Last week was Cervical Screening Awareness Week (CSAW), so it seems pretty apt for me to write this post.
On the 13 May, I went for my smear test. It was only the second one I've had done and whilst it's not something I relished the thought of, I knew I couldn't miss it, so I made sure to get it booked and attend.
Whilst the nurse was doing my smear, she said she had trouble finding my cervix, so I had to position myself differently. Once it was over though, I thought nothing more of it. I guess I just took for granted that the results would be normal like they were the last time.
I was wrong.
I received a letter in the post about two weeks later to tell me that the results had come back abnormal. I had high grade dyskaryosis and would need a colposcopy where they would do a biopsy to take a sample of the affected area. It was scheduled for the following week.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was really nervous as I didn't know what to expect and I was of course worried that there could be a possibility of cancer. When speaking to the doctor before the colposcopy, he seemed quite certain that I would need further treatment after the biopsy. Something which I wasn't prepared for. I did worry as at that point I thought it could be cancer. He advised that because the cells had shown up as high grade, they would need to be removed, either by the LLETZ (also know as the loop) or by a cone biopsy. However, he seemed pretty certain that there was no cancer there. He told me that there are about 20 different types of abnormal cells and only one of those is cancer. This did put my mind at rest a bit.
So, a colposcopy is where the doctor or nurse will do a more detailed examination of the cervix with a microscope to see any abnormalities which would be not be visible to the naked eye. The doctor or nurse will dab vinegar and iodine on the cervix with a cotton bud to highlight any abnormal cell changes. If areas of abnormal tissue are found on the cervix the doctor or nurse will take a small sample(s) of the tissue to be sent away for testing. This is what I had done.
The procedure itself was quite uncomfortable, but I wouldn't say it hurt. The nurses who were there with me were fantastic. They kept me informed what was happening at every stage and what I could expect to feel - the biopsy was described as plucking your eyebrows, an initial sting that soon goes.
After the biopsy was done, the doctor explained in more detail what the loop and cone biospy's are. The LLETZ (large loop excision of the transformation zone) is the most common treatment for abnormal cells and carried out under local anesthetic and is carried out as an outpatient procedure. It's done using a thin wire loop that is heated with an electric current and it removes the area of abnormal cells and heals the wound back up.
A cone biopsy is a minor operation and therefore carried out under general anesthetic and a small cone shaped piece of tissue is removed from the cervix using a scalpel. The tissue is then sent to the lab for further observations.
The doctor told me they would write to me within 3 weeks with my results and what further treatment I would need.
I tried not to think too much about it but after 10 days I got a text with a confirmation of an appointment at the hospital. I was instantly worried as I hadn't even received my results yet. I thought the worst. I had it in my head that the only reason they would call me back so soon is because it was bad news. There was no other logical explanation in my head.
Thankfully, I was wrong about this. The day after I called the hospital who advised that they'd booked me an appointment so soon as the original doctor who had done my biopsy was going on holiday, so they needed to get me in for the LLETZ within their timescales. As they'd had a cancellation, they had booked me in for the 1st available appointment and their automated system had sent me a text reminder 1 week before. It just so happened that I got this before my letter with the results, which had been sent in second class post.
The nurse told me over the phone that my biopsy results showed I had cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) stage 3. This is the highest grade before cancer. I'd been booked in for the LLETZ to remove these cells.
My appointment was this afternoon and I'm very thankful that Michael was there with me to hold my hand. It was the same set up as a smear and the colposcopy where a speculum was used. I was dreading the injections for the local anesthetic, but I didn't actually feel any of the 3 injections I had to numb the area. The procedure was a relatively quick and whilst it wasn't painful, I could feel pressure which was uncomfortable.
So now it's a waiting game. I will get my results within a month and hopefully, it will confirm that the all the abnormal cells have been removed. The nurse said 95% of the time, the results do come back clear. After that, I will need to go back for another smear test in 6 months and if that comes back as normal, I will go back to having them every 3 years again.
To say the past couple of weeks have been stressful, would be an understatement. There have been times where I have feared the worst an thought about leaving Alfie and Michael or having to fight cancer. I dread to think what could have happened had I not have gone for that smear test. I would be sat here none the wiser and there could have been a very real chance that I would have developed cervical cancer in the future.
Please ladies, if you've not been for a smear, or if you are over due to go for one, please don't delay and put it off. A few minutes of being uncomfortable could save your life.