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

Smear tests, they suck don't they? Stupid tests where someone sticks something into your vagina to check that you don't have cervical cancer. It's invasive, uncomfortable, and can sometimes take 10 minutes. 10 whole minutes with a metal device stuck inside your vagina holding it open so a nurse can poke around to "take a swab" and send it to a lab.

It's one of the many reasons it sucks to be a woman.

But here's the thing about smear tests - they can save your life. 

How do I know? 

Because they saved mine.

My Story so far

A routine letter I get every few years arrived and, as usual, I delayed booking my smear test. Being poked and prodded is not my idea of fun, even if it was a test that could save my life. To be honest though I'd never really thought of it that way before, it wasn't "saving my life" it was just a stupid test I had to have that came back clear every time.

Except this time was very different. 

After booking my smear test (after much nagging from the Hubby) I went to the doctors and it took about 5 minutes. The test was over in no time and all was done with... or at least I thought it was. Three weeks to the day later I received a letter that told me about "high grade dyskariosis". Abnormal cells had showed up on the test and I needed to go to the hospital for further tests and possibly treatment.

The internet helped me more than the information sent by the hospital and I learned that it was a fairly routine thing. Many women have abnormal cells and most of the time it ends up being nothing. I went to the hospital not really thinking anything was wrong.

At the hospital I had a LLETZ treatment, the doctors cut away some of my cervix so they could test it. They sent the biopsy off to a pathologist who would take six weeks to look at it and send back the results.

The LLETZ procedure, while slightly painful, wasn't too bad. The doctor (a lady) was very nice and discussed what she was doing the whole time. The nurse in the room chatted to me to try to distract me from what was happening. No woman likes being prodded at with metal devices but it wasn't as bad as I'd imagined.

The recovery from the procedure is six weeks and there are various restrictions to the things you do afterwards, like no exercise for 2-3 weeks. It was frustrating being restricted but it was necessary so I just got on with it.

In the six weeks while waiting for the results of the biopsy I read a lot about the procedure and the kind of results you get. The NHS website was helpful, as was Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust which the NHS refers to. On that site I learned that having the treatment reduces the risk of cervical cancer by 95%, so I was fairly sure I'd be okay.

Having "high grade dyskariosis" does not mean you have cancer, it just means there were abnormal cells detected that could, over time, develop into cancer. That's why you have the treatment - to prevent cancer from developing. 

Five weeks after having the LLETZ treatment I was sent a letter asking me to go back to the hospital to "discuss results". When I received that letter I felt like I'd been punched, the wind knocked out of me. I hadn't been expecting to have to go back, I thought I'd get a letter saying everything was fine and no other treatment was necessary. 

I was worried and all kinds of scenarios went through my mind, some of which were rather scary.

It's at this point that I started reading about cervical cancer. It had suddenly become a real possibility and I needed to know about it. About a week before my appointment to discuss results I hit the internet...

On the Cancer Research website I learned that more than 52% of cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in females aged under 45 and 1 in 135 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer during their lifetime. In 2014 there were around 3,200 new cases of cervical cancer in the UK - that's around 9 cases diagnosed every day. These stats were not helping my stress levels. Add to that the fact that you have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer if you have taken the contraceptive pill for more than 5 years (I took it for about 15 years) and if you've had children, I was getting quite nervous.

Then I looked at other stats, like how 19,000 women were still alive at the end of 2006, up to ten years after being diagnosed with cervical cancer. It is something that can be treated fairly easily with surgery (depending on the stage) and the survival rate is good.

The Hubby came with me to my appointment, I was quite nervous to learn what they'd found. When we were called in we went into a small room where the doctor began talking about the results of the test. He began by saying they had found precancerous cells in the biopsy which they'd taken so there was nothing to worry about... but he wasn't finished. 

My heart thumped in my chest. My legs went to jelly (luckily I was sitting). Tears threatened to roll down my cheeks. 

Cancer affects all of us, whether you’re a daughter, mother, sister, friend, coworker, doctor, or patient.

Jennifer Aniston

How had this happened?

The doctor told us more... they had found two areas of cancer but they were very small (0.3mm and 0.5mm) and could be seen under microscope. He (the doctor) said he was confident they'd found it all and took it out, but just to be sure I'd have to have another LLETZ treatment so they could inspect the biopsy to make sure there weren't any more areas of cancer.

So that was it, I had/have cervical cancer.

As I write this post I have just had my second LLETZ which was a LOT more unpleasant than the first, in fact it hurt. I put this down to still being tender from the first treatment. It has been two weeks since the doctor told us about the cancer. I'm obviously in recovery again, another six weeks of restrictions, but this time I'll be going back to the hospital in 3 weeks to discuss the results and next steps. The next steps depend on the results and how I feel about it all.

How do I feel?

This is a difficult one because I really don't know how I feel. Hearing your name in the same sentence as the word 'cancer' is terrifying but at the same time they may have already cut it out. I don't know how I'm meant to feel about that. On the one hand it's a good (okay, great) thing they've already cut it out but what if they haven't?

My head is a mash of emotions. 

I'm scared, in case they find more cancer. Having to have further treatment, having to explain to the boys what is happening, just writing this makes tears well up in my eyes. I can't think about it without my heart pounding and my stomach flipping. 

I'm relieved they found what they did and got rid of it. As far as I know the cancer is all gone and thanks to the doctors and the procedure I may be cancer free. While I had/have cancer it hasn't effected my health at all and other than having to go through a little surgery (LLETZ) everything is okay. 

I'm worried about further health implications. What does this mean for the future? Am I meant to keep a look out for anything else strange? I know I'm at increased risk of developing it again in the future but what about other issues, other cancers? These are questions I'll have to ask my doctor when I see him next. 

The weirdest thing though is knowing that I had/have (see? I don't even know which to use!) cancer but that it might already be sorted. I don't feel like it's as serious as having to go through chemotherapy yet I have been diagnosed with a cancer. How are you supposed to feel about that?

Next steps

As I said, my next steps depend on the results of my most recent LLETZ and the advice of the doctors. My last discussion with the doctor was a lot more serious than the last and he made it sound like I might want to choose to have a hysterectomy. Without knowing much about it how can I choose to do something like that?! Yes, I am done with having children but that can't be the only difference it makes can it?

At the moment I am just waiting to see what happens and hoping no more treatment is necessary.

So why did I write this post?

I wanted to share my story with you to stress how important it is to go for your smear test.

I am 36 years old. I have two children and am happily married. I didn't consider myself at risk of cancer. I thought, despite being overweight, I was healthy and I didn't have any symptoms or indications that something might be wrong.

I can say now that the smear test really did save my life.

What does not kill us makes us stronger. 

Friedrich Nietzsche

Cervical cancer wasn't even on my radar but thanks to the smear test it was found and dealt with.

The point of the smear test is to find those cells (be it abnormal cells or cancerous ones) and get rid of them before they become a problem. If left the cancer can spread to surrounding organs and then is a much bigger problem. 

Going for that smear test really can save your life. 

Book it now.



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