I was 21 years old with a college degree, a job lined up and the promise of a bright future right in front of me. Compared to the skewed stereotypical view of what some people might portray me as, I was not the image that most likely came to mind when you pictured someone walking into Planned Parenthood.
The reality is that people from all different demographics rely on Planned Parenthood because they extend their services to people of all races, genders, socioeconomic class and education levels. Planned Parenthood is actually the main source of healthcare for many low income and young people. I was in between college and starting my first real job, and I was uninsured. I couldn’t go on my family’s insurance plan either, because like many blue collar or service workers, they were uninsured too.
Contrary to the popular belief of the protestors that stood around the health clinic that day, I wasn’t there to get an abortion. Though it is legal, and a choice that any woman is entitled to make in private with her family and her doctor. I wasn’t even there to get birth control that day either, though in the past it was my primary source of reproductive health care, like thousands of other women. That day, I was there to receive my annual womanly check up that revealed something concerning: vaginal melanoma, or skin cancer in my vagina.
I had volunteered for Planned Parenthood throughout all of college. I knew the statistics of women my age who had cervical cancer. I heard about how common STDs and STIs were amongst sexually active individuals in my age group. I had no sort of pre-existing symptom that pushed me to go get checked out that day, but I thought it was important to be proactive about my health. Planned Parenthood encourages health positivity. Without access to insurance at that point in my life, Planned Parenthood was the only place where I could get a Pap Smear at an affordable cost.
After sitting in the waiting room for about twenty minutes, my name was called. I followed the nurse to my private room, took of my clothes and put on the hospital dress that was nicely folded for me on the bed. After a few minutes, the doctor came in and introduced herself—and before I knew it I was sitting with my legs spread wide open in the most intimate of positions with a complete stranger. There’s no way to go about this comfortably. Let’s be honest. Yet somehow, I’ll never forget how calm the doctor made me feel that day during this check up.
During her inspection, she came across something that—in her words—looked “concerning.” She asked me if I’d mind having another doctor look at it for a second opinion. After inspecting it closely, the two doctors went out of the room to discuss it together. A few moments later my doctor came back in the room alone, and I could tell something was wrong.
“Danielle, we think you may have skin cancer. I know this isn’t a common place for it, but you can actually get skin cancer anywhere on your body, and not only the areas that are exposed to sun. It’s good you came in today because you need to have this removed right away.”
In that moment, I felt my world around me come crashing down. Here I was, just hoping to hear the news that I was still STI free, finding out I had skin cancer—on my vagina of all places.
The thing is, if you have skin cancer on your arm, or leg, or any visible part of your skin, you’ll notice if it gets bigger, changes form, or in general seems like a concern. Prior to this Pap Smear, I had no idea that vaginal melanoma was even something that women could get, yet alone that I even had it myself.
Planned Parenthood saved my life that day by detecting this early enough to give me a referral to a dermatologist to have this surgically removed. As you could imagine, this was not a fun procedure, or even a procedure I’ve told more than five people about prior to writing this, but it was a necessary one.
Abortions make up just 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does—and those services aren’t government funded. The other 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s time and resources go towards services including giving women birth control, providing schools with reliable sex education, administering STI/STD tests, providing cancer screenings for men and women alike and prenatal care.
Planned Parenthood gets its government funds from Title X, America’s Family Planning Program, and state Medicaid funding. Now-President Trump publicly claimed during the presidential campaign that if he were to be elected, he’d make defunding Planned Parenthood a top priority—now, he and his administration have urged Republicans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and, along with it, Title X funding for Planned Parenthood. This means that millions of people could lose access to their main source of healthcare—care that could save their lives the way it saved mine.
There is not a one-size-fits-all description of a Planned Parenthood patient, but the majority are folks who are uninsured or don’t receive reproductive health care coverage through their insurance. Chances are, you’re friends with someone who has relied on their services in the past year. Defunding Planned Parenthood will hurt their patients—and put lives on the line.
I don’t know what would have happened to me had I not gone into Planned Parenthood that day. I’m grateful I never got the chance to find out because their doors were open to me when I needed them the most.
Danielle Ortiz-Geis is a freelance writer and photographer with a passion for women’s health, international relations, and education. You can check out some of her other published work on Thought Catalog, and connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn.