When it comes to bodily testings, it seems that women get the short end of the stick. Between mammograms and pap smears, they have to go through sometimes painful and invasive tests to guarantee their physical health. As young men, we luckily get to occasionally turn our heads and cough while getting felt up.
"Have you gotten your pap smear yet?" my HIV doctor asked me as I pulled my pants up post coughing duties.
"Well the last time I checked, I didn't have a vagina," I tried joking with him.
He didn't seem to think it was all that funny. "I'm talking about an anal pap smear. It tests for anal cancer. Farah Fawcett died of anal cancer, you know?"
I actually didn't know that fact. He suggested I make an appointment with the nurse practitioner, Myra, who apparently was the office’s resident anal expert. I figured if it could happen to Farah, certainly it could happen to anyone. So I reluctantly booked the next available appointment with her.
"Did you know Farah Fawcett died of anal cancer?" Myra asked as I pulled my pants down. Apparently it's a common occurence to get awkward questions regardless of which direction my pants are going.
"So many people don’t know that,” She snapped on her latex gloves. “Nobody wants to talk about it because it just makes everyone laugh and feel embarrassed. But butt health is really important.”
Myra went on to explain that people living with HIV are at higher risk of anal cancer. But as Farah showed us, it can happen to anyone regardless of status. Myra also mentioned that it doesn’t matter whether you are bottom or top. Which ever way Ms. Fawcett preferred it shall remain unknown.
I mentally giggled at her casual, anally based soap box. But when she pulled out several long q-tips and began explaining how she’d be placing them inside me, my laughter came to a stop.
I bent over and got ready for take off. Once sliding in the long q-tips deep within my nether regions, Myra did not merely pull them out. She removed them slowly with a twisting motion. The sensation was, of course, nothing like sex. It was perhaps more like an internal version of when someone tickles you: uncomfortable yet amusing. She had to do this a few times as the q-tip twistings would be used to collect cells in the anal canal.
Just for good measure, Myra also wanted to get a standard feel from the inside. This way she could just feel around to see if there was anything unusual. She popped a finger inside of me and, to my delight, reported that I had a perfectly usual feeling butthole.
This gave me confidence that the q-tip samples would also come back completely normal as well. While definitely not the most fun a rear could have, it still did not seem as invasive as the female pap smear.
A week later, Myra called to inform me that my anus was not as "usual" as I had hoped. The pap test came back with some abnormal results and we had to make another appointment for further investigation. From her explanation, I could tell that now things would get invasive.
The first part, called a High Resolution Anoscopy (HRA), would give the practitioner an up close look (with a high powered microscope) instead of just an up close feel (with a latex covered finger). The second part involved taking a biopsy from the areas where the HRA showed irregularities.
Back in Myra's office, bare from waist down yet again and now huddled up in a fetal position on top of the exam table, I took a deep breath as I tried to tell myself this wasn't a big deal. She inserted some lubricant, mild anesthetic, and dyes in the anal canal. The dyes, including iodine and vinegar, would help illuminate any cluster of odd cells that are biopsy worthy. Even on the other end of my torso, the vinegar was pungent and all I could think was that I smelled like a salad (which this time had literally been tossed).
When a small microscope gets shoved up your butt, it tends feel more like a telescope. The anesthetic didn't relieve the feeling of pressure as she stared into the depths of my ass - not unlike one would do into the depths of outer space. It didn't take much time before she found the spots she wanted to dissect in order to obtain tissue samples. Myra took four biopsies, which thankfully to the anesthetic, didn’t quite feel like a total butt cutting.
Afterwards, Myra told me not to do anything strenuous for the next few days and that the biopsied spots often heal quickly. She said I could resume anal sex after a couple weeks - as if I was some sort of kid begging for candy after the dentist. Once the post anesthesia pain came, I thought I may never want to have anal sex again.
As my partner drove me home, I thought about Farah Fawcett and felt sad that her type of cancer got publicly downplayed in her death. In all of the anal discussions and ass explorations that had taken place over the last couple weeks, I realized that this really is a big deal and not nearly enough people pay attention to it. Luckily I had some medical professionals in my corner who did.
A week later, Myra informed me that the results came back with the mildest outcome. Nothing further needed to be done except this same exam annually in order to monitor any changes. I could breathe easier knowing it was worth it to put my ass on the line in order to ensure its safety.
When my HIV doctor left this practice, I was given the option to either follow him to his new practice or stay and see Myra as my main practitioner. As much as I loved him, the answer was obvious. Myra had been inside me. I couldn’t leave her now. I’m sure Sigmund Freud has a whole theory on this. Regardless, I just didn’t want to put my ass in anyone else’s hands. Besides, after this, I felt like I could tell her anything and not be judged.
To this day, Myra still remains judgement free AND makes sure I get my annual pap smear done. I cringe at the thought of it each time as I can now empathize with just some of the drudgery that my female counterparts endure with their own anatomy. But I guess it just comes with the territory. Sometimes in life, we just need to be searched on the inside in order to ensure a long and healthy life on the outside.
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