The dreaded word for
25+ year old women….
The dreaded word that could be the difference between making or saving your life….
Sounds extreme right?
We’re all women, we know how important it is.
So….I want to tell you a story – it’s Kimberley here (Female Success Network’s Social Media Manager). This is a long one!!
I had just bought my first home…it was time for my first ever smear. I had someone coming to the house to do a job and they couldn’t make the arranged time. What did I do? I cancelled my smear test. I didn’t think anything of it, just rang my surgery and said I couldn’t make the appointment. They asked did I want to make another appointment. I said no. I was already sh*tting myself about having it done so to me at the time it was a ‘no brainer’ to cancel because I didn’t want to have it done.
Anyway, I got another call from my doctors (good on them!) and I re-booked.
I went, I was petrified. Why? Well it’s not every day you lie on a bed spread eagle with a pair of eyes staring at your bits. Might sound dramatic but flipping heck! It’s a nervous moment!
The nurse was great, she’s actually my favourite nurse – weird but I was glad it was her that was the lucky one to “inspect” my bits. I’m going to refer my lady parts as my bits purely because things can’t get any more awkward really?
Anyway! It wasn’t so bad, I was being over-dramatic about it, painless but just a feeling of SUPER AWKWARD. Like, where do you look?! All I was wondering was…do my bits look normal? Like I said, it’s not every day you show your bits to someone. It’s not like we’re men who (I believe) compare shape, size, length, girth, you name it, they’ve compared.
So, I waited for the results…didn’t think anything of it, didn’t fret or worry because I didn’t think about what could go wrong, I didn’t associate the smear with potentially saving my life?!
The results came…I was walking out of the house and there was a letter with my name on it. I casually opened the letter and the first thing I see was a leaflet explaining everything I needed to know about Cervical Cancer – WHATTTTT??? My heart rate shot up, I started shaking uncontrollably, read to the bottom of the letter – IRREGULAR SMEAR. Obviously I link that with the cancer leaflet and panic. Rang my Mum – no answer. Rang my boyfriend Michael – no answer. Rang my sister Kelly – no answer. Rang my Dad – no answer. Rang my best friend Rachel – finally I got an answer!!
Rachel calmed me down, I couldn’t breathe for worry and explained what had happened. She was great. She came to see me on her way home from work, flowers in hand and made sure I was okay. I eventually got in touch with the rest of my family and I was visited by them all. Sorry if you’re reading this thinking I’m a drama queen, but the whole process of opening that letter and seeing the Cancer leaflet just made me panic.
So here are the facts behind what the letter said (taken from the Cancer Research UK website)
“If you have an abnormal cervical screening test result, you have changes in the cells covering the neck of your womb (cervix). This is not cancer. But if these abnormal cells are left untreated, there is a risk that some of them could develop into cervical cancer in the future.
Your screening result may say you have:
- borderline or mild cell changes (low grade dyskaryosis)
- moderate or severe cell changes (high grade dyskaryosis)
If you have an abnormal screening test result you might have a referral to the colposcopy clinic for a closer look at your cervix. During this examination, your doctor or specialist nurse (colposcopist) can take samples (biopsies) of any abnormal areas.
The colposcopist might offer you treatment at the same time as your colposcopy. Or you may go back for treatment once they have your biopsy results.”
So I needed to have a colposcopy. Sounded scary. An appointment had been made for me. Can’t say I was thrilled to go. This appointment meant that I needed to have a biopsy of the cells in my cervix because my results were that I had moderate to severe changes. (High grade dyskaryosis or CIN2. Categories range from CIN1-CIN3).
Obviously I brought my mum with me to the appointment so I didn’t know what to expect and was petrified and needed a hand to hold just in case.
So I sat and had a chat with the consultant and she very clearly explained what they had found, what it meant and what they had to do.
I went behind the curtain, took my trousers off, took my knickers off, put the flimsy blue sheet over my lower half and sat on the chair. THE CHAIR. Not my best friend I must tell you – when they designed the chair, it must have been for the average sized woman. My limbs are LONG – this bed did not really cater for my LONG legs. Okay so the lovely nurse who assisted the consultant told me to shuffle my bum to the end of the bed. My legs at this point are in the “stirrups” my arse wasn’t shuffling any further down because my legs didn’t fit comfortably in the stirrups. Then the consultant (as nice as she was) told me to relax. RELAX?!?! My legs are akimbo on a bed and now this time there are 2 sets of eyes and a students set of eyes staring right inside me with a camera at the ready to display my cervix on the screen. That wasn’t the issue though…the issue was my long ass limbs stopping my backside from shuffling low enough down the bed to allow myself to “relax”.
Jokes aside – I just kept reminding myself that this is just like a car mechanic doing an MOT – it’s their job, they see these things every day. It’s normal to them. They weren’t embarrassed at all and this is going to help me in the long run.
It took longer than I expected, purely because I was so tensed. You do the maths there – the more tensed I was, the less the duck mouth device would be able to just pop in.
So, it was all over, finito, I sighed a huge sigh of relief! The nurses were lovely, the consultant was lovely, I am so happy with how the staff treated me on the day.
