My old-fashioned, immigrant mother would not have appreciated this, but I'll admit it... I was sexually active before I was married. Are you gasping? I even used birth control, which explains why I didn't have children until I was 30 years old. As if that's not enough, I received care at (wait for it...) Planned Parenthood as a young adult. Yes, Planned Parenthood. That's where, as a poor college student with no health insurance, I learned how to take care of myself and went for my annual checkups.
One of the annual exams in my early twenties revealed abnormal cell growth in my cervix. This led to a biopsy, a procedure to remove the abnormal cells and instructions for frequent Pap tests, a screening procedure that can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops.
Several years later (after I finished college, became gainfully employed with health insurance, married my wonderful husband and continued frequent checkups at a private clinic) another routine exam revealed abnormal cells, but this time it was more serious. The pathology report called it a "severe abnormality." I was referred to an oncologist at a premier Cleveland hospital, and I was terrified. He explained that women can develop cervical cancer without any symptoms and I was very lucky to have an early warning.
Cervical cancer is deadly. About12,170 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and about 4,220 women will die from cervical cancer in 2012 according to the American Cancer Society. These are dramatically lower numbers than those from a few decades ago before Pap tests became commonplace.
At this point, I was in the last precancerous stage and there was no time to waste. A biopsy, procedure and another biopsy later, I was good to go.
How fortunate was I? I too would have died had it not been for the care and awareness I received at Planned Parenthood when I was young and poor and my access to world-class care as a gainfully employed professional. Having been on both sides of this fence, I know cancer does not discriminate. Today, I'm the mother of three beautiful children and a fan of birth control, Planned Parenthood and access to quality health care for all women. And, I want no less for my daughter than was available to me.
I'll admit one more thing: It took me several days to decide to publish this post. "Too private," I thought. But as politicians continued their assault on women, I decided I had to speak up. I wonder how many women have similar stories but have shied away from sharing them. For the sake of our daughters and their daughters, let's not waste any more time.
Please share your story HERE or find your own way to speak up. Access to quality care for women of every age, color and income level is not child's play or material for political grandstanding. It saves lives. Our daughters' lives are too precious.