Ok ladies. It’s time to get serious. I want to talk about vaginas. You know that thing we all have!
It’s become so apparent to me in the last year that we are constantly talking to each other about random crap but when it comes to discussing the serious issues like cervical cancer, miscarriages, abortions, sexual abuse – we stay silent! Why? It doesn’t make sense. We literally cannot shut up about Made in Chelsea but god forbid anyone wants to discuss concerns about what’s going on “down there”.
Last year I tried and failed to book a cervical screening (formally known as a smear – if I’m going to talk about this I may aswell get the lingo right)! I eventually got an appointment to see my local GP in October and the results came back abnormal. I am now going through all the procedures and protocols that follow.
I’m writing this post because naturally I hit the Internet with all of my questions to dispel my fears and what I found was so confusing. A lot of forums are filled with Americans who have a completely different healthcare system to us so nothing was that helpful. Also I had a lot of friends who would just dismiss the seriousness of what was happening with “it will be fine” when all I really wanted was to talk and admit the fears I felt I wasn’t allowed to have. (Don’t get me wrong – I have had UNREAL support from those closest to me).
Firstly – if you are 25 and you haven’t had a smear already, then why not? Are you embarrassed? Feel you don’t have enough time? Scared it’s going to hurt?
Seriously if you can find time to get your nails shellacked, book a bikini wax or grab a coffee with a friend at lunch then you DO have time. An appointment will last about ten minutes – yes you might get delayed as usual in your GP waiting area but let me assure you that if you leave it longer and you have any abnormalities you’ll be spending a lot more time waiting around to speak to your GP!
As for it hurting – it doesn’t! The screening involves lightly scrapping the surface of the cervix. Depending on the tilt/position of your cervix (we are all different after all) this can be very quick. For me – the trainee doctor inserted a speculum into my vagina and then inserted what I can only describe as a slightly longer cotton bud with a triangular head. I think it was all done is approximately 30 seconds. I was then told I would receive my results in the post and was on my way. Yes I missed the first half an hour of work but guess what – my company didn’t go bust! And I still have a job!
I honestly thought nothing of the smear – just a tick on the box of things I needed to do. I’m healthy, eat well, drink a (lower than) normal amount and exercise, so tests like these seem routine to me. However when I got the results as being abnormal I did kind of feel like “oh great it’s the curse of 2015 again”. But that was me dwelling in the self pity of “why meeeee” and not really understanding what was meant by the results.
I was given an appointment in Chelsea and Westminster hospital which was fantastic. My GP wasn’t the best (but I hate complaining about the NHS because I think we are so lucky to have it) so when I met the staff at Chelsea and Westminster hospital I knew I was in good hands.
I had to take the day off – see remember what I said about spending more time at the doctors!! I met with the consultant there who went through my results and explained why I was there and what was going to happen.
Ultimately the cervical screening only looks for changes in cells on the surface layer of your cervix so she needed to determine firstly the degree of abnormality and the extent to which it had infiltrated (for lack of a better word) my ladies bits.
To do this she inserted a speculum into my vagina and a cotton bud with some dye on it. The dye would show up the affected area and would ultimately outline the next course of action. This didn’t hurt at all. Pinky promise.
Abnormalities in cervical cells can be categorised into the following:
CIN1 – (low-grade) cells, it’s unlikely that you’ll develop cancer. The abnormal cells will often disappear without treatment to remove them. Follow up smears will be required in the future.
CIN2 – indicates moderate changes; affecting two-thirds of the thickness of the surface layer of the cervix. Treatment may be required.
CIN3 – (high grade) indicates more severe changes; affecting the full thickness of the surface layer of the cervix. Treatment is required.
In some cases tests will just show whether cells have “borderline changes” “CIN1” or “Above CIN1” i.e. they do not separate out CIN2 and 3.
I was unfortunately diagnosed with high grade CIN abnormalities. Soooooo another appointment was booked.
It was safe to say at this point I wasn’t scared. The support at Chelsea and Westminster hospital was unreal and they massively put me at ease. I was however, exhausted and chose to snooze on the sofa for the rest of the day. I booked my appointment for treatment for two weeks later. The NHS have set new targets meaning patients have to be treated within 30 days of a diagnosis. This puts tremendous amounts of pressure on resources but I am so so grateful that things moved so quickly and I have never once felt time pressured or that the nurses did not have enough capacity to look after me or explain things fully. They were awesome.
On the day of the treatment my mom came along – she was pretty emotional but it was great to have her there to hold my hand. I have always considered myself pretty resilient to pain and discomfort. I don’t feel embarrassed by getting a smear nor do I get the “possible side effects” of drugs/procedures that we are warned about so I was confident this would be the same.
I hopped back on the bed, legs in the air held by stirrups…….trying to keep smiling and thinking “pfffft it will be over in a few seconds”. I had local anaesthetic injected into my cervix to numb the area which was slightly uncomfortable. Felt like a pinch. It didn’t hurt – it was just a bit strange. Then the consultant used an electrical rod to remove the abnormal cells. This is known as a LEEP procedure – and took her all of about 10 seconds. I then felt extremely dizzy like I was going to pass out so I just lay there with a cup of Lucozade. THEN the weirdest thing happened. I honestly felt like I was drunk or high. Im not sure if it was me reacting to the anaesthetic or just a huge huge release of adrenaline but I got a massive fit of the giggles. So there I was, my poor mom sat beside me, Lucozade in hand, legs in the hair, feeling dizzy to the point of passing out and laughing my head off so much I had tears rolling down my eyes. “LETS GO SHOPPPPPPING” I shouted. Obviously the nurse told me to go home. After about 5 minutes I realised I was sat in a hospital room and had a strong urge to leave. I still felt pretty dizzy but I lied and said I was fine so I could get dressed and head home.
We went home – my mom made me tea and I sofa surfed all day long. Staying awake to watch the first half of Interstella (OMG ITS AMAZING) before giving in and napping.
The aftermath of the procedure has been a bit annoying. You cant have a bath for a month and naturally all I wanted to do was have a lovely warm bubble bath. But no. You cant have sex for a month – again this is frustrating. You cant exercise – SO FRUSTRATING. And you cant use tampons.
The cells that were removed have been sent off for further testing and I have been told that the likelihood of it being cancer is extremely low but its a possibility and I should find out next week. Obviously this has lead me to google and research endlessly the repercussions of cervical cancer and how it could lead to not being able to have children etc etc. I have discovered facts about how life changing it is and realised THIS IS A HUGE DEAL. Its so big that I think more emphasis should be made on cervical screening. Abnormal cells are not something we can put in the bucket of “ahh its not a big deal”. I want to make a big deal out of this. I want us all to talk about it and encourage each other to go to these appointments. Dispel the myths that surround cervical screening. We need to educate ourselves in our bodies so we have the facts and are not believing the “we are going to die” comments that seem to litter google forums on the subject. I pride myself on being intelligent but I’ll tell you something – I am ashamed at how little I knew on this subject!!
The fact that I had high grade CIN abnormalities indicates that there was a very strong probability that had I not gone for my smear and then removed these cells they would have almost certainly continued to develop into full blown cancer.
So ladies. Go and get your smear done and start looking after your vagina.
I will write a follow up post in a couple of months to let you all know what happens after you have been diagnosed with high grade CIN, the care I have been given and any other facts and anecdotes I come across along the way.
PS – Sorry if this post sounded like a lecture or harsh in any way – its only because I care. Also I am in no way a medical expert in this area so if anyone believes my facts are not correct please let me know – we can chat and I can update etc.