Next step…this was a waiting game to see if everything was okay with the biopsy they took from me.
The letter came….I needed further treatment. NOT what I wanted to hear, but totally an appointment I would attend because it was so damn important. I needed the LLETZ treatment – here’s a great explanation from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust:
The LLETZ procedure, which is also known as loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), diathermy loop biopsy or just a loop, uses a small wire loop with an electrical current running through it to cut away the affected area of tissue and seal the wound at the same time. The procedure is usually carried out under local anaesthetic, where just the area they are treating is made numb but you are still awake. The advantage of this treatment is that the cells are removed rather than destroyed, so the tissue can be sent for further tests to confirm the extent of the cell changes and make sure the whole area of your cervix that contains the abnormal cells has been removed.
Mum came with me again & it was the same lovely consultant. Like last time, I had the same difficulties as last time – I didn’t know where to look, couldn’t relax and really struggled with the whole fitting my body on the bed situation! I kept holding my breath and just made it more difficult than it needed to be. This time I had to have some of my cervix removed. Not something I wanted to have done but totally something I knew I had to get done. This meant I needed a local anaesthetic injection to numb the area – ouch! Not particularly comfortable but I was comforted with the lovely nurses and my gorgeous mum. I then had to have the affected cells removed. They did this by cutting it away and also burning the surface.
The side effects aren’t the nicest feeling in the world but you should know what the process is (I wish I had the heads up more than I did) so here we have some information again taken from Jo’s Cervical cancer Trust:
After a LLETZ treatment you can usually expect some bleeding and discharge for about three to four weeks. In order to help avoid any possible infections it is recommended that you only use sanitary towels during this time, avoiding tampons, sex and swimming, until any discharge has stopped and any bleeding has settled. Every person’s experience is different, so the amount and colour of any bleeding/discharge can vary a lot depending on how quickly the person heals, the size of the area treated and the treatment method used. Some women start to get bleeding or discharge from the day the treatment is performed and for other women this is very light or absent during the first week or so.
After treatment what is know as a soft healing scab forms on the cervix. Over time this slowly dissolves away, which is what often causes the discharge and some bleeding. This can vary a lot from woman to woman. The blood can be red or brown in colour and it can vary in heaviness from light spotting to slightly heavier bleeding. Sometimes the discharge can be yellowy in colour, and it can be heavy or watery. Some women find that their next monthly period comes slightly earlier than normal and it may be slightly heavier. This is thought to be caused by the increased blood supply around this area.
I was also told not to take part in strenuous or high impact physical activity, so this for me meant no netball or gym. Something that I was gutted about but also something I wasn’t too bothered about knowing that I had had the treatment completed and it was all overland done with.
Why am i going into so much detail? What if I hadn’t have had my first smear? I would have had cells that could potentially turn cancerous and then it be too late? It doesn’t bare thinking about. I grew up with the news around Jade Goody who unfortunately lost her battle with cervical cancer. The ‘Jade Goody Effect’ doesn’t seem to still have the same impact like it used to. Women are caving to the thought of how horrible it could potentially be but don’t seem to understand that a smear test can save your life.
The results were in – everything worked! I then just had a routine follow up smear with the nurses at the clinic and was happy to receive a letter from the results of this that everything went well & I’ve been discharged! So super happy and relieved, it’s a nerve wracking waiting game let me tell you!
No matter how uncomfortable the process may be, I would have the procedure done every month if it meant saving my life. Ask yourself, what’s more important? Losing your dignity for 5 minutes or potentially losing your life? When you put it like that, I bet more of you would regularly attend your smear tests.
Did you know that every year in the UK, over 3,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under.
Get your smear test booked in! Get your friends, sisters, auntie’s, mum – every woman you know to go have their smear tests done. It shouldn’t be a case of keeping quiet about it because it’s a taboo subject. Encourage your girls to get booked in. Get a text thrown out this week to your girls group chat and get the ball rolling. There’s no time like the present!
A few tips to help you feel a little more dignified when going for your test…
– Shower beforehand and make sure you’re positively clean down there – you don’t want the poor nurse to feel uncomfortable now do you!
– Groom yourself – however you normally do, but make sure you’re in tact for your appointment.
– Relax – nobody wants to clasp hold of the device they use!
– Think about happy things
– Let the nurse do her thing – she will talk to you so talk back at her.
– Take a friend or family member with you to help calm you down if you’re scared.
– Wear something that’s easy to take off, maybe a dress so you only have to lift that up rather than taking your whole trousers off.
– Ask questions if you want to know what’s coming next.
– Don’t be embarrassed – this nurse has seen thousands of vaginas – yours won’t make a difference as beautiful as it may be!
If this has been helpful to you, we’d love to hear from you. Share your stories (anonomously if you wish) and if you think a friend of yours needs to read this, then share the blog with them.
Said with love to you all, thank you for reading – it’s pretty a pretty private process but I really feel you all need to know that it’s not just a case of missing an appointment and everything being okay – it’s a matter of potentially saving your life. Having a smear test is normal and routine – go get your bits checked ladies!!!