After a recent pap smear, I found out that I tested positive for HPV. Again. This is the third time in the past two years that I’ve tested positive for HPV.
The first time I tested positive for HPV as an adult—a positive test that required me to come in for a colposcopy—I felt shocked, terrified, and helpless. This was two years ago.
My healthcare provider sent me information via their online messaging system, assuring me that a colposcopy was very similar to a pap smear. That it wasn’t a big deal. That the doctor would use a vinegar solution to see potential abnormalities and then take a small biopsy—the size of a grain of rice—and that was it.
So simple: nothing too painful aside from some cramping for the next few days, and of course don’t have any sex for the next week or so to allow your cervix to heal.
And oh yeah, we’re testing to see if these cells are pre-cancerous or cancerous. But you know, NBD.
When I found out the other week that I had tested positive for HPV yet again, that my body hadn’t cleared it up on its own, I was at work and had waited for a phone appointment with my doctor. She ended up calling me 45 minutes past our scheduled appointment and left the message on my voicemail.
I went into a bathroom stall at work and cried. I’ve been crying a lot.
I felt trapped, caught in a fucked up cycle of pap smears and colposcopies that doctor’s and advice nurses kept assuring me weren’t a big deal, and yet every time I came in for one, and then another, my anxiety and panic were growing.
What is it about Western medicine that makes doctors so distant and cold? Even women doctors. A large part of why I only have gynecologists who are women is because I want someone who understands what these exams are like, who understands what it feels like to have tools and swabs poked inside of her body, who knows what it means to be a woman receiving healthcare in this society.
While I was on the phone with a nurse making my colposcopy appointment, I asked her a question: So if I don’t get better, and if I don’t get worse, am I just going to have to continue this cycle of pap smears and colposcopies every 3-6 months until something changes in either direction?
Her answer, in short, was yes.
I think that was the thing that did me in. The lack of options.
Whenever I would ask my doctors if there was anything I could do to help my body heal from the HPV, their answers were vague and general and completely unhelpful: You know, overall wellness, exercise. The first two times, their answers and the exams and the doctor’s visits left me feeling helpless, hopeless, and depressed. I just had to wait and try to be healthy and hope for the best.
I allowed myself to get sucked under with my depression and anxiety, and I coasted on their wave of continuous testing.
After this most recent positive HPV testing, though, I snapped. Or maybe I snapped out of it.
Hearing the nurse basically say that I was stuck in a never-ending cycle of being poked and prodded with seemingly no end in sight, something inside of me, I now understand it was my intuition, said: NO. Fuck no. No more.
And hearing this same nurse say that she understood that all these tests were an “inconvenience,” I knew that I would not find my support here, with them. Because these tests are not an inconvenience—that’s an insult. These tests are emotionally and physically exhausting, they are invasive and cause me intense anxiety, and there is a lot on the line.
I feel like there must be another way. Or at least something I can tangibly do to help my body get right, get through, get better.
I have reached out to dear friends, to women’s forums, asking women with similar experiences for advice and support and how they dealt with it. I’ve been researching alternative methods (from Western medicine) to help my body heal on its own and to boost my immune system. I’ve been looking into Eastern medicine, alternative healing, into the ways our physical and emotional selves are connected and affect each other.
I’m feeling a great deal of distrust and wariness when it comes to Western medicine and the way it deals with women’s healthcare. Now I’m in the process of trying to postpone my colposcopy for a bit to give my body a chance to heal on its own—so that I can be part of its healing, to actively be engaged in nourishing my body and observing her and understanding what she needs.
I also have a long history with depression and self-injury, and so my relationship with my body hasn’t always been positive. My body has not always been the safest place to exist in. The last time I hurt myself was in the fall of 2014—not that long ago. And I’m trying to understand how that ties in, what I need to heal and let go of, how I can show my body love and forgiveness and ask for that love and forgiveness in return.
I have no idea if this will work, but I want to at least try. And I want to write through this whole process, to hopefully write my body into a healthy being, into healing.