Last month I had a “normal” pap smear.
This was a very big deal and very relieving given the long strange, trip I took during my twenties into the land of HPV, cervical dysplasia (sometimes incorrectly called “precancer”), the associated medical rigamarole and natural treatments I found and used successfully. I shared this briefly in an Instagram post and several women asked if I would share more about my journey the healing protocol I used.
I believe that my body healed fully from this imbalance / virus several years ago and mostly I haven’t thought about it much or been worried - until I actually got a pap smear, then I was extremely anxious - but I did not get a pap smear or seek any sort of medical diagnostic confirmation of this until basically now, so I wasn’t really in a position to share my story or the protocol I used with any confidence, until now. So….I’ll share both of these things in detail, for free, holding nothing back, so if you or someone you love has the desire for this information, insights or inspiration, it is here for you. If you have questions ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Feel free to share this with anyone and try out the things I have done to heal myself, but don’t make a religion out of it. This is not a “Cure your cervical dysplasia in 3 easy steps!” type thing, this is just my life. I am not a doctor or anything.
So to start this off right and not keep anyone guessing, first I will tell you what medicines appeared to be the ones that reversed my grade 3 cervical dysplasia (the most advanced / worst level of dysplasia before it is considered cancer):
Yin Care Effective Herbal Wash
Turkey Tail mushroom tincture (orally)
Receiving an energetic/shamanic healing from my friend
That’s kinda it, but it’s been a real journey anyway. (I don’t get paid to promote these products or services, although perhaps I ought to.) I’ll share the protocol in depth at the end of this piece too. Feel free to skip around if you like. AND, this is how it all happened:
I remember very clearly the day I was diagnosed with genital warts.
I was twenty years old and had just gotten back from a month of backpacking in Thailand. Which was a mixed bag of experiences, and where the above photos were taken and I look like a child, but anyway: My pussy was kind of itchy and hot, and there were one or two very small bumps on my perineum, almost like ingrown hairs but without pain and in a spot where no hairs grow. I could have almost missed them, but I didn’t. I went to Planned Parenthood to get things checked out and was told matter-of-factly that I had both a yeast infection and genital warts, a type of HPV. The clinician got out a little bottle of some sort of acid solution and said she could burn off the warts, it would just sting a bit. So I said yes and she did. There was also a whole little, inconspicuous colony of warts which I had not seen, at the top of my thigh.
I thought, Wow a lot of help condoms have been: I have warts on my taint and the top of my thigh, two areas entirely unprotected by condoms in any situation.
The acid left a little raised scar on that spot at the top of my thigh, which I have to this day. The clinician sent me home with a pill for the yeast infection and told me I would have HPV for the rest of my life, don’t worry about it, there is no treatment, just come in for my annual pap smear to make sure I stay healthy, as it can increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Fucking great. There is no treatment but it can lead to cervical cancer so don’t worry about it? Jesus.
My mom picked me up from Planned Parenthood in her car and I cried as I told her what happened. Then I grumbled and moped for a day or so and felt bad about myself.
I hadn’t been with that many people sexually and had always been rather cautious so was a bit surprised by this development. Now I’m not surprised, since I have read repeatedly all over the internet that 80% of “sexually active” adults have HPV in the U.S., and many don’t even know it, so it is pretty easy to be exposed to it and to contract it. I mean, 80%? That is a huge, huge amount of people.
In my case, there were three possible people it could have come from, all guys, and I’m fairly sure whoever it was had no idea he had it. With warts as tiny and painless as I had, it was easy to see how. In my mind I kinda landed on one of the three as The One, the Giver of HPV, because he was the one I knew least and because I had been rather publicly shamed by my so-called friends for having slept with him, and that experience hurt me very deeply. It jolted me out of a certain innocence I had had - somehow even in our very sexually confused society - where connecting sexually with someone felt like a natural and joyful thing, potentially a part of friendship and just part of being human. Being slut-shamed that time (and several other times) really troubled my heart and it took me years to feel through the shame and rage I felt.
