The words sounded in my head as if they’d only just left his lips.
He’d been powerful once, I recalled, watching his frail, hospitalised form with sad, sad eyes. He was always kind, always a good man. He was never judgemental, he was never rude. He was my father when my real father was not around. He was one of the most important people in my life. But all Cancer had left behind was the shell of a man, once great.
He passed away on Valentine’s Day.
His body rested peacefully in the coffin. His cold, lifeless body dressed in the finest of suits and adorned with the most expensive flowers. The sweet scent of a candle drifted through the air. But none of that could bring him back.
Gingerly, I stroked his features with a mix of fear and apprehension. I saved his ears for last-the bumps on his cartilage, to be exact. As a child, those bumps had always mystified me.
I’d have given anything for him to have woken up. I would have given anything to stop the aching we all felt at his loss; the black void which seemed to suck us all in without provocation. I prayed, but no god would answer. I guess Heaven is just too far away.
He passed away on Valentine’s Day. And the world is a darker place for it.