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Woman in red, sleeping

Why you should go for your smear test.

The smear test was always something I dreaded. I'd put it off until the Hubby nagged me constantly and then I'd finally go. 

But this year's events have changed my perspective...
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Woman with blue eyes

Smear tests, cervical cancer, and how I feel about it.

5 Minutes. That's all it takes.

And the smear test could save your life - it really could.

So why are you putting it off?
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Morgan Prince, london

Time to take care of YOUR health.

Sometimes it takes a shock to make you realise just how much you've been neglecting yourself. 

Sometimes that shock stays with you and can make you change your lifestyle.

Sometimes that shock is a good thing.
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Before I start

This is going to be an epic post about my experience of being diagnosed with Cervical Cancer. I wanted to share my story with you in an attempt to make every woman out there see that it can happen to anyone. 

If you don't have time to sit and read now I encourage you to make time a little later. But, if you DO have time I'd love you to read.

Go make yourself a coffee, sit down, and read on...

My cervical cancer story

At 36 years old Cervical Cancer wasn't on my radar - not at all. As far as I was concerned I was a healthy (albeit overweight) mum to two who had plenty of years ahead of her before she needed to think about anything as scary as cancer. 

It never occurred to me that it can happen to anyone, at any time, even though I know this to be the case. I know plenty of young children to be struck with cancer and I know lots of people who are older that have had cancer, my father included. But for some reason I never thought I would be affected by it. 

I hope that my story shows you, sitting there with your cup of coffee, that you need to go for your smear test as soon as that reminder letter arrives. It can make the difference between living and not...


You hate the smear test right?

Yep, me too. 

It's uncomfortable, embarrassing, sometimes painful. And then every time you go for that stupid test you receive a letter saying everything is okay. 

I started having smear tests when I was 25, much like most other women. A mum to one I didn't think much about it, I went for the "routine" test and a few weeks later got my results letter saying everything was fine. And that was the case for the next few times.

I got into a routine of putting off the test. It was just so uncomfortable. I mean really - having a metal thing stuck inside your vagina and some woman (okay, a nurse, but still) poking around with a swab so it could be sent off - it's not my idea of fun. 


It got to the point where I was leaving it months before booking the test.

Earlier this year I received the "it's time" letter and my heart sank. It couldn't be yet, surely? Didn't I only have it done last year?

No, no I didn't.
It had been 3 years since my last smear test.

Again I put it off. I didn't book the appointment for 3 months. 

When the Hubby found my reminder letter on the kitchen counter he went mad. He told me I should've had it done already and that he wouldn't let me do anything else until I booked that appointment. So of course I did.

On the day of my appointment I went to the doctors surgery, nervous tummy as usual, and sat in the waiting room knowing what was about to happen. Once in the examination room, having striped from the waist, the nurse poked around and within minutes it was over. Admittedly the nurse is always lovely, she speaks to me while using a swab and asks about my boys, she's very good at putting me at ease. While I dressed she told me I should receive my letter, telling me everything was okay, within 3 weeks and if I hadn't I should call to check it was all okay.

Three weeks to the day later I still hadn't received my letter and I was considering calling the doctor's surgery. Then I checked the post...

Not what I was expecting...

I opened the letter and it didn't have the usual "You're okay" words on it.

Having never received a "there's something wrong with you" letter this one opened up a gaping hole in my stomach and made my heart race.

You see this letter told me I had "high-grade dyskariosis", whatever that meant. After research I learned it's abnormal cells on my cervix, it meant something wasn't right.

The panic struck.
Tears blurred my vision.
My heart raced. 

There is nothing that can explain the utter dread that filled my body that day. That letter was the worst I've ever received, up to that point. It didn't give me any information, just told me that I would hear from the hospital and I should expect to go for extra tests.

I Googled the term "high-grade dyskariosis" and felt a little better, my research revealed that just because you have abnormal cells doesn't mean you have cancer. In fact the abnormal cells can go away on their own. Most of all though I was relieved that it didn't mean I had cancer. 

Phew.

The hospital appointment

My mind was filled with cancer and high-grade dyskariosis thoughts for days until another letter arrived giving me an appointment at the hospital. It told me I would have to have a Colposcopy, which was explained as someone looking at my cervix with a microscope.

Basically a doctor would have to have a look and decide what the next steps would be, if any. 

So off I went to the appointment not really knowing what to expect.

Lie back and watch the dolphins

At my appointment I spoke to a lovely doctor who told me what would happen.

They would squirt some dye inside me so they could see the abnormal cells and then they would look at them using a microscope. 

Nothing was going inside me.
Yet.