The feeling of shame is so awful. If certain health conditions have associated emotions (many people believe that) I have always connected the feeling of shame with HPV and with that incident, so sitting with that and loving it away, loving myself as I am, has been a part of my journey too, in addition to the more concrete medicines I have used. I don’t know if this is true for others; I just offer it up as true for me.
Down the Rabbit Hole of Abnormal Paps and Colposcopies
It was two years later I had my first “abnormal” pap. I was twenty-two. The recommendation at the time was that I come back in six months for another, and make sure that I have not had anything in my pussy for 48 hours and that I am most certainly not menstruating at the time. So that is what I did. I was in a new relationship at the time and I remember the relief my girlfriend and I both felt when I got my results: Normal.
I thought I was done, that my abnormal pap had been an error of some kind. About a year later, in August of 2009 I accidentally missed my scheduled pap smear because I was with my mom in the hospital. At that moment, she was dying of complications from ovarian cancer and I was midwifing her through to the other side.
I had been doing seasonal farm work which was then ending as the fall came. I also lived in a cabin on the farm where I worked. So my work and living situation were about to end and my mom had just died, so I didn’t exactly have anything holding me where I was. I had a long-distance lover who really showed up for me in a big way to support me during and after my mom’s death. She was amazing actually, and it solidified the bond we had been forming in a more casual way over the past year. So I moved fifteen hundred miles to make our long distance relationship into a short-distance one (spoiler alert: We are still married). And...I didn’t get myself set up in my new city to receive any sort of medical care for YEARS. The thought of any sort of invasive pelvic exam and the paper gown I would have to wear, all of that, made me think of my mother’s hospital death, and I just cried and couldn’t make myself do it.
Also, let me be effing clear here about ovarian cancer: My mom got her regular pap and pelvic exams and mammograms and all that shit. A pap smear is basically a screening for cervical cancer and nothing else. It does NOTHING to detect ovarian or uterine cancer. My mom had enormous tumors on each ovary and more small tumors which had spread to her liver and her intestines by the time it was detected. And she got all her checkups and shit, all the time, and they found nothing. She was fat - a fact not a criticism - so it would have been a bit harder to palpate the tumors in her pelvis and abdomen, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. It’s just no one did it and she, like most people, wasn’t in the habit of massaging or palpating her own belly.
For a few years, I was a massage therapist and the particular work I did involved massaging the abdomen and breasts. Over time, I found a dozen or more lumps in the breasts and bellies of my clients, lumps they had not found. I always told them. Usually they were of course not cancer. The body forms lumps all over all the time and it’s not necessarily a problem, but what struck me is that they had no damn idea. They, like my mom, were not in the habit of really touching and knowing their own breasts and bellies.
I got into the habit of massaging my breasts and belly a few times a week and paying attention to what I feel with my hands, the subtle changes and shifts during my menstrual cycle and when I gain or lose weight. Mostly it is relaxing though and keeps my breasts from swelling and aching terribly right before my period starts, as they used to always do.
I digress. Back to abormal paps and colposcopies:
By the time I got a pap smear at Lyon-Martin in San Francisco years had passed. I don’t know how many. My partner Cait got one too. Her’s was normal and mine was not. So they had me come back in for what they called a colposcopy. But they lied: It was also a biopsy. The doctor used some sharp little tool and cut four tissue samples from my cervix, two from the outer part and two from the opening of the cervix. No I did not have any pain killers of any kind. Yes the metal was freezing cold and they refused to warm it up.
You already know my results. Cervical dysplasia is rated on a scale of 1 - 3 with three being the closest to looking like cancer, without actually being cancer. Mine was a three. Sometimes cervical dysplasia gets called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), and more often called “precancer” which is BULLSHIT. There is no such thing as “precancer.” Cervical dysplasia may or may not ever turn into cancer. It often goes away on its own without any intervention. I feel the use of that word is partly a scare tactic and partly a simplification, using a familiar word in place of an actual medical diagnosis. But anyway, the recommendation for me was a LEEP procedure, which was explained to me as, “Like just taking a paper punch to remove those top few layers of cells from the middle of [my] cervix.”
