Things are about to get a little personal around here.
I have severe cervical dysplasia and am having a LEEP procedure tomorrow.
Let me back up.
Cervical dysplasia is abnormal cell growth on the cervix, the lower part of the uterus. Pap smears test for this abnormal growth and unfortunately it is very common for women to experience ‘abnormal’ cells at some point in their lives. The cervix is constantly replacing old cells with new ones and in most cases abnormalities fix themselves and never progress to cause any problems. Sometimes the cells continue to be abnormal and can eventually led to cervical cancer.
I first received ‘abnormal’ pap results a little over two years ago. I was living in Peru at the time and went in for my routine annual when I was visiting Portland for a wedding. By the time the results were in I was back in South America. My doctor at the time said ‘it’s not a big deal, these things usually clear up on their own. If you don’t want to go to the doctor in Peru then wait until you are back in the U.S and get another pap.’
Last May I got another pap and again it was abnormal.
I was seriously bummed. Even though I knew that abnormal results are common, I also knew that abnormal paps almost two years apart probably wasn’t a great sign.
The doctor recommended that I get the next test, a colposcopy. In my understanding, a pap is a screening, not a diagnosis, so the next step is to biopsy cells to learn more about the extent of the dysplasia.
I scheduled the colposcopy for the end of September and I got to work researching everything I could on natural treatments for dysplasia.
Here’s what I learned about the probable reasons why my body is acting this way.
- There is some evidence that cervical dysplasia can be caused by a folic acid deficiency. There is also a correlation between women who have been on birth control pills and dysplasia because the pill robs your body of folic acid. I was on birth control pills for nearly nine years but I am happy to say I’ve been off for over a year.
- I have known for years that my immune system was struggling. Eight years of insomnia left me susceptible to every little sniffle that came my way and a kidney infection landed me in an emergency room in Beijing at 3am last year.
- Living in Peru for a year and then traveling for six months was hard on my body. I tried to eat as well as possible but sometimes greens are sparse when you are hiking through the Himalayas.
- Up my folate (natural sources of folic acid) by eating lots of greens and beans everyday.
- Increase my selenium by eating a brazil nut each day. Women with dysplasia often have low levels of selenium and adequate selenium levels have been successful in preventing cancer. One brazil nut supplies nearly 100% of the RDA for selenium.
- Decrease my coffee, alcohol, and refined sugar. None of these tasty things are stellar for the immune system.
- Drink green tea.
- Continue eating fermented foods to boost the ol’ immune system.
- Take turmeric.
- Eat shiitakes. Shiitake mushrooms are super powerful immune boosters and delicious.
- Take astragulus, burdock, and echinacea.
- Get acupuncture and take Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs. I’ve had great success with acupuncture helping me with insomnia and preventing colds/flus in the past so I knew I wanted to include it in my POA. I firmly believe that the needles and the herbs have helped me calm down about the whole situation. Since starting treatment I feel much happier, more energetic, much more motivated, clearer headed, and less emotional. If it’s also boosting my immune in the process then bonus!
- Make sure to eat lots of foods containing vitamin A. These include greens and yellow/orange foods (easy now that it’s winter squash season!).
- Up vitamins C and E. Spinach, eggs, and sunflower seeds are great sources of E. Citrus and steamed kale are good sources of C.
So I had the colposcopy last month. It hurt, cost about $300, took the same amount of time as a pap, and the doctor took three biopsies.
The results were not good.
Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia level three, or CIN3. Three is the last step before cancer develops, if cancer develops. There is still a HUGE ‘if’ there, the dysplasia can still reverse/never progress.
The recommended treatment is a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP), or using an electric wire to cut out the abnormal cells. It is an in-office procedure that takes about the same amount of time as a pap but, despite local anesthesia, is probably going to hurt like hell.
Deciding to go ahead with the LEEP was very difficult. There are serious risks associated with pregnancy afterwards (which I definitely plan on) but maybe that’s a discussion for another day because this post is getting lengthy. The risks of not getting the procedure is cervical cancer and a hysterectomy as part of treatment. I was between a rock and a hard place and I made the choice that I felt like will lead to the least amount of regret, if any.
So why am I sharing all of this? Well, I didn’t plan on it because it felt very personal and not totally fitting with the jive of the blog. But then I realized that this is an incredibly common experience for women. I’ve been scouring the internet for information and personal experiences regarding dysplasia, colposcopy, LEEP, natural treatment, recovery from LEEP, and pregnancy after LEEP and I’ve really appreciated every single personal account that I’ve found out there. I am writing about my experience to perhaps connect with others who have gone through it and to let all of my readers know what’s going on with me on a personal level.