But, if they found something they might decide to cut. 

I was taken into a room to change, I put on a hospital gown and followed the nurse into a room with a large chair in it. Looking around the room I noticed a small table with the microscope sitting on it, along with a few other scary looking utensils. The butterflies in my stomach fluttered. The chair, which I was told to sit in, had stirrups for my legs to rest in and I was asked to lie back and try to relax. 

I had to laugh. I mean, really?! Relax? Like that was going to happen!

As I laid there, the doctor looking at my cervix while the nurse chatted to me about my boys, I did notice something that made me smile. 

On the ceiling above my head was a picture of dolphins. They were jumping out of the ocean in the way they do and the sun bounced off their skin. It made me smile for two reasons: 1) I like dolphins and it made me think of the ocean,  and 2) someone had thought about what you're looking at when you're in that chair and tried to make it more relaxing. I had to appreciate the effort.

Cutting time

After looking at my cervix for a while the doctor decided to cut out the abnormal cells (LLETZ procedure) they could see. It was explained that this was the best course of action because the cells looked like they had progressed. I was shown a picture from the microscope.

All I could see was flesh. A circle of flesh, but on the inside there was this huge area of white flesh. This was where they'd squirted the dye and it had reacted with the abnormal cells. The white area was the bad area and needed to be cut out.

I was assured it shouldn't hurt.

They numbed me using some sort of patch, which made my legs shake uncontrollably. Apparently this is normal.

So, as my legs shook and I had a doctor peering into my vagina and cutting away a part of my cervix the nurse chatted to me about the lovely weather we'd been having. She was doing her best to distract me, and if I'm honest it kind of worked. While the procedure was uncomfortable I can't say it actually hurt.

Recovery

As far as the doctors were concerned that would be the end of it. They told me the bits they had cut out would be sent off to "the Lab" to be tested and I would receive confirmation of the results but I shouldn't need any follow up. 

Having just had surgery I was sent home with a list of restrictions.

No swimming.
No exercise.
No sex.

For at least 4 weeks, but I was told to expect the recovery to take 6 weeks. 

To be honest I didn't take it seriously, I had a little pain after the procedure - kind of like strong period pains - but I didn't think they would last. I was wrong.

For the first few weeks I found it difficult to walk even short distances and the pain continued for weeks. I was taking lots of pain killers and wondering when the pain would subside.

The 6 weeks seemed to drag. I don't know if it was the restrictions or the mental implications of the surgery but I didn't do great. Some of the time I felt like my insides were being ripped out, sometimes I just wanted to sit in a hot bath, which I wasn't allowed to do.

Another letter?!

There's something about the letters that the NHS send out in these situations, they give you just enough information to scare the living daylights out of you but not enough that you can feel a little bit better.

This letter scared me though. Truly scared me.

This letter said the doctors wanted me to return to the hospital to "discuss results" of the LLETZ procedure. I knew that couldn't be a good outcome given the doctors had already said I shouldn't need any more follow up. 

In the time between having the Colposcopy and LLETZ procedure I'd convinced myself that everything would be okay, that they had cut out the offending cells and it would turn out to be nothing anyway.

But that letter...

They wouldn't send a letter like that without it being necessary.

Cervical cancer

Another hospital appointment.

The Hubby came with me and when it was our turn we were taken into the smallest doctor's office I have ever seen. The Hubby and I only just fitted into the room with the doctor and his computer.

He (the doctor) started off by going over the procedure I'd had done to confirm it was all correct but he took his sweet time getting to the point. He explained that the cells they cut out were sent to the lab and someone had examined them under a microscope. 

Then I heard it. 

Cancer.

I listened to the rest of the things the doctor said but I wasn't really there.

I had cancer.
Or I'd had cancer?

The doctor explained they found two areas of cancer, one was just 0.3mm in size, and the other 0.5mm in size. They thought they had cut it all out but just to be sure they wanted to do ANOTHER LLETZ.

So not only had I just been told I'd had cancer but there was the possibility I could still have cancer. They had to do more surgery, cut away MORE of my cervix, just to be sure. I mean, yes, fair enough - I'd rather that than have the cancer grow, but it was a shock. 

I was given another appointment for the second LLETZ right then, while I sat in the doctor's office.

LLETZ number 2

The first LLETZ didn't hurt, it was just uncomfortable - like the smear test - and I expected the second one to be the same. 

I was wrong. Again.

The second LLETZ DID hurt. It hurt a lot.

Each time the doctor tried to cut I cried out in pain, it was not fun. Eventually they had to use more anaesthesia and my legs shook. I had tears in my eyes and the pain wasn't gone. 

