ActivismFeminismFertilityHealthPoliticsPregnancy & ChildbirthSex and Sexuality

How Planned Parenthood Saved My Life

I have been having sex (both consensual and non-consensual, and with some significant hiatuses) since I was 12 years old. I am now 45.

In all that time, I have never had an unplanned pregnancy.
I have never had an abortion.

What I did have (and might still have) was a sexually-transmitted disease that could kill me. And it wasn’t HIV.

I started using Planned Parenthood’s services when I was 16, when I got my first Pap smear and my first prescription for birth control pills.

I don’t remember how old I was when I got my first diagnosis of abnormal cervical cells. No big deal, said the doctor, we’ll just keep an eye on it. Since I was getting my Pap smears on an annual basis, that’s what we did. Sometimes the cells looked abnormal, and sometimes they didn’t.

In 1998, I was told I had pre-cancerous cells on my cervix and would need surgery. This was due to the fact that I had contracted a sexually-transmitted disease called Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV.

In the late 80’s and early-to-mid 90’s, when I was having the bulk of my sexual adventures, we were most concerned about AIDS. When we got tested (and oh, I got tested) we got tested for AIDS.

I had never even heard of HPV. This is not surprising, as it hadn’t even been identified as a cause of cervical cancer until 1983 and 1984. There is also no test for it, so you have to wait for your cervical cells to show abnormality in a Pap smear, and then get biopsied to find out.

The great majority of HPV infections don’t cause overt symptoms. Most are cleared by the immune system in a matter of months. I happened to have a persistent, high-risk HPV type that can lead to the development of cervical cancer. The only treatment for the precancerous cells that can sometimes result from it, then and now, is surgery.

At the time of my diagnosis, I had just moved to Georgia, and had no job and no insurance, which meant I had to have the surgery as an indigent. My only medical provider was Planned Parenthood, because they were all I could afford.

I had LEEP surgery, which consisted of having an electrified loop of wire scrape the surface of my cervix, removing the cells. Afterwards I was to get Pap smears every six months for two years.

The surgery itself was really no big deal, I didn’t have to be cut open, and the healing process was basically the same has having my period for a week or so.

Having an STD, even one as common as HPV, is humiliating. Even though HPV is so common that most sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives, having The Talk with a potential lover is stressful and embarrassing. Admitting that at some point you were indiscreet enough to have unprotected sex is difficult. Because the majority of strains of HPV are asymptomatic, anyone could be infected and never know it.

Another unintended consequence of the infection and surgery was revealed later, when I was pregnant. There was the possibility of my having a miscarriage. The surgery I’d had could have resulted in an “incompetent cervix”, due to the cervix being thinner by one layer of cells.

Why am I confessing this totally distasteful information to the internet at large?

Because of the recent flap about defunding Planned Parenthood over an already-debunked, heavily-doctored piece of video “evidence” talking about how Planned Parenthood disposes of aborted fetal tissue.

According to NPR only 3% of PP services are abortions, which are not funded by the government. The rest of what they supply are what I used: inexpensive birth control and reproductive healthcare.

The fact is that if it weren’t for Planned Parenthood, it is likely I would not have discovered the cervical cancer in time to treat it. What naturally follows from that is the possibility that I could have died from something that, with early diagnosis, is completely treatable.

I am heavily invested in the administration of the HPV vaccine to both boys and girls. I do not want that to happen to my child, or anyone’s child for that matter. I don’t want to consign anyone’s kids to a lifetime of worry every time they get a Pap smear, wondering if there’s been a recurrence and will they need surgery. Or even to undergo the invasiveness of more frequent Pap smears, a transvaginal ultrasound, or colposcopies, to keep an eye on the cells.

When I hear politicians talk about defunding Planned Parenthood what I hear is that they don’t understand the services that Planned Parenthood provides for both men and women. What I hear is that they don’t care if both men and women have access to low-cost reproductive health care.

What I hear is that politicians would rather focus on something that is provably false than acknowledge what is factually true.

What I hear is that the so-called pro-life movement would rather I die due to the consequences of my youthful ignorance and trust in someone I loved than have access to inexpensive life saving services that provide early detection and treatment.

What I hear is that I should be punished, both for being a woman, and for having sex, by dying of an STD that is completely nonlethal if it is caught in time.

Pro-life?

People keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.

 

Sources:

http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2014/09/16/hpv-the-whole-story-warts-and-all/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1581465/
http://www.archivesofpathology.org/doi/full/10.1043/1543-2165(2003)127%3C930:HPEAPH%3E2.0.CO;2
http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm
http://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hpv/
http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/08/05/429641062/fact-check-how-does-planned-parenthood-spend-that-government-money
http://www.factcheck.org/2011/04/planned-parenthood/
http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/unspinning-the-planned-parenthood-video/

Image Credit:

Wellcome Images, Flickr.com

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Cassandra

Cassandra

Cassandra Phoenix is a badass librarian who writes impressive fanfic (see link above). She started out in New England, got lost, and is currently in Wisconsin, where she lives with her offspring and her cat. She’s dyed her hair more times than you’ve had hot dinners.

6 Comments

  1. September 28, 2015 at 3:25 pm —

    Excellent post. Planned Parenthood has been there for so many of us. When I was young, it wasn’t only the financial accessibility of their care (although that was huge) that mattered, but the fact that it was ‘care’ in more than one sense. At times when I felt that my life probably was less important than anyone else’s, and that I was less than human, the matter-of-fact treatment of me as a human being was invaluable.

    • October 6, 2015 at 3:45 pm —

      thank you! yes, I have never felt dehumanized the way that I do even by the very supportive and well-meaning people at my GP’s office.

  2. October 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm —

    Honestly? The pro-life movement’s not about abortion. It’s really about punishing sexually active women. They go from the indicative “these things have consequences” to the subjunctive “these things should have consequences” very easily.

    • October 6, 2015 at 3:47 pm —

      honestly? I said that right here: “What I hear is that I should be punished, both for being a woman, and for having sex, by dying of an STD that is completely nonlethal if it is caught in time.” but thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. October 6, 2015 at 9:20 pm —

    I used Planned Parenthood in a time when I didn’t have insurance, because they were cheap and reliable. Then I had a physical with my GP and I mentioned that my last exam was at PP, and his office included a brochure with my physical results telling me that I was going to hell unless I was saved. (I didn’t know his practice was Christian-based, because I had been going since I was a child.)

    So YAY for PP!

    • October 9, 2015 at 9:52 am —

      omg, I can’t even with that doctor, really? that’s the shittiest bedside manner *ever*. I hope you’ve changed providers since then!

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