Not my usual type of fitness post but I believe a healthy lifestyle goes far beyond trips to the gym and eating your five a day. This week is Cervical Cancer Awareness week and the #smearforsmear campaign.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Women under 35 yet 75% of cases are preventable from attending regular smear tests. You have probably seen posts like this all week over social media and yes mine is a very similar message. However in 2017 I attended my regular smear test and the results were not as I was expecting, the test came back showing I had some abnormal pre-cancerous cells which would need to be removed. I had been slightly oblivious to any campaigns on this before, I didn’t know of anyone who had had an abnormal smear result and the wording in the letter terrified me.
So my post today is for anyone worried about attending a smear test, as a push to make you attend one if you have been putting it off and for anyone who may have had abnormal test results back and doesn’t really know what to do next.
I am going to tell my story in as much detail as possible to save you trawling for hours on the internet and sending yourself into a pit of worry as I did.
I attended my smear test, only my second as I am 28, and had a letter back within 2 weeks stating I had HPV, borderline changes to my cervix and to arrange a colposcopy at the hospital.
- What the hell does that mean and what is a colposcopy, it doesn’t sound great and I don’t want it.
- What does borderline mean, how big is the scale and whats next.
The scale for changes in cells goes from Borderline, CIN 1, CIN 2, CIN 3 and then early cervical cancer. This basically indicates how deep into your cervix the abnormal cells go. According to my results i had very early changes and reading online, this sometimes can correct itself when the HPV virus goes.
I book in for my colposcopy at the local hospital. A colposcopy is basically a biopsy of the cells to get a clearer idea of what stage you are at and treatment required. Very similar to a smear except they use a tiny ‘stamp’ to cut away little bits of the abnormal area for testing. I didn’t require any anaesthetic really for this bit and the ladies were so lovely and actually it was much better than expected. The consultant explained it looked more like CIN 1 possibly CIN 2 and i would get my results back in a few weeks. Following the colposcopy I actually felt light headed and like I had heavy period pains with a tiny bit of spotting in the few days after but apparently that is to be expected.
Within a few days I had my results… CIN 3. Well, breakdown part 2 occurred.
- What the hell does that mean. Why are the results so different.
- What happens now
- What does this mean for the future
The next step, A Lletz which is basically a metal loop used to cut away all the bad cells. Slightly more invasive but I would only need a local anaesthetic injected directly in the area. Now, I started worrying that the would affect my chances of conceiving and carrying children and yes there is a risk of premature labour due to a weaker cervix but in the majority of cases this is a very low risk.
So the Lletz, this time accompanied by my Mum… this was probably more traumatic for her than me. Again exactly like a smear test but you sit there for a little longer so they can do the procedure. It is probably explained far better online than I could do. The recovery after this is much longer. I felt pretty out of sorts for almost week, more tired than anything again with heavy period type pains and some bleeding. Exercise should be limited for around 6 weeks but listen to your own body to see how you feel. You have to be careful of infection for this time but other than that it didn’t really limit me too much. I think I took a month off the gamin total. Again the Lletz results get sent off and 6 weeks later I was confirmed at having CIN 1 not CIN 3 as previously thought.
What now, I have to return in March for a 6 month smear test to hopefully confirm that all is good.
Since then, I have spoken to so many of my friends and acquaintances who have had exactly the same, it doesn’t seem to be talked about openly but it is extremely common. If this is happening or has happened to you, you are not alone. You are not the only one. My top tips for you… DO NOT read through all the forums online, it doesn’t help as everyone is different and everyones experience is different. It probably will leave you with more questions than answers. If something isn’t right, go back to the doctor. If you are worried or unsure and need questions answered, ask the nurses or your consultant… that is their job. I came away with questions i was too nervous to ask whilst keeping my brave face firmly in place. Take someone with you, it makes it much less nerve-racking and its nice to have a chauffeur driven ride to the appointments when you aren’t feeling 100%.
You may be thinking, did I have no symptoms. And at the time I was in complete shock as I didn’t have any symptoms i could think of. BUT… for around 3 years I had suffered with breakthrough bleeding between periods which Doctors always blamed on my pill resulting in testing out about 10 different contraceptive pills before being told I wasn’t allowed to change again and would have to consider a coil. Since my treatment, no bleeding!! So there we have it, it wasn’t my pill it was one of the biggest tell tale signs that something isn’t quite right and one of the main signifiers of cervical cancer.
Know your own body, get tested and spread the word. I hope this article can put at least one mind at ease that the idea in your head of what the procedures could be like is far worse than the reality.
Smear test: 30 seconds of discomfort for a potentially life saving treatment. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to message me, I am more than happy to expand on my story and answer any questions.
For more info on any of the above, a website i found really helpful is https://www.jostrust.org.uk