At this point in my life, in my mid thirties, after I have officially determined I do not want to give birth or have my own children, if I had that diagnosis or recommendation now I would maybe just do the LEEP procedure. The success rate is quite high I believe. I know a handful of women, several of them elders, who have done it with no issues and no recurrences. But at the time, sometime in my mid twenties, my whole body rebelled against it. I felt sick at the thought. It felt wrong in every way, in every cell of my body.
I was in natural healing world myself, my partner an acupuncturist well versed in other healing methods and in herbal medicine, and I myself studying ayurveda and yoga, so I decided to see if I could treat it with herbs, food, and whatever else, before choosing to have surgery. For some reason, I didn’t think the surgery would work or help me in any way. I have no idea if that is true or not, it seems like it usually works quite well for others, but that was my belief at the time. What I did learn later is that it can be challenging to give birth vaginally after having a LEEP procedure, due to the fact that the cervix is possibly ringed entirely with scar tissue and so has a hard time stretching enough to allow a baby’s head to pass through. An old friend of mine is a labor and delivery nurse and has assisted hundreds of births by now, and she told me this.
So what I did was study and research and create an herbal formula for myself to take orally and one to insert vaginally. I also engaged in a lot of emotional and ancestral healing work which I will share more about in a minute. I was experimenting. Six months later, per my doctor’s recommendation, I had another colpo/cervical biopsy to monitor my progress. Which turned out to be nonexistent. I was still a 3 out of 3.
Okay, it wasn’t worse so that was good, but I needed a new approach, clearly. Before sleep one night, I asked for a guiding dream to help me understand what was going on and what I ought to do. That night I dreamed I was driving north up highway 1, sand dunes covered with ice plant to my right and a winding cliff edge drop-off to my left, and beyond that the open ocean. Cait was asleep in the passenger seat next to me. As a I drove, I saw a group of peacocks in the sand dunes. All were male, all fanning out their tails. I tried to wake Cait up, (“Baby wake up! You need to see this!”) But she just mumbled in her sleep and wouldn’t wake up. I kept driving, and soon it happened again, another slightly smaller group of male peacocks gathered together in the dunes, all fanning out their tails. So I tried again to wake Cait up to show her, and again she wouldn’t wake up. My dreaming self recognized, with a sense of peace, This is not for her. It is for me.
When I woke and pondered this mystical and strange dream - which I still recall with such clarity, more real than what I ate for breakfast today - the feeling I got was that this is my own path and I cannot rely overly much on other people to support me - and that I don’t need to. I had defaulted to relying on Cait so many times - emotionally, for help with my health, for money - and I knew that this was partly about me developing my own power and sovereignty. I read about peacocks in myth and symbolism, and I encountered the idea that in medieval Europe, before light and refraction and color was understood, people believed peacocks had metal in their feathers, and that they were like magical little alchemist birds, able to eat poison and turn it into their beautiful metallic-looking feathers. Which is of course bullshit but they didn’t know that, and peacock became a symbol of alchemy.
So I began to ponder and stay open to how I was being asked to transform my lead into gold. Which is a powerful point of self-inquiry anyway, wherever you are in your life.
From an acupuncturist colleague of my partner, as I was at the clinic where she worked one day, I learned of a product called Yin Care, which is an herbal wash used for all sorts of medical conditions. They have been doing clinical research for a while now on using it to treat HPV (and herpes too I believe). They have all sorts of protocols for different conditions. My partner’s colleague didn’t know the product well or have a specific protocol for me, so I called the company itself and was able to speak with one of their staff clinicians who sweetly and for free told me exactly what to do for my condition. He spoke with me twice (for free!) rather casually, even giving me his cell phone number, and just told me what to do and so I did it.
One day I was driving home from a dance retreat in Point Reyes, heading south on highway 1, through hilly, wooded land. Suddenly there was a break in the trees, the landscape opened, and I saw a group of wild turkeys by the side of the road. They were arranged haphazardly, their tails fanning out (as turkey tails always are in every moment.) They looked exactly like the peacocks of my dream, but chubbier and more brown than blue. Next to me in the passenger seat was a girl I carpooling with. I did not know her well, I was just giving her a ride. She was absolutely asleep, while my friend Raha was in the back resting too. A moment later, we passed another group of wild turkeys, like the first but fewer. I felt a shock wave through my whole body, as I knew some sort of a cycle had been completed. I was driving South now, and in the dream I had been driving North. I didn’t say a word to my travel companions but just sat in this knowing, stunned.
