HPV, Cervical Cancer, and What To Do About It

Sarah McMahon
5 min readOct 4, 2020

[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]

**This blog serves as a Public Service Announcement to get your pap smear, and as a personal account of my lived experience. I am not a doctor or even remotely medically literate. Seek professional care if you are concerned or have further questions about your own reproductive health.

Just over a year ago, I had cancerous cells removed from my cervix. I initially went to my gynecologist to have an IUD inserted, and while he was up in there, he did a standard pap smear even though I wasn’t “due” for one for another year.

Fast forward a few weeks, and a nurse called me to tell me the pap smear came back, and she had some bad news. There were some abnormal cells detected, and I needed to have a biopsy done. The biopsy was painful and weird; I could hear my doc snip samples from my cervix to test different areas and worse yet, I could feel the snips. He took seven samples in total, apologizing the entire time because, as you can imagine, the process was wildly uncomfortable.

The samples were tested and the tissue was considered “high-risk” meaning that if it wasn’t removed, there was a strong chance it would spread and I’d need more aggressive treatment. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer afflicting women worldwide. In the United States, 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and more than 4,000 women die.

The procedure to remove cancerous tissue is called a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). My gynecologist essentially numbed my cervix, stuck a big metal tool up there, and cut the high-risk tissue out with a hot circular blade. Pleasant, right? Because I was numb, I didn’t feel anything until the following day. I had cramps, and that was mostly it. By far the most uncomfortable part of the entire experience was the biopsy. My doc sent me home from the procedure with some thick pads, some Tylenol, and instructions to refrain from penetrative sexual activity for at least two weeks. My mother (God bless) came to stay with me after the procedure, and we spent a lot of time relaxing, going on hikes, and generally “taking it easy.”

Fast forward another year, and I revisit my gyno for a follow-up pap smear. He takes a peak and…