‘I survived cancer without ever realising I had it’

Sometimes the language around healthcare is baffling. Many of the calls to our nurse service Ask Eve are to ask questions about what they have been told in their screening results letter or in the clinic: pre-cancer (is it cancer or not?), borderline (what’s it on the cusp of?), colposcopy (eh?), biopsy (that’s bad, isn’t it?). Here, Georgia Tennant writes about surviving cancer before she even knew she had it.

So those of you who know me, know I like to share but those of you who don’t, will know I like to keep things private. This particular private thing however, I feel must be shared.

A few weeks ago I received an abnormal smear result. ‘Borderline changes’ to be exact. Before I’d made it up upstairs to tell my husband, I’d started planning my funeral. Having kids takes you to that place pretty quickly I find.

On speaking to a doctor and my dear friend ‘Google’, (or Bing, Yahoo, all work) my nerves are calmed a bit. I see that ‘Borderline’ is the best word you can hope to see on one of those letters and although it tells me a ‘Colposcopy’ has been booked for me, it’s almost certainly going to need no further investigation past that point.

The lovely doctor puts me at ease instantly, confirms the positive mention of ‘borderline’ and I’m sent behind a screen to disrobe and pop on the obligatory blue negligee. Legs in stirrups, dye applied to my cervix the said lovely Doctor is just visible between my legs. When he starts asking me about my work I know something is amiss. This is confirmed when he mouths ‘subtly’ the word ‘biopsy’ to his nervous looking assistant. She is unfortunately unrehearsed in this art and it needs repeating by which point I’m like a 7 year old whose mother is spelling out the work ‘cake’. He takes the biopsy. Man that hurt! But I now realise I’m in a slightly different world. I can’t tell whether it’s this or the smarting cervix but I start to cry. ‘It’s not cancer’ he says. ‘But neither is it borderline’ Ok so it’s not cancer. That’s great! What everyone wants to hear, surely? So why am I crying?!

Clothed again I sit in front of him. He tells me how terribly hard it is for a woman when something goes wrong in the area which makes her a woman. That’s it! My brilliantly reliable cervix, which has helped make four beautiful humans has let me down. Gone a bit wrong. Not sticking to the perfect narrative that it was supposed to.
So I wait. My results finally come through. I have what’s called CIN 2. ‘Pre-Cancer’. (I remember watching a brilliant episode of ‘Catastrophe’ about that very thing).

So today I’ve had what’s called a ‘Cervical excision’. This removes a section of the affected cervix which should in the 97% of all cases, solve the problem. Fingers crossed, I’m fixed. Sorted.

But, what if I hadn’t made that appointment? What if I hadn’t responded to the 2 letters I received from our NHS telling me I was due a smear? What if I’d read ‘borderline’ and believed Yahoo? This story may have had a different ending.

So I needed to tell this story to you not because I like the idea of talking publicly about something so private or everyone knowing I’ll be wearing a nappy sized sanitary towel for the next 4 weeks but because I want that one person who has been putting off making that appointment, to make it. That partner of that woman who has been too scared to go, to encourage her. Those parents of teenagers, to look into the HPV vaccine. Or just to know when you see ‘borderline changes’ on your piece of paper that, whilst it’s not necessarily the whole story, it’s ok and this has happened before. Many times, to many people and now you’ve got a first-hand story that ends ok. Don’t be scared. Please get checked. Just, please.

 

UPDATE- 2 WEEKS LATER

The lovely doctor called yesterday. Results are back. It was cancer. They’ve got it all but it was cancer. My betraying little cervix had begun an attempt to kill me off and by a stroke of baffling luck I had stopped it, beat it, cut it out before it had a chance to make it out of the starting gates (that’s dog racing speak for ‘hadn’t spread beyond the layers they’d already removed’). Survived cancer without ever realising I had it. As you can tell I’m still processing this, it’s quite a thing to get your head round. The swirling storm cloud of ‘what ifs?’. I’m currently half terrified child, half superhero. But my first thought was to those people who have messaged and texted and tweeted and emailed. For those who have told me their stories, some talked about for the first time, I felt obliged to update them on my final chapter. And if the first part of the story didn’t hit home, I hope this bit does. From borderline changes to cancer to cancer free in mere months. It really could have been a different story. One I will be forever grateful I didn’t have to tell.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Again.