News
2 min

Dykes need testing too

If you've got a cervix, you need a Pap

LOST TOO SOON. Caren Cunningham, pictured with John Nowak in November 2008 at the New Jersey Leather contest, died of preventable cancer in December. Credit: Jackie Thompson

“Any idiot with a cunt knows you have to get regular Pap tests!” I blasted my best friend Cheryl, angry not at the cancer but at our common lover and friend who had chosen to ignore standard medical care. She was a butch you see and apparently butch is an excuse for avoiding gynecological exams. Cheryl countered that butches aren’t the only ones — that lots of queer women don’t think they need to worry about cervical cancer.

It’s hard to say there’s any such thing as an unnecessary death; death is the guaranteed outcome for all. But Caren’s choice to neglect her cervix had her in the box so fast she never knew what hit her.

I still can’t believe the course of events. She had a small injury that wouldn’t heal, which affected her throttle hand and eventually stopped her from riding her motorcycle. She had pain in her chest, but only now and then. Looking back we know it was bone and lung cancer, the result of metastasized cervical cancer.

I liked that throttle hand and the woman who wielded it. She was a wonderful butch dyke, an experienced SM player and a top who had just won the Ms New Jersey Leather Contest with plans to run for International Ms Leather in March. She was my best friend’s girlfriend and delightful fun to play with. She had a quick wit and was an excellent out-of-town affair. We shared one of my best-ever public sex scenes in her Jeep on 42nd St. Caren sure knew how to make traffic fun. She was a horse trainer and part of the gay rodeo. We had plans to play next summer — her on her horse, Cheryl and I running wild in the field attempting to escape the lasso.

It all came to an abrupt end. Suddenly the pain in her belly became so severe she could hardly  walk, couldn’t perform tasks at work that had been routine a month before and was far too sick to fuck, let alone play. After an “intervention” she finally agreed to go to the hospital. She died just over a week later.

Wow. What a strong butch. Imagine being so sick and in so much pain but refusing treatment? I’m so impressed. No, wait, I’m depressed and really sad and angry.

What kind of a world do we live in where butch means manly and manly means a kind of tough that doesn’t need care? Why is spreading your legs for a clinical exam that could save your life so difficult?

When detected early cervical cancer doesn’t have to lead to death. It’s not necessarily preventable, but it is treatable — when it’s detected in time. If Caren had been tested doctors should have been able to catch it before it spread to other organs. It was the cancer in her lungs that actually killed her. Instead she put up a great front and now that great front is dead and the living are left to absorb the loss.

Now our network of friends is calling for action, encouraging everyone with a cervix to go for the Caren Cunningham Memorial Pap Test. That includes butches, bois and trannies too. Have you had a Pap lately? Have your loved ones?