5 Reasons to Not Freak Out Over an Abnormal Pap Smear

There’s only five reasons that I can think of in which you would not freak out over receiving an abnormal pap smear:

  1. You’re in a coma and aren’t aware that you have an abnormal pap smear.
  2. You’re more worried about navigating a post-Apocalyptic world filled with flesh-eating zombies and you just don’t have time to worry much.
  3. You have short-term memory loss and can’t even recall what you did two minutes ago.
  4. Your test results got mixed up with someone else’s and your doctor calls you to tell you about the debacle and reassures you that your cervix is A-Okay!
  5. Or you’re like me, and an abnormal pap smear isn’t so abnormal to you any more.

If you ever receive a pap smear and it comes back as abnormal, I want to say now — it’s okay if you freak out. It’s okay to run to Google and look up what that means, stress out, get anxious, and even cry. That’s what I did.

I received my first abnormal pap smear in 2012, and like any young woman might do, I freaked out. I went straight for Google which might not be the right thing to do, but I did it. Up until then, I am sad to say that I didn’t even know what a pap smear actually was or did or looked for. I knew I had to spread my legs, the OBGYN went in there, got some samples from God knows where and sent the samples to a lab. A week later I received a letter or a phone call giving me the thumbs up and I went on my merry business until the next year when I had to return to do it all over again.

It’s sad to say that I was never really taught why I underwent yearly pap smears, that is not until I got a pap smear that was “abnormal.” Oh, the “a” word — abnormal. It was a scary word, one I hadn’t heard before until the gynecologist at the health center at my university at the time called to give me the news. When I asked why it came back abnormal, she told me she didn’t know and that I’d have to find a gynecologist at a large clinic to find out. Yeah, that didn’t help — not being told why, not being made aware of what it could be. It just made the freak out all that much more worse.

I called my parents, feeling a little ashamed and scared. Neither were really aware what it meant, especially not my mom who had never gotten an abnormal pap smear in her life. So I found a gynecologist at a local women’s hospital in Oklahoma City where I was living at the time and we did another pap smear only to learn what I already knew — something down there was “abnormal.”

Around this time, I started to finally learn what an abnormal pap smear could mean. See, a pap smear is a screening procedure meant to take cells off your cervix and tests them for precancerous or cancerous cells. Now, I know that freaked you out — you’re being tested for cancer! Well, yes, but an abnormal pap smear doesn’t necessarily equate with having cancer. It generally means that you have a vaginal or cervical infection.

After doing some more tests, I learned that I had HPV, a virus that was causing the cells on my cervix to change. There’s over 100 HPV strains and even with the shots, you’re still at risk of contracting the virus through sex — even if you use a condom. It’s estimated that about 75% of the population has HPV at one time, so be aware that this isn’t something unique — it’s pretty common. When I finally learned of this, I felt a little better, but I was still freaking out because unlike most people, my HPV had progressed a little beyond what is normal. And yes, that freaked me out.

But the real truth is that I would have freaked out regardless if my abnormal pap smear was abnormal because of a simple infection or even with what it ended up being. Like I said, I wasn’t well educated on pap smears, women’s reproductive health, or even what HPV was — even though it clearly affects a huge part of the population. Fear of the unknown is all too true and if we begin to educate ourselves about women’s health, I think it can make for less “freaking out” when things like abnormal pap smears arise.

Secondly, I remember feeling ashamed for getting an abnormal pap smear. I kept it hidden for a little bit until I couldn’t take it anymore and broke down to some co-workers at a bank I worked at. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t the only one at my small bank who had had an abnormal pap smear or who had contracted HPV. Rather, I quickly learned then and over the next few years that most of the women I knew had received abnormal pap smears at least once in their life — but no one talked about it!

There’s this societal norm that tells us not to talk about women’s reproductive health. Some of us are told to feel ashamed about it, brought up to be scared about it, or raised in environments where its never talked about and therefore it is never normalized for us. So when we get abnormal pap smears, us women just don’t discuss it. And that’s a problem. We need to talk about it. We need to vent over it, cry together about it, and provide each other with understanding support when it arises among us. Why? Because it helps minimize the freaking out when we know that our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our aunts, our co-workers, and our neighbors have dealt with it too and are still healthy and fine and living happy lives.