Thankfully it didn't take long to finish.

Once in the recovery room I had to sit for longer this time. I was offered a cup of tea and I sat for a good 20 minutes. While I was sitting there the doctor came in to talk to me again, this time chatting to me about next steps. 

He was preparing me for the possibilities if they found more cancer.

Thinking about Hysterectomy

In a matter of a few months my life was looking like things might change drastically. I'd been diagnosed with cancer for a start, not great right?

I had no idea how to feel about that. Being diagnosed with cancer is a serious thing, even if they'd already cut it away. I couldn't get my head around whether or not I had cancer - it was there but it could still be there. 

Add to that the fact that the doctor was talking to me about having a hysterectomy if they found more cancer and my head was a complete mess. Having a hysterectomy at 36 was not something I ever thought I'd have to think about. 

It's not that I want more children, I don't, but having a hysterectomy so young has long-term health implications. It's not as simple as just having it done and everything will be okay.

After leaving the hospital I had to consider what I would want to do if things came to the worst. I was told that if they did find cancer I wouldn't have a choice, they would do the hysterectomy, but if they didn't then I had choices.

I could go ahead and have a hysterectomy - by choice. That would eliminate the chance of the cancer coming back. 

I could leave things as they were - risking the cancer coming back (although it is unlikely).

In the weeks following my second LLETZ I thought about this constantly. The Hubby and I did lots of research and read about the long-term implications of having a hysterectomy so young. For me it wasn't about preserving the chance to have more children, I'm done with that now, but it was about preserving my body. 

I didn't want to make a decision that might cause complications later.

2 weeks later

Two weeks after having my second LLETZ my doctor called me. 

They confirmed there was no more cancer.

And I cried.

The relief flooded through my body and I couldn't keep the emotions in any longer. The stress, the wondering about the future, it was all over.

I was one of the lucky ones. 

I was still recovering from the LLETZ but I felt so much better. I was able to start thinking about other things and my own health wasn't an issue any more.

Not the end

It took me a long time to recover from the second LLETZ, in fact it took a lot longer than 6 weeks. I was suffering with pains for at least 6 weeks and even after that I couldn't walk for more than 4 miles without feeling pain. 

Even though it didn't seem like a "proper" surgery that second recovery period made me realise that I had been through something serious. My body was telling me to slow down and I had to obey. It took a long time for me to feel right again.

We're now in November and my Cervical Cancer journey began in May. After everything that has happened I'm now on the list to have smear tests every 6 months.

I can hear you as I write that... "ugh, how horrid" you're thinking, right? And I was too. But you know what? I would rather have 6 monthly smear tests and be sure the cancer isn't back than have the cancer grow without me knowing. 

As I write this email it is almost 6 months since I had my diagnosis and, although I'm fully recovered, I'm still having issues. Things like light bleeding after sex, pains where there were none before, and the mental changes that have happened to me this year.

Before my diagnosis if I saw light spotting between periods I thought nothing of it, it happens sometimes. Now though the first thing that comes to mind is that the cancer has come back. Every single time I see blood when there isn't supposed to be any my stomach does a somersault and the day I sat in the doctor's office comes back into my mind. 

This year hasn't been an easy one, and sometimes it's hard to admit to myself that my experience has changed anything. I mean I didn't know I had cancer and before I knew it the doctors had cut it out. Sometimes I feel like a fraud. I feel silly saying "I'm a cancer survivor" when there are so many people out there having to through chemotherapy or worse. But I have come to realise that I am one of the lucky ones.

I am still here. I am not going through chemotherapy. I have the time and the drive to share my story and hopefully as a result more women will go for regular smear tests.

Go for YOUR smear test

Like I said, I was oblivious to what was going on inside my body. I had no idea that cancer was growing and that I was putting my own life at risk by delaying my smear test.

I was diagnosed with cancer. And that diagnosis is going to affect me for the rest of my life. But it didn't take my life and that's the important bit.

I wanted to share my story with you so you can see it can happen to anyone. Me, a normal (somewhat!) mum with two children who has never smoked, was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 36. 

If I hadn't gone for the smear test that cancer would be growing right now, silently spreading through my insides until something didn't work properly and I went to the doctors. 

The smear test can save your life.

It did mine.
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If you got to the bottom of this email I want to thank you for taking the time to read. This is the first time I have shared my entire story and it took a lot to write, I have to admit to shedding a few tears as I wrote. But that you took the time to read the whole thing means so much to me. 

I hope that my story will encourage you to go for your smear test, or that it gets you to shout at your other half to go for theirs. I am here today because I went for that test.

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