By Maryanne W. Waweru
For the last 16 years, Agnes has been taking her annual pap smear on her birthday. It’s easier for her to remember that way, she says. I had a chat with the 43-year-old Interior Design Installation contractor who is based in Nairobi, Kenya, on her decision to do so. A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a procedure to test for cervical cancer in women.
You’ve been doing a pap smear for the last 16 years without fail. What inspired you to be doing so?
I learned about cervical cancer and how it’s transmitted while in my twenties after hearing about several cases in my extended family. At the time, there was no vaccine and the best solution was early detection.
Take us through the first time you did the pap smear. Was it something you dreaded, and how is it now, years later?
I don’t recall the exact time, but I was around 25 years old. I had had a chat with my roommate back in college, who described it as a painful procedure. So yes, I was dreading it, but I told myself the pain would be the trade off to keeping cancer away. Turns out the ‘pain’ was really just discomfort from the use of a device to open the pelvis to enable the doctor to access the cervix. Different doctors use this device differently and then again –we have different pain thresholds.
With your busy daily schedule, how do you ensure you never miss your annual appointment?
At first, I did it every two years whenever I remembered. But as I got older, to ensure I didn’t forget, I opted to do it on my birthday month, every March. My birthday month is a time for self-reflection, so why not also make it a time to get my annual check-up? A pap smear is one of the tests that women over 30 should get annually to ensure they stay healthy.
Where do you get your pap smear done (public or private hospital) and at what cost? Is it covered by insurance?
I started with a private doctor, but I have since discovered cheaper and more accessible options at LVCTs. Most health insurance covers don’t cover the well-woman checks.
Have you ever had a scare, where your results didn’t come out the way you were expecting?
So far so good. I have never had any test results come back positive for any HPV.
I’d also like to say that as mothers and aunties, we should have this important health discussions with our daughters and nieces and inculcate in them the importance of taking matters about their sexual and reproductive health seriously. We can even offer to take them for their first well-woman check-up.
For instance, having early (teen and pre-teen) unprotected sex exposes the still developing cervical cells to viruses which in future can turn into cancer. Delaying sexual debut to mid-late 20s is best.
We should also teach boys and girls to thinking positively about their health and bodies because how we think about ourselves manifests in actual reality. I also meditate often about my health and wellness.
Your last words?
Annual well-woman check-ups are important for every woman’s general health and well-being. I would advise women to schedule them to coincide with their birthday or the anniversary of an event that will ensure you always remember.
What do you think about this story? Comment down below with your thoughts. Have you ever taken a pap smear test? What was your experience like? If you’d like to share it, you can email me on email@example.com and I’ll get back to you.
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Featured image: Iwaria