Later another shock wave hit me when I remembered that turkey tail mushroom is used to treat cervical cancer, with great success if taken early enough. I had not thought of taking it myself, to treat my cervical dysplasia, until right then.
Cait and I both use a pendulum to ask yes-no questions and get dosages on medicines. After practicing for a few years, I feel very confident in this method of gathering information. I use it the most to ask about if medicines are right for me or for clients, and to get correct dosages. So I asked about turkey tail mushroom and got a definite “yes!”, the pendulum swinging excitedly.
It turned out I had a client at the time who worked part time at a specialty store which sold culinary mushrooms and all sorts of culinary and medicinal mushroom products. He and I did a little trade and I got a 2 ounce bottle of turkey tail mushroom tincture, and then another. About halfway through that second bottle I got the sense it was no longer needed, and indeed when I asked with a pendulum, the answer I got was the same.
Almost a year had passed since my last colpo, and I had another one scheduled. They had told me to come every six months (since I had refused the surgery, that was their recommendation, which I believe they arrived upon somewhat randomly, as they told me they had never had a patient who refused surgery and chose to treat their own cervical dysplasia themselves and still chose to come back for monitoring, ever) but I just couldn’t seem to get my ass there.
That last colposcopy had gone rather badly, aside from the results being disappointing. When the doctor took the sharp little tool out of the sterile plastic and attempted to take a tissue sample from my cervix, the metal wasn’t sharp enough and instead of snipping off a bit of my flesh, it just pulled. I felt every organ in my pelvis and abdomen strain as she pulled on my cervix, trying to get that tissue sample. I had never known a pain such as that before and I cried and cried. She tried again with the same result before admitting that she needed a new one.
I was very sore and emotionally drained by that experience. While it was happening, I saw my mom on her deathbed, remembered all the pain she had been in at the end, all the tubes and wires running in and out of her, all her open wounds, and I felt my body to be her body, in those moments, and I felt out of control and buffeted by the powerful forces of technological medicine.
So I put off going back but I eventually did it, and this time it went without incident, unless you count another four tissues samples from my cervix as an incident. I had the sense a corner had been turned. Whatever the results and despite all this pain, I knew in my gut my cervix was healing.
As I waited for my results, my friend Kelley offered to do a shamanic healing for me and I accepted. I think we did a trade, massage for shamanic healing. She led me on a journey to and through the Otherworld. At one point she prompted me, You can ask for a healing if you want. So I politely requested a healing, from which Otherworld guide now I’m unfortunately not sure, and instantly I felt an icy rush up my pussy all the way to my cervix, and in my mind’s eye I saw a disembodied hand reach inside me and pull out a large blue and white marble - a particular marble I remember buying as a souvenir on a class trip as a young girl - which had been lodged in my cervix, and the hand held it up for me to look at. I felt it being plucked out and I felt a huge release of tension at it was removed, and a spaciousness inside which I had never felt before. Kelley guided me in composting the energy of the marble, letting it return to All-That-Is. For days I felt the sense of openness and relaxation in my pelvis. It felt like I had been carrying around a brick in there for years and hadn’t known it, and now I was finally free.
If this all sounds totally nuts, well it sounds a little nuts to me too. But it is the truth of my experience, as well as I can tell it. Life is wild and complex and full of things I do not understand.
In due time, I got the results of my colposcopy: One. A grade one down from a three. I was elated. The new recommendation was not a LEEP procedure, but instead to just come back in a year for monitoring. It may be worth noting that none of the medical staff acknowledged that I had been actively engaged in healing. They behaved as if this was something that “just happened sometimes”, and they showed not the slightest interest in what I had done to heal myself.
