After a succession of previously uneventful smear tests, and zero change in my lifestyle it all seemed a bit odd. I found out via a phone call from the colposcopy clinic at my local hospital, to confirm an appointment for the following week to take a closer look at some abnormalities in the cells on my cervix. I’d not even given the potential results of the cervical smear a second thought – they’d always been fine and never required any kind of follow up. I was busy, planning a wedding, buying a house with my partner and preparing to start a new job.
I’d dissected around the first ten pages of Google search results on “colposcopy needed for abnormal smear test result”. I learned a lot about the different forms of CIN, HPV and other reasons for such results. I convinced myself of the worst possible scenario, that I had either cervical cancer or the highest form of CIN that would require the most invasive treatment. Leaping towards the most depressing outcome is usually my default position, to prepare myself for any bad news. I instantly became an expert of various treatments for high grade CIN and cervical cancer. My letter simply stated that I had borderline cell changes and HPV virus, and to attend a colposcopy clinic within the next fortnight to take a closer look. Enclosed was a booklet complete with a lovely diagram of the quite glamorous position you’d be put into whilst the examination took place.
The mention of the HPV virus worried me a lot. I was sure it was an STI akin to chlamydia or something. “Isn’t that the one they vaccinate young girls against?” I thought. Having been with my partner for almost 5 years, I couldn’t get my head around this unknown virus. Had it been knocking around for years unnoticed? Where the hell has it come from? It made me realise how uneducated I was (and my friends and family) about the HPV virus and how it all works.
I’d been listening to a series of podcasts from Cherry Healey who interviewed a new inspiring woman each week. I saw one with a lady called Karen Hobbs, who works for The Eve Appeal, a gynaecological cancer charity. She had suffered from cervical cancer and was spreading the word about women’s health issues. The podcast episode was so informative and put everything in a non-terrifying perspective. Karen also debunked a few myths about HPV that had been worrying me. Since messaging her on Instagram she’s been a constant source of support and knowledge – answering all my inane questions.
The colposcopy itself was very quick and fuss-free. They took a small biopsy of the area, which was a bit uncomfortable. The results followed a couple of weeks later, precisely 2 weeks into my new marketing job. It confirmed I had CIN and they would perform a LLETZ procedure to remove it. Having to ask your new boss for the afternoon off for a cervix related issue when you’ve barely been in his workforce a fortnight was a little daunting. But he was absolutely lovely and seemed genuinely concerned. He was so kind, even openly asking in the office how it all went afterwards, which I loved and hated in equal measure. The LLETZ was even quicker and less painful than the biopsy, possibly because I now felt like a dab hand getting myself into position in that wretched chair. The local anaesthetic injection was the worst pain. I was told to expect up to 6 weeks of watery discharge and some bleeding – but I was more worried about whether they’d got all the bad cells or not. The nurses told me they’d confirm by post again, as a small sample of the removed tissue would be tested.
A four week wait followed before being informed of the doctor’s confidence that all was well and to attend a follow-up smear in 6 months. I was delighted of course, but still a bit paranoid about it coming back or still being there somehow. It took me a good month or so to stop worrying about it. My main concern is that the HPV will remain present and cause more abnormalities. But Karen and The Eve Appeal never made me feel like I was being a drama queen or worrying over nothing. I was and am intensely grateful. I’m now a smear test bore and delight in telling people how quickly cell changes can be noticed and dealt with for the benefit of your future health. I have since read (many) online forums of women who have had successful LLETZ treatment and clear smears thereafter.
Here’s to being one of those gals!