One weekend I happened to be browsing through a magazine, enjoying a moment of unaccustomed idleness when I came across an article on cervical cancer and the need to have regular pap smears. It occurred to me that I’d managed to avoid those issues, any urges I might have felt to book an appointment with a gynaecologist being firmly squashed.
After Nikki was born, my doctor had cauterised some errant cells on the cervix and advised me not to have any more babies. It was not the sort of experience you wish to hold in your memory as it contained an associated smell of burnt flesh. So I filed it away, far away. After Edward was born I don’t think I had time to go back to the doctor for a postnatal check, so when I read the magazine article, I thought it was probably about time I made the appointment.
After having a baby it takes a long while to regain a measure of dignity and feel that your body belongs to you once again. One trip to the gynaecologist takes it all away in a matter of seconds. Anyway, I did it, and I thought that would be it for at least two years.
However, a day or so later I was shocked to have a phone call from the doctor himself. Not even his nurse. Him. He guardedly told me there were some ‘unusual’ cells in the smear, and he would like me to come in for a biopsy straight away.
I had an unpleasant feeling that the biopsy might not be fun and I was right. Say the word stirrups to any woman out of the context of horse riding, and she will immediately cringe and cross her legs.
The second time he phoned I recognised his voice and the tone of someone trying to deliver bad news gently. He booked me in for a hysterectomy that same week, so there was little time to panic. In fact, I was mourning the loss of my uterus more than worrying about anything more sinister. Illogical really, because immediately after Edward was born my fallopian tubes had been tied by a doctor who believed my contribution to the human race had been excessive. But I always harboured a little hope that they might accidentally come untied, and every month I felt a small wave of disappointment that I wasn’t pregnant. The thought of losing that part of my anatomy did seem awfully final.
However, I was so busy making arrangements for the family while I would be in hospital that I didn’t think too much about myself. I was pretty healthy, so a few days in bed being waited on, might be quite pleasant.
I have a bad reaction to anaesthetics, so after the surgery I felt pretty sick. The day before I was due to go home, the doctor came into the ward beaming and said they’d got it all. I looked blankly at him.
‘There was no further malignancy,’ he explained. But I had already made that assumption, so I went home and moved all those articles of feminine hygiene into the girls’ bathroom, because I would never need them again. What joy!