Why Pelvic Self Exams Matter

Alrighty, let's get right down to it. This is a personal story, y'know like one of those you tell about "a friend" but everyone knows you are just telling it about yourself. So yep, this one is MY story. If at this point you don't want to read anything related to me, my pelvic self exam, and what happened thereafter then here's your cue to head back over to your Twitter or FB feed.

As for you curious folk who are hanging around, let's get this story started. 

It all began when my copy of "The V Book" finally came in! 


This book was going to be my starting point into learning more about women's health. What better way to start diving into the world of pelvic floor treatment then by getting to know myself, a woman, better?!  This book is essentially an owner's manual for vaginas. Seriously though, it covers anatomy, function of the female genitals, various tests, and an overview of common sexually transmitted diseases, yeast infections, and other various problems and diagnoses. (It's a great read!)

Well one of the first chapters had instructions for performing a self exam. Which made me realize that... 

I'd never done a "true" external self-exam before.


Y'know every now and then I'd take a look and nothing looked weirder than it normally does. But I want to be a pelvic floor physical therapist and gosh darn it, I needed to start somewhere! With the book opened next to me and mirror in hand, I was ready to get started. 

And quickly I realized that, uhm, I had something which the pictures didn't show.


Between my urethra and vagina there was a bump. It was the same exact color as the other tissue around it and it felt sorta "squishy" when poked. I'd noticed it before when "looking down there." But I've been going to the same gynecologist for years now and she had never mentioned anything so I never thought much of it. If she had never brought it up to me it couldn't be anything serious right? 

So, like most people who have a problem, I hoped it would disappear. 


Thankfully another chapter in the book discussed different abnormalities you could find. One of those abnormalities was a cyst and I felt pretty sure that was what I had. I kept an eye on the size of the cyst and tried to pay closer attention to what I was feeling. I decided to wait until my gyno follow up in about 7 months to get it checked out. 

Finally, it was time for my gyno visit


Let's be real... I was nervous. I thought it was a cyst, but what if it was something more? The medical assistant brought me back, took my vitals, and asked me if there was anything I wanted to talk to the doctor about today. "Yea, I noticed a growth down between my urethra and vagina and I'd like her to examine that." 

That is NOT what she was expecting to hear.


She was flustered. She left, chatted with someone, then came back in and asked more questions.

I answered the questions, then was left alone to get naked and wait.


I kid you not, while waiting I actually thought to myself "This is gonna be such an awesome blog post." My gyno came in, we talked briefly about my concerns, and then she got to the exam. It was clear that she wasn't 100% confident in what she was seeing, so...

She brought in another MD to get a second opinion. 


And they were both basically like Tina and Amy up above. If you think having one gyno doing a pelvic exam was uncomfortable, just imagine what it was like to have two. They poked, prodded, and decided it was likely a cyst. They weren't exactly sure what kind of a cyst but offered to refer me to a urogynecologist for further examination. 

Two weeks and a huge packet of intake paperwork later, I had my follow up with the specialist. We talked for a bit and then she did the exam. 

Then she says "Oh a Skene's gland cyst! I'm going to be removing one of these tomorrow. It's not that big." And I was like


At this point I had a whole bunch of questions running through my mind. She described the various treatments we could do (watch and wait, surgery, remove part of it in the clinic). I had her write down the name of the cyst so I could research it more. After reading about it, I've learned it is a rare cyst. There are other types of cysts which occur below the vagina called Bartholin's Gland Cysts, which are much more common. 

After researching the cyst more I realized that I had symptoms from the cyst which I had either attributed to other things or ignored, including discomfort with sex and a urine stream which could go rogue sometimes. At this point I'm still looking into the treatment options, but I'm leaning towards the surgery. 

So there you have it! Here's what I hope you take away from this:  

  • You need to do your own exam! Hopefully you don't find anything, but I'm sure glad I found this. When the medical assistant and doctor's asked me questions, I was very specific with the location of the growth. This helps the healthcare providers with diagnosis and made me feel more confident as well. 
  • Speak up at your MD visit. It was nerve-racking, but if I didn't bring up my concerns I don't think my doctor would have said anything. Healthcare providers are important, but in the end, you are in charge of your care. 
  • Don't wait around. In retrospect I was totally in denial and wish I had gone in sooner to find all this out. I was lucky that time hasn't made anything worse, but that isn't always the case.