I wish I could remember for sure what year this was, how long ago it was, but I don’t quite. I think it was about five years ago, as of this writing. And I didn’t go in for another colpo. Or a pap smear. Or anything, until last month. I was maybe 95% certain that I was clear of any sort of abnormality or unhealthy cells on my cervix, and I just couldn’t seem to get myself to go in to have another four snips off my cervix, and I didn’t really want to get a pap smear simply because they are not very accurate - they are a screening not a diagnostic - and I thought it possible my pap would still be abnormal (despite the fact that I was clearly healing) and then they would recommend a colpo and I just couldn’t seem to make myself do it. Everytime I tried to make an appointment, I ended up just crying. Like, ugly crying into my hands and getting snot and tears all over myself and remembering the time the blade did not cut but pulled on all my organs, and remembering the paper gown, and remembering my mom on her deathbed.
At some point I got a flash of insight or inspiration or something, and I looked up the history of gynecology. And holy moly. Gynecology has a terrible, terrible history. Writing about it in depth is beyond the scope of this personal blog post. I’ll simply say that James Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology” experimented on / actively tortured enslaved black women and poor Irish immigrant women in order to learn how to perform the surgeries he “pioneered”.
Don’t believe me or want to learn more? You can look that shit up easily same as I did. It’s all right there. Anyway, that asshole is considered the FATHER of gynecology! The whole field is grounded in his work and in his perspective, or maybe it’s the other way around. But same difference.
Any gynecologist I have met in my own life seemed to be a fine person doing their best in this complex and sometimes difficult world. Yet. Gynecology itself, as a field, is institutionalized violence against women.
I recognize that is a strong statement. And, I stand by it.
Seeing it in that light I understood more why I shed so many tears on this whole journey and why I felt so resistant to making those appointments. Instead of feeling irresponsible and like a fuck-up, I had a lot more compassion for myself. I wasn’t sure what to do though! According to my pendulum, I had no trace of HPV or unhealthy cells on my cervix, so I left it at that for years, choosing not to participate in this system of violence, only occasionally worrying about it or getting mad at the medical establishment.
It was only when the potential of me having a new lover arose (my partner and I have an open-ish marriage), who was very responsible and gets tested regularly and all that, that I thought, Holy shit I need to actually know for sure that I am not passing on a dangerous virus into my community.
Cait has had no sign of HPV or cervical dysplasia in our ten and a half years together, and she has had a couple pap smears, and I have been with others who I have told my full story to - I have never concealed it from a lover or potential lover - and they have, as far as I know, not contracted HPV from me or had any issues, but truly how could I know how another person would respond to exposure to that virus, if I had it? I couldn’t know. So I sucked it up and got a pap smear. I was terrified. Every step of it was terrifying, except the thing itself. My new doctor at Bluestem Health in Lincoln, NE was chatting with Cait the whole time, having medical provider public health shop talk, and she did it really quickly and painlessly. She told me my cervix looked “great” and that she saw no scar tissue (which I used to have, from all those biopsies). I was terrified to get the results, and when I learned my pap was normal I felt lightheaded, could have nearly fainted.
On Sexual Violence and Ancestral Healing
For a while in the beginning, after my first colpo, I went down another sort of rabbit hole doing ancestral and emotional healing practices I kinda just made up, and I explored how to compost violence and inherited trauma. I was struck by the legacy of sexual and physical abuse which occurred in my mother’s lineage, when I stopped and thought about it, and it felt connected to this physical problem I was having on what is the doorway to my own womb. My father’s side of the family also knew great violence, but somehow it has always felt distant to me, like hearing a story, watching a film. Stuff from my mother’s side of the family felt and still feels intricately tied into every cell of my body, or like I’m in the soup of it, swimming in it constantly.
My mother’s womb, the womb in which I began my life, had been violated so many times. First by an elder brother and then by other men as the years went by. I had this sense of that sort of violence stretching back in time to the misty past. It did not start with my uncle, that I was sure of. And I was equally as sure my mom was not the only one my uncle hurt in that way.
I sat with this knowledge and the memories of what my mom had told me about this, and felt and saw the energy patterns playing out. One of the energy patterns was silence. A heavy leaden silence, and a forgetting.
