It’s cervical cancer awareness week! This year it runs from the 22-28 of January and I’ve decided to share my story.
It was August 2008, I was 29, in good health and I got my routine smear test appointment through the post. As I did every three years I rang the surgery to make an appointment. But this year was different. Jade Goody the big brother reality television star had passed away from cervical cancer in March. She left behind two young children and I couldn’t help think about her as I made the appointment. I too had two small children, Harrison was three and Connie was 8 months old.
A couple of weeks passed and I attended the GP for my smear, my Doctor is lovely and put me right at ease. She did the smear and said the same thing she had on previous occasions “everything looks good, I’ll send these away and you’ll get the results in a few weeks.”
A few weeks passed and life was busy with the kids, I was still on maternity leave enjoying being a mum. I forgot all about the smear results, until one day in October my mobile rang and it was the surgery asking me if I could come in for a repeat smear. At first I thought maybe they had lost my first test.
So off I went to the surgery. I sat in the waiting room and when I heard my name called made my way to the room. This time I could sense something wasn’t quite right. Call it a sixth sense or years of working as a nurse but I knew this wasn’t going to be the usual “Hi Claire how’s the family, kids getting big” type chat.
My GP sat at her desk and started to read the computer screen. I had, had my smear in the middle of August and it was now nearing the end of October, results that are usually back in a couple of weeks had taken almost 9 weeks. Put down to the “Jade effect” the screening service all over the UK had seen a sharp rise in women attending for a smear putting increased pressure on the system.
The news wasn’t what I had expected! My results had shown I had CIN 2 ( CIN 2 – is where abnormal cells have been detected and there’s a moderate chance the cells will become cancerous and treatment to remove them is usually recommended).
I was shocked, I had never had an abnormal result before, I had no symptoms and I found myself asking why me? Everything went through my head and all I could think about was I’m I going to get cancer? My paternal grandmother had died at the age of 61 of uterine cancer I was scared.
That day was a blur, the GP decided against a repeat smear and instead arranged for a appointment at the local hospital for a colposcopy. The next couple of weeks I didn’t function and couldn’t get past the fact my results had been abnormal.
My appointment came through for the colposcopy and I attended my appointment. I had read the literature sent out with the appointment and googled everything I could possibly get my eyes on! I knew what to expect.
The Doctors and nurses were lovely, putting me at ease explaining and carrying out the test. It was a little uncomfortable but I kept thinking I had two babies I can do this!
The colposcopy was straightforward the Doctor was able to tell me there and then I was going to need further treatment. The area on my cervix however was bigger than she had expected given my results and instead of being able to treat me during the colposcopy, she would need to arrange a day procedure appointment. She took some samples to send away and said she would see me in a couple of weeks.
Waiting was the worst. I was supposed to be enjoying motherhood. The day came and I was admitted to hospital to have a procedure known as (LLETZ) – large loop excision of the transformation zone. A procedure were a heated wire loop is used to remove the abnormal cells. LLETZ is usually carried out while you’re awake using local anaesthetic to numb the cervix and once recovered you can go home the same day. However the Doctor had previously advised that because I had such a large area and I was such an emotional mess she would put me to sleep if I preferred. So that was it! A general anaesthetic it was going to be. I remember the day clearly , I sat up on the ward with the other women in my theatre gown and fancy stockings waiting for my turn. I was a mess, they say nurses make the worst patients and they are right in my case! I cried like a baby walking down to theatre, it wasn’t just Cancer that was freaking me out it was the fear I wasn’t going to wake up!
The surgery went well, the anaesthetic nurse came to visit me afterwards up on the ward and we had a laugh at the fact I had got from 10 down to 2 and was still awake! They had to give me quite a bit of medication to get me to sleep and it would probably take me a little longer to feel totally with it and ready to go home.
I left that afternoon thankful to still be alive, and happy to be going home to my babies.
A week later I had a follow up appointment at the hospital to discuss the result of the biopsies taken during surgery and generally check I was healing. I had bled quite a bit after the surgery and was still spotting. I had a little discomfort but nothing a couple of paracetamol didn’t sort. I thought I was on the homeward straight. But my journey didn’t end there.
Nothing could have prepared me for what was next. I sat there in front of the consultant that had done my surgery, she had my notes in her hand. Looking over the top of her glasses she started to tell me that surgery hadn’t got rid of all the abnormal cells as expected and that the biopsy taken had shown CGIN. ( CGIN is were the there’s a high chance the cells will become cancerous and treatment to remove them is recommended).
She recommended further treatment that would require more surgery and this time she recommended a cone biopsy. A cone biopsy is a minor operation to cut out a cone-shaped piece of tissue containing the abnormal cells only tends to be used if a large area of tissue needs to be removed.
Yet again I found myself thinking the worst! A couple of weeks passed and I had the surgery, and got the news I had waited months for. They had got rid of all the abnormal cells. The next step would be a smear at 6 months for a year then yearly smears depending on the results.
I’m now 8 years on from 6 months of stress, appointments, tests and two operations. I have kept up to date with my smears and I happy to report they have all been normal. I even carried another pregnancy to term despite the cone biopsy weakening my cervix.
I thank my lucky stars every day I attended for my routine smear. The doctor said the changes in my results between initial smear, colposcopy and biopsies taken in theatre she had no doubt the story would have been a very different one had I not attended for my smear when I did. It was unfortunate that my initial results had taken so long to be reported, however I feel the outcome would probably have been the same.
Don’t hesitate, put off or make excuses for not attending for a smear. 5 minutes could save your life, it did mine.
Every day in the UK 9 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer
3 women lose their lives from the disease every day
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35
75% of cervical cancers are prevented by cervical screening (smear tests)
However 1 in 4 women do not attend this potentially life-saving test source Jo’s Trust.