If you are among my tribe of women who get an abnormal pap smear, know that you are not alone. Know that its okay if you freak out and get scared — there is absolutely nothing abnormal about that. We deserve a moment to freak out and go through the emotional process of dealing with new knowledge about our bodies — that’s okay! But also know that — yes, I’m repeating myself — you are not alone. You will be okay. And there are thousands (okay, billions) of us who have gone through the exact same thing and we are much closer to you than you might imagine. So open up, talk about it, educate yourself more on what it means — because that’s the only way to move past the freaking out stage.

(In case you were wondering, I’m okay! My cervix is fairly healthy. Long-story short, my body fought off the virus, it came back, and then it fought it off again. I got my first normal pap smear in December of 2016! Yay me!)

One woman explains why its okay to freak out over an abnormal pap smear and theorizes how we can "freak out" less about reproductive health issues.

Alex Temblador
Alex Temblador is the founder and editor-in-chief of Fempotential.com. She’s a full-time freelancer with dreams of being a full-time novelist and blogger.
Alex Temblador

Alex Temblador

Alex Temblador is the founder and editor-in-chief of Fempotential.com. She's a full-time freelancer with dreams of being a full-time novelist and blogger.

6 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Not Freak Out Over an Abnormal Pap Smear

  • February 8, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Alex, thank you for sharing this. I personally never went through this but have friends who did. Very informative and very appreciated!

  • February 8, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    I think this is really important, to know you’re not alone, you’re not the only one that had abnormal results. It can be scary, but it can make the world of a difference knowing you not alone.

    • February 8, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Hi Megan, thank you for the comment. Yes, it is so important to show other women that they are not alone in abnormal pap smears or whatever else it may be! Hoping we can do more of that at Fempotential. 😀

  • Liz Benson
    February 8, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Alex- I love that you shared this story! I manage a pathology lab and most of our work is testing PAP smears for everything, including HPV. HPV education is something I wish my doctor had provided more of. I was the same, I felt like I had done something wrong when my PAP came back positive for 16/18 HPV. I would have liked to have known some facts, or maybe a pamphlet on what the heck it is. Generally, women under the age of 35 shed the HPV virus naturally. Shedding means it is not hanging out in your body impacting your cervical cells. Women over the age of 35 have a harder time shedding this common little virus, and that’s what changes those cells, making PAP smears an annual thing VERY important. At the Pathology lab we have your PAP history going back at least 15 years…most of our clients have been with us longer than that, so if you see the same doctor it’s easy to get your history. We compare your history to your results and provide a very extensive report to your doctor, so that they can explain what is going on with your body. And that treatment right away if it is cancerous is important, and that this HPV thing is very common virus.

    You are extremely brave for being open and writing about your body. I wish more women would do the same – I’d love to be able to read about how their HPV was treated, or what they did when they found a lump in their breast, or even that weird cramping that didn’t feel quite normal. We should all show the love and share more of how we took care of our bodies. Way to go Alex!!!

    • February 8, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Hey Liz,

      Oh, my! You do amazing work! Yes, we definitely need more information about HPV and not just — “Go get these shots” with no other explanation about it. I love learning about your pathology lab and think that it is so important and helpful what you do. You know what was ironic, is that when I went to go get my pap smear and it came back abnormal that first time — they were actually trying to convince me to skip a year because some new regulations mentioned that women under a certain age don’t need to go every year. But I was already there and just said do it since my insurance covered it. If I hadn’t just gone ahead with the testing and waited another year — imagine where I might have been? Probably not great because I was between low and high grade dysplasia.

      Aw thank you — it actually took me some time to write about this experience. I wrote about getting HPV in a fun, humorous essay and then wrote a short story piece about it too. It was very therapeutic to write about it. Here’s one of them on FP: http://www.fempotential.com/writing-a-letter-to-hpv/.

      I actually have a cool women’s reproductive health idea that kind of brings together your idea about more women talking about their bodies. Keep a look out for it! I might actually hit you up with some help for it. 🙂

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