The more I sat with this, the more I began to forgive my uncle. I started writing angry letters to him, and found that as I wrote, I wasn’t angry any more. I just felt sad. And I saw felt the heaviness of that silence and forgetting in him too, and I saw how he lived out his whole life in reaction to the harms he caused when he was young, probably without knowing he was doing so. So I wrote him a letter telling him that I know what he did, and that I forgive him. That I want him to make peace with himself and his own heart. Everyone makes mistake and causes harm in their lifetime and eventually there comes a time to accept this and to try to forgive yourself.
I didn’t have his address, so I called another family member to ask for it. It took months for us to make contact. My first voicemail was choppy and indecipherable to her, it turned out. I called again. Then when she finally called me back, the connection cut out right before she gave me the address and we had to call back again.
It felt like all those difficulties in communication were not so much due to me living on the side of a hill and sometimes having bad reception, but to the heavy cloud of silence and forgetting in my family. I felt as I sent that letter that I began to pierce through that fog and let some sunlight in. I know he got the letter, I saw it in his eyes when I saw him a year later, but we have never discussed it.
I don’t know how much this relates to my healing from HPV, but it was such a big part of my journey I feel I must share it. Rape, sexual violence, and other forms of violence are not personal problems, not unique to individuals or families, but systemic.They are part of a culture that created single use plastics and cut down the forests of the entirety of Ireland for timber - some of which timber was used to build ships for the transatlantic slave trade, another campaign of systemic violence which of course this same culture also perpetrated.
These things are all one thing. People have to be violated and traumatized from a young age for these other types of exploitation to occur, to either participate actively in them or allow them to happen. People have to be cut off from their own bodies, their own sources of nourishment, pleasure and power, to rape and destroy the Earth and other people.
So I work to heal this in myself in many ways all the time. But at this time in my life, I said prayers and made offerings to my ancestors who had been raped and abused, including my mom, and I wrote that letter to my uncle. After I did this work, my colpo was still a three, so maybe it didn’t help with this specific medical condition I was dealing with, but I felt I was being asked to do it anyway.
That’s it. That’s the story, as far as I recall. Thanks for witnessing. I welcome your comments and if you are on a similar journey to me, I wish you so much support and love and knowledge and growth.
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In more detail….
The Protocol I Used To Heal
1. Yin Care Effective Herbal Wash
For me, what I did, was: I m ixed in a little bowl 2 capfuls of water : 1 cap full of Yin Care solution. Put a (organic cotton!) tampon in the solution until it soaked it up, then awkwardly and kinda uncomfortably shoved it up my vag, as deep as I could get it so it was theoretically close to or touching my cervix. That was every night before bed, removing it in the morning, starting on the day my period ended, and going straight through until my period came again, about three weeks. Or maybe I was told to take a little break around the time of ovulation? I don’t remember. That is one treatment cycle. That was all I did. But I was told some require another cycle. I was actually told to use a stronger concentration of 2 caps full of the Yin Care solution : 1 cap full of water, but that burned like hell so there was no way. I reversed the ratio and asked the clinician I was (very informally) working with if that was okay, and he said it was fine. There are other situations where Yin Care is used as a wash or a douche, but he said for the severity of what I had going on, this stronger, more sustained application of the tampon holding the medicine on my cervix all night was better. I just price checked this product, and you can buy it online from any number of retailers for $27 or so a bottle. I only ever needed one bottle.
2. Turkey Tails mushroom tincture
I believe I took 2 droppers full of tincture a day (orally) for however long it took me to go through 3 ounces, maybe a 2-3 months. I suggest a double extraction (water and alcohol) to get more of the medicinal constituents, if you can find it, or get the whole mushroom and learn how to make it yourself. All this is available online pretty affordably.
3. An Energetic / Shamanic Healing
I also received an energetic healing/psychic surgery facilitated by my friend Kelley Kessler, who practices a kind of shamanic healing. I had this one particular session with her after I had completed the Yin Care protocol and was still taking the turkey tails extract. It was an extremely powerful experience that I believe was integral to my healing as much as the above herbal medicines. If those plants and mushrooms worked more on the physical manifestation of this viral condition, this energetic healing worked on the level of the spirit to shift to make change there.