One month after my 25th birthday I attended my first cervical screening. Although I was incredibly proud of myself, I knew the wait for my test results would be the ultimate test on my anxiety.
Days turned into weeks, and by the second week, I had convinced myself that no news was good news and tried not to think about it.
February 20th – 23 days after my smear I was babysitting my little sister when my boyfriend rang me. “A letter from the NHS has arrived it must be your smear results should I open them?” YES, I screamed ready for all the anxiety to melt away… Silence. Silence is never good when it comes to my boyfriend. He told me that my results had come back with ” High Grade (Severe) Dyskaryosis” and I had an appointment at the colposcopy unit on the 28th. I had 1000 questions none of which my boyfriend could answer, so I panicked and hung up on him. I rang my friend as well as some family members in a complete panic wanting to hear something comforting. As expected no one knew what on earth any of it meant so I went straight to Google. Google is your worst enemy when it comes to anything health related! You’re either pregnant or have cancer, so DON’T Google anything.
I went home and found my boyfriend in a little bit of a mess. I clung to the letter, and the leaflets enclosed reading over them over and over. “It’s unlikely you have cancer” the leaflet read in bold. However, that means there is a possibility it could be cancer right? My boyfriend and I collapsed into a heap of tears, anxiety and sheer panic. My boyfriend NEVER panics about anything so seeing him in such a state was heartbreaking, ” I’ll be fine babe” I said, to which he replied, ” I just don’t want to lose you, I love you so much”. My heart truly ached, how am I going to deal with this? What’s going to happen to me? Am I dying? I’m so young, and there’s so much I still want to do.
The 8 day wait for my colposcopy appointment was agonising for everyone in my life. I couldn’t sleep, I spent my days panicking, reading horror stories on Google, and faking happiness.
February 28th Colposcopy day – After a sleepless night I woke up feeling numb, today’s the day I will find out if my time is up. Now I know all of this sounds very dramatic, but I suffer GAD, so anxiety levels for me are generally high which causes me to think the worst all time. 2 pm rolled around, and I was sitting in the hospital with my Mum and boyfriend, a nurse came and got me and walked me into a sizeable sterile-looking room. Another nurse greeted my boyfriend and me, and we sat down. I started to cry even before she spoke to me and she said the words “Severe Dyskaryosis just means you have abnormal cells OK”.
Actually no it wasn’t ok at all! I knew they wouldn’t be able to tell me 100% what was wrong until they had a proper look and took samples which meant another agonising wait for results.
The Colposcopy – In short terms a Colposcopy is much like a smear test, undress from the waist down, hop on the chair and have a speculum inserted. However, there are a few differences. Firstly there is usually more than one nurse in the room. In fact, I had 3. Nurse 1 was the carrying out the colposcopy, nurse 2 was handing nurse 1 tools etc, and nurse 3 was there for emotional support. Secondly, there is a funky looking microscope that takes a very close look at your cervix which you can watch on the screens if you wish. Thirdly vinegar and dyes are applied to the cervix to highlight any abnormalities.
I must say looking at my cervix up close on screen was strange. If you’ve never seen one before it kind of looks like a pink doughnut with a small hole in the middle.
When the vinegar was applied, I did feel some very mild stinging, much like salt in a fresh cut. I was waiting for a ton of abnormal cells to appear, but it looked pretty much the same. Nurse 1 then added iodine to my cervix (this helps her seen exactly where the abnormal cells are), there it was a mustard yellow patch around the opening of my cervix. Although Nurse 1 was telling me how pink and healthy my cervix was, I knew the discoloured part was bad. As my local colposcopy clinic is a “see and treat” clinic, so they were able to offer me treatment there and then.
LLETZ Procedure – After all my googling I knew exactly what to expect, and all I could think of is a huge needle entering my cervix! The LLETZ procedure is a heated wire loop that is used to remove the portion of the cervix that is infected with abnormal cells, usually performed under local anaesthetic but can be done under general if you prefer. So, I’m laying there legs in the air 3 nurses and my boyfriend staring into the depths of my vagina, and it hits me that I’m petrified of needles. I started to freak out a little, and with my squirming Nurse, 1 accidental stabbed my bum with the needle! (LOL) I calmed down, and Nurse 1 injected me, yes it hurt (like period cramps) and yes I made some very questionable groaning noises but cut me some slack, there’s a needle inside my vagina! At this point I stopped watching the screens and closed my eyes, the anaesthetic kicked in very fast, and soon all I could feel was pressure down there. I briefly opened my eyes only to start seeing stars, so Nurse 3 gave me a fan and hooked me up to a monitor in case I fainted. From that point, everything was a blur. My poor boyfriend thought watching the entire thing was a good idea which caused him to almost faint (HAHA). Nurse 1 then said “Right thats it we’re all done”, Nurse 2 helped me off the chair, and I got dressed. Nurse 3 then gave me an aftercare sheet, and I was told I could leave. Honestly, I thought I was in there for at least an hour, but it had only been 15 minutes!
The Aftermath – There I was leaving the hospital with a portion of my cervix missing, and I couldn’t help but think “What if I never attended my smear test. What if I had left these cells untreated”. I had some period of pain after the anaesthetic wore off. I had to wear a pad for 2 weeks as I had a lot of watery discharge, which is normal. One of the worst parts of the healing process was not being able to use a period cup or tampon for 4 weeks! I haven’t used the dreaded pads since I was 15, and they are just as uncomfortable as I remember. But the absolute worst part of this was waiting for my results. These results will tell me 100% whether or not I have cancer. It was an agonising wait. I spent my days feeling numb and crying.
March 15th Results day– Between 1 pm – 3 pm I could find out the results of my LLETZ, I nervously rang at 1 pm shaking and fearing the worst. The line was engaged, and I didn’t get through till 1:45ish. The time it took her to pull up my file felt like an eternity, she then said: “We found CN3 cells, and we are confident that they were successfully removed with your treatment”. I burst into tears. I felt all the panic and anxiety melt away. Nurse 2 told me that I should expect a letter soon and that I should go out and have a party tonight, so I did exactly that!
March 22nd Confirmation letter – My letter arrived, and I felt extreme panic. What if they got it wrong? What if my letter says that I have cancer? When I opened it I was shocked to see that I had CN1, CN2 and CN3! That’s a lot of CN’s. The letter did confirm that they are very confident that it was all been removed. I have to go back in 6 months for a repeat smear to double check everything is still okay, but for now, I can breathe.
There are a few things I would suggest to do during a smear test/results/treatment:
Try to stay calm. (Easier said than done I know!)
Please stay away from Google. I know you have 1000 questions and want answers, but everyone’s story is different! Stick to reading things from the NHS website.
Remember cervical cancer is very rare.
Abnormal cells VERY treatable.
Just because you had abnormal cells does not mean you have or will ever cancer.
Do encourage friends and family to attend their cervical screening appointments.