#NoFearGoSmear, My Story

 

No Fear, Go Smear

Yesterday I received a tweet asking me to a sign a petition to get through to the Government that no girl should be denied a smear test based on age. I followed this link and read the heart breaking story that had prompted the petition, about a 23 year old girl called Sorcha Glenn who, despite a family history of cervical cancer, was refused an earlier smear and was told to come back at 25. Sorcha was diagnosed in September 2013 with cervical cancer, a matter of months after asking for a smear in June 2013. She died a year later in October 2014. I signed the petition straightaway.

I remember feeling so lucky that the first smear test age was put up from 21 to 25 a year or so before my 21st birthday, after hearing stories of the dreaded smear test from some of my friends who were a couple of years older. I didn’t think that anyone that young would ever be at risk so thought it’d be a waste of time, destroying my dignity for no reason. Jade Goody’s story hit the news not long after. Then one of my now best friends was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 26. I still remember that day when she told me after the months of treatment and appointments. Thankfully she has since been given the all clear and now lives a healthy and happy life, but it could’ve been so different. So many what if’s: what if the age had never been put up to 25, would they have spotted it sooner, would she never have had to go through treatment and operations?

Smear Test

I received my letter from my GP a couple of weeks before my 25th birthday. By this point my friend had been given the amazing news that she no longer had cancer, but was still needing to go for regular 3 month smears. I rang the same day my letter came through my door and booked the earliest appointment. I remember feeling so nervous and dreading the appointment, but the nurse immediately put my mind at ease. I knew I had to relax otherwise it’d make the whole experience worse, so that’s what I tried to do. I won’t lie, it wasn’t pleasant having a warm instrument inserted and then a scrape taken from my insides, but it was over within seconds and no where near as bad as I imagined. Now I just had to wait for the results. I’d never had any problems so was telling myself it would be fine. I didn’t hear for 2 weeks so during that time I told myself it would be clear, confident that if there was any problem I would’ve heard sooner.

Referred

I received a letter around the 2 week mark. My results were irregular. I was being referred for 6 months at which point I’d need another smear for the results to be compared. I didn’t think too much of it. I figured the doctors couldn’t be too concerned if I was being referred for 6 months so I convinced myself that next time it would be fine. But 5 months in I started to have irregular bleeding. At this point