***If you would like to listen to this article and/or read along, I made an audio version on Soundcloud that you can listen to here.***

This time last year, I was having surgery to remove cancerous cells that were rapidly growing around my cervix.

It was a rush surgery that I didn’t see coming because I didn’t know how bad the situation was. It all came about when my new doctor in Arizona, a Black woman from Chicago who I found on the Zocdoc app, gave me the first thorough medical testing I ever received. I mean, she checked me for everything under the sun, from STDs to vitamin deficiencies to mental health issues. She also gave me an immense amount of health information, local and online resources, and amazing tips to help me on my health journey. 

However, it was during my annual pap smear that she immediately spotted that something wasn’t right. She asked if I had ever had abnormal pap smears. I told her once, but it was years ago, and my doctor at the time told me that I might want to get a colposcopy but it was totally up to me.

She looked concerned. “So I’m guessing you never got the colposcopy?” she asked. I told her no. I mean, my previous doctor didn’t make a big whoop about it so I didn’t really trip. My new Chi-town doc told me that it was indeed a big whoop and that I should have gotten the colposcopy right then and there.

I didn’t understand how serious the issue was because I didn’t experience any signs that something could be wrong “down there.” My periods came like clockwork every 28 days, I never had any irregular or unusual bleeding, absolutely any signs that would make me feel like I would need to be concerned.

That’s the thing about medical professionals though, they’re there to spot the things that you may not see or feel that could potentially harm you.

She referred me to a Middle Eastern woman doctor who was a gynecology surgery specialist who would conduct my colposcopy that week. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with a colposcopy, it’s a procedure that tests for cervical cancer. It’s like a longer pap smear where the doctor inserts a speculum into your vagina and takes a closer look at your cervix – the opening of your uterus – to see if there are any pre-cancerous or cancerous cells present.

I can’t lie, I was nervous. I was honestly barely making it through the standard pap smears and pelvic exams. The day the colposcopy appointment came, I was ready to just get through it and see what the results were. 

The specialist who did the procedure was a sweetheart and reassured me that everything was going to be okay, even if the result was surgery. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could really trust my doctors. It felt like they really cared about my well-being and it made me open up more to them about my health-related goals and concerns. 

The colposcopy was longer than I expected, around 10 minutes which felt like forever considering the average pap smear is about 2-3 minutes. During the procedure, the doctor asked me to play her some music to put me at ease. I put on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” from my Tidal app, and she said that was her jam. We laughed, and I felt a little more comfortable. 

Afterward, I went home to recover from the colposcopy, it took about a week to get back to normal. By that time, my results came back and I was notified by the specialist that I would have to have surgery that week. The results from the colposcopy showed that I had years of pre-cancerous cells surrounding my cervix and some had already turned into cancer and were rapidly growing.

I was scared. I did so much research on the subject that week leading up to the surgery. I read so many articles and forums from women who had had the cold knife cone biopsy, the name of the surgery I was about to have. 

My mom offered to fly out to take care of me, but I declined. I told her not to worry because my household had my back, and they definitely did. You never know how much your people love you until you see them jump into action to care for you.

On the day of the surgery, I was surprisingly calm. I just wanted to get it over with so I could start my recovery and get better. I arrived at the hospital for my scheduled surgery at 7:00 a.m. A nurse took my vitals and got me prepped for surgery. The specialist was there, once again reassuring me and putting me at ease. Before I knew it, I was hooked to an IV and counting backward from 10 until I drifted off from the anesthesia.

When I awoke, a nurse was there to greet me, check my vitals, and feed me ice chips. I was prescribed some pretty heavy prescription meds for pain and was able to go home that day. My recovery was tougher than I expected and lasted longer than I expected — about 4-5 weeks. However, the surgery was successful and all of the pre-cancerous and cancerous cells were removed. After a full year, I can say that I am completely back to normal and healthy as ever. It was definitely an experience, but I’m happy to say that I’m still here. 

My past medical experience had always involved white men and women, aside from the Black male doctor who delivered my daughter because my mother highly recommended him.

Other than that, my yearly woman care check-ups, complete with pap smears and breast examinations were all conducted by white men and women.

According to my current doctor, I had abnormal cells on my cervix for years, and I should have undergone a minor surgery to have them removed a while ago. 

I’m not saying that my previous doctors were intentionally ignoring my health issues, but they weren’t helping as much as they could. To be honest, there wasn’t really a connection between us. It felt like they were there to do the basic requirements of their jobs and that was it. I thought that was how all doctors were until I decided to find one I could feel more comfortable with, and more likely understand my body and health as a Black woman.

I’m grateful to have had doctors in my life who really went the extra mile to spare me from full-on cervical cancer; to really save my life. 

Ladies, if you resonate with this story, please make it a point to find doctors and medical specialists that you feel comfortable with and who are thorough and professional in their work.

Not everyone in a white coat and stethoscope has your best interest at heart, so it’s best to explore your options until you are satisfied. Your health and your life depend on it.

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