How being diagnosed with cervical cancer taught me to be kinder to myself

The attendance rates for cervical screening is in decline. Specialists are warning of an increase in Cervical Cancer diagnosis and urging all women who are eligible to attend their screening appointments. And today I am here to tell you about how being diagnosed with cervical cancer taught me to be kinder to myself.

Cervical Screening

Whether it's cervical screening, smear tests, or pap smear, it's all the same, an appointment with the doctor that I'm sure no woman looks forward to. Having a metal thing poked inside your vagina to open it up and then a stick looking thing poked in so they can collect cell samples and send them off to be checked. It all sounds a bit scary doesn't it?

How Being Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer Taught Me To Be Kinder To Myself | Seeing the doctor with the speculum fills me with dread.

Add to that the utter embarrassment of the whole thing - the indecision about whether to put your pants on the floor or the chair. Lying there with your legs open while a nurse tries to chat to you about whatever she can think of to take your mind off what is really happening.

The embarrassment and the metal utensils aren't the worst of it for some though. If you're like me the test is often painful, more than once I've had the doctor decide to change the size of the speculum because it hurt so much. It always hurts, some times more than others.

Believe me, I know it's not a test you look forward to, but despite all of the reasons it's a horrible experience you should go for your appointment as soon as that reminder comes through.

Know your body

As women we get used to our changing body, from the moment we hit puberty our bodies are constantly changing. Every month we get various pains and start bleeding from our genitals - just your every day period. But sometimes we notice something out of the ordinary - or perhaps not even that, just something that is a little different. Maybe you notice bleeding between periods or pain when you have sex. These are the changes you need to pay attention to.

A couple of years ago I was experiencing a few of these changes. I had noticed a little spotting between periods, I would occasionally experience pain when having sex, and every month before my period I would have one day of pain - but it was pain like no other. This pain seemed like regular period pain at first, until it got so bad that I could do nothing but double over. It would come and go, and usually only lasted a day, but it was enough to get me a little concerned.

How Being Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer Taught Me To Be Kinder To Myself | Pay attention to the changes in your body - they could be telling you something.

Despite all these changes I ignored my cervical screening letter when it arrived. I put it on the kitchen counter and pretended I hadn't seen it. More than a month later the Hubby found my reminder letter on the counter and went mad, he stood over me while I phoned the doctor to book my appointment. He couldn't understand why I would delay the appointment when I had been complaining about various ailments in that region. He said it was the perfect opportunity to get a check and make sure everything was okay. I responded like a wounded teenager and stomped about the house. I didn't want to go!

5 minutes can save your life

I went to my appointment, suffered through the pain of the examination and they told me to wait for my results. At that point I had no idea I had started on a journey towards Cervical Cancer diagnosis.

Three weeks to the day after my cervical screening I received the letter that I was expecting - my results. I expected the letter would be the same as every other time - everything is fine, come back in 3 years.

Everything was NOT fine.

My cervical screening had showed some "abnormal cells" which I needed to get checked further.

Because of the state of the abnormal cells (they'd been described as "high-grade dyskariosis") the further checks I needed actually turned out to be surgery. The consultant decided to cut away some of my cervix as a precaution and the cells that were cut away were sent off to be checked - this is the way things usually go, it's so they could check there wasn't any cancerous cells. At the time I was told the likelihood of there being cancerous cells was very low, and everything should be fine from then on.

How Being Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer Taught Me To Be Kinder To Myself | the doctors had to examine the results.

Again everything was NOT fine.

Another letter in the post told me I had to go and discuss my results with the consultant. And that's when I heard the words I never thought I would hear - "cancer". To be honest I sat there with a smile on my face pretending everything was okay when really inside I was screaming.

I knew I heard the doctor correctly. I didn't think he said something else, I didn't think for a second, 'Well maybe he didn't say it.' No, I knew I heard him! But I still couldn't comprehend... in my mind... in my soul... he just said, 'cancer.' 

Stuart Scott

What did this mean?
Was everything going to be okay?
What about my boys?

The discovery of cancer meant I had to have further surgery to be sure they'd got all the cancerous cells out. The last thing they wanted was to leave any cells behind because they would then spread. So, more surgery, more recovery time. And I was now on the list for more regular cervical screening.

Be kind to yourself

That first cervical screening appointment, while embarrassing and uncomfortable, only took 5 minutes and it saved my life. If I hadn't gone for that appointment, or had delayed it further, I may not be here to tell you my story.

How Being Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer Taught Me To Be Kinder To Myself | I'm still here thanks to cervical screening - when did you go for yours?
I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for cervical screening.

Like I said, it all happened back in 2017 - my diagnosis was in May - and since then I've had 6-monthly screening checks that have all been clear. I'm now on yearly checks, and as long as they continue to be clear I'll soon be back to the usual 3-year checks.

One of the things that the whole experience has taught me, as well as making sure to go to my cervical screening appointment, is that I need to take care of myself as well as my family. Before my diagnosis I spent all of my time doing things for others - breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my boys, cleaning, ironing, it was all for everyone else and I had restricted time for myself. And even when I did get time for me I usually spent it doing something for someone else.

Since my diagnosis I've made a conscious choice to be more selfish, to be kinder to myself. And most importantly to listen to my body. If I am tired and achy I need to spend time focussing on why that might be. Am I getting enough sleep? Have I overdone it the last couple of days? Every day I make time to enjoy a hot coffee by myself (it's my morning treat), and I'm focussing on the things I enjoy when I get a little me time.

You can be a victim of cancer, or a survivor of cancer. It's a mindset. 

Dave Pelzer

I can't spend all of my time on others because I will burn out.

And so will you.

You can't spread yourself too thin, trying to do everything for everyone except yourself. Ignoring your own needs is not good for you. You'll end up worn out, unable to continue, or worse still you'll be ill.

This week is Cervical Cancer Awareness Week and it inspired this post, I wanted to share my story with you to encourage you to go for your cervical screening. But I also wanted to use this week to encourage you to take care of yourself. Listen to your body.

How Being Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer Taught Me To Be Kinder To Myself | Take time for you - even if it's only 5 minutes.

Take time for you. As well as going for your cervical screening (which takes about 5 minutes) take 5 minutes for yourself too. Life is tough and when we take a little time to be kind to ourselves it makes life that little bit easier.

How Being Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer Taught Me To Be Kinder To Myself | Go for your cervical screening and take time for you - even if it's just 5 minutes.

Be kind to yourself, because life is tough enough.

When did you last attend cervical screening?

If you enjoyed this post you'll like Cervical Cancer - my story, where I talk about my entire experience. Or if you're looking for something more light-hearted check out 10 signs you're (finally) a grown up.

Stop by Facebook and ask any questions you have about cervical screening or ask me for tips on how to be kinder to yourself.

I'm on hand to help you to be kinder to yourself - grab this Wonderful Winter Activity Book for your kids and you'll be able to enjoy a hot coffee while they're doing puzzles!