By Darcy Rogers
I moved to NYC in Spring 2011 and in my first year of living here, I contracted HPV. I was crushed to find out the news, especially because I had been practicing safe sex. My doctor informed me that condoms do decrease the risk, but are unfortunately not a complete safeguard against contracting HPV. The results of my Pap test prompted my doctor to schedule me for a colposcopy, an exam that allowed her a closer look at my cervix. During the colposcopy, she also did a biopsy. After the colposcopy was over, I cried. The doctor asked me what was wrong and I told her that having a biopsy felt so serious.
The biopsy revealed a high grade growth which was not good news, but also not bad news. My doctor suggested that the best course of action would be to wait and see. The best case scenario would be that my body would clear the virus on its own and the worst case scenario would be undergoing a procedure to remove the abnormal tissue. She instructed me to schedule a checkup every six months so that she could monitor any changes.
I religiously attended the six month appointments and embraced healthier habits including more exercise and veggies. I feverently hoped my body would clear the virus on its own as the alternative sounded frightful. Via Google, I had read about a procedure called Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure, or LEEP for short. This is an operation in which the doctor takes an electrically charged wire and removes abnormal tissue from the cervix. I am easy to nausea and fainting if hearing about bodily injuries, surgeries, or excessive bleeding. Heck, I one time fainted in a first aid class! My fear of physical pain was in overdrive when researching LEEPs on Google. I had to shut down the computer and lie down.
I was in a holding pattern for two years. Each exam revealed no new changes and I continued to keep my fingers crossed. This health issue was in the back of my mind, but mostly I lived my life as normal. This changed two weeks after an appointment in Spring of 2014. My doctor called to let me know that unfortunately my pap smear had revealed negative growth and it was necessary to remove tissue. I was crushed by this news and felt my stomach drop when she recommended a LEEP.
Reading articles online about what a LEEP entailed had made me feel sick. An anesthetic would be administered via a shot directly into my cervix and a portion of tissue would be removed. I worried about the pain I would feel before and after the procedure. The day of the appointment arrived and I tearfully entered the exam room. Seeing my tears, my doctor assured me that I would not feel pain and it would be over quickly. The nurse also offered to hold my hand which I gladly accepted.
I sat in the chair, with my legs in the stirrups and the doctor inserted the speculum. She gave me four shots of anesthetic. Thankfully, it was not as a painful as I had imagined. They felt like a small pinch. She instructed me to stay completely still. She explained that the wire was electrically charged and any sudden movements on my part could cause unnecessary wounds. I closed my eyes, clenched the nurse’s hand, as the doctor went to work. I heard the hum of the tool as she scraped away part of my cervix, but felt nothing. After 20 minutes she declared that the procedure was over. She instructed me to relax and take my time getting dressed. The nurse went over a few rules for my healing. For the next two weeks I was to avoid exercise, heavy lifting, and sex. I was to call the office immediately if I noticed any bleeding. I felt drained from the anticipation, but also relieved it was over. The LEEP had been quick and painless.
The next few days, I could feel a bit of discomfort on my cervix. There was a tightness, similar to the stretching feeling in the skin surrounding a scabbed over wound. Beyond that I felt no pain and had no bleeding. I took it easy, taking the next day off to relax and indulge in some self care. At the two week follow-up appointment, my doctor declared that the healing process had been successful.
My pap tests since the LEEP have thankfully been normal. I was very scared to undergo this procedure, but in the end it turned out to be fine. I felt very fortunate to be under the care of a skilled and compassionate doctor. She always took time to answer questions and reassure me that I was not alone in this journey. If you need to undergo a colposcopy or LEEP, find a caring doctor you like and can trust. Then, follow their guidelines. My doctor stressed how important it was to attend six month appointments. If left unchecked, HPV can lead to cervical cancer. Undergoing a LEEP was scary, but ultimately it was for my greater health. And for that, I am grateful.
Read more of Darcy's work here.