Pap is for women
Dr. Yemi Sanusi is a medical doctor with an MBA from Lagos Business School. She is the author of Heads and Tales, a medical fiction
I told my mother to go for a cervical smear. She nodded in agreement — and carried on watching TV.
A few days later, I came back with quite a number of not so cheerful stories of women her age with irregular bleedings, pelvic pains, and unforgettable foul smells. Their cervical cancer cases had advanced and they wished they had known earlier. I was trying to save my mother (everybody, really) the trouble; to prevent what, really, is totally avoidable.
She had a bored expression on her face as I carried on. It was her way of saying ‘Do not disturb’. By the way, my mum is a retired trained nurse and midwife; I’m not accusing her of I-know-it-all. But as the Good Book warns, a prophet – insert me here – is not respected at home.
After a while, my mother looked up, clapped, and with just the right dose of sarcasm, blurted out singsong, in Yoruba, ‘Ah ah — my daughter the doctor, well-done o!’ And that, for her, was the end of the matter.
Not for me though. I wasn’t prepared to give it up. I felt like a soldier on a mission.
After a bit of rest, I went over to my friend’s some doors away to meet with her mother, a market trader, who I’d always known to be a lot more receptive than my mother when it came to health. I let her into the dangers of cervical cancer and hoped she would spread the word.
After all, she had married at a young age and would probably know more women who had also been child brides or had many children at a young age or had unwittingly exposed the fact that they had had multiple sex partners – all factors predisposing a female to cervical cancer. I also knew she had a great list of friends and acquaintances married to men who were always on the move; tanker drivers’ wives, for example.
It would have been difficult to tell her to actually share the word with women who have had extra-marital affairs. No one would willingly confess that to her, I suppose; especially if there was a possibility of gossip flying around.
My friend’s mum was such a sweetheart. She took my little lecture to heart as she promised to go for a Pap smear as quickly as possible. She also promised to spread the word.
I was glad. In fact, I was so happy I offered to check her blood pressure and blood sugar level on the spot. On my return walk home I was beaming, almost whistling.
Later in the week, my friend came around to inform me that her mother had gone to the hospital for a Pap smear. The doctor had commended her for showing up; he reassured her she was fine.
He had taken time to explain to her the ways of cervical cancer. Its incidence is usually higher in women from low socio-economic groups; of poor personal hygiene and sexual hygiene; even victims of unstable marriages. Loose living habits and prostitution are thought to be contributory. However, the most important factor seems to be early or, worse, premature commencement of the sexual activity.
When he asked her if she had any questions, she let out that she had found it funny when her daughter’s friend told her to go for a “Pap smear”; she wondered to herself if and where akamu would be smeared on her.
The doctor chuckled as he launched into an explanation. The test, he said, is named for the kind-hearted fellow who developed it: George N. Papanicolaou, a Greek-born anatomist; he lived from 1883 to1962. His test, typically performed by a licensed medical practitioner during a routine pelvic exam, he assured her, detects cancerous or precancerous cells of the cervix, allowing for early diagnosis of cancer.
The Pap smear, he continued proudly, has helped reduce the death rate from cervical cancer by 70 percent since its introduction in the 1940s. The test is 70 to 95 percent accurate in detecting cervical abnormalities.
“Come back for another check-up 3 YEARS’ time,” he concluded. Postmenopausal women, he said, were at increased risk for cervical cancer; so, it’s important for older women to continue receiving Pap smears throughout their lives. He went on to recommend that her daughter (my friend) show up and get the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine for younger women. Fair enough.
Meanwhile, he was so impressed by her conscientiousness in paying attention to her health that he volunteered to give her a full medical check-up whenever she wanted one. She, for sure, had been quite pleased and relieved; she expressed her gratitude profusely, again and again, as the Yoruba’s are wont to do.
I, on my part, was elated that my ‘Prompt Mum’ – my friend’s actually, but you get my drift –was given a clean bill of health. I have a good feeling from knowing she’s safe, at least for now.
As I see it, the charity may well have to set out from home and make stops down the street before it can begin to make any headway. Now that’s something to write home about!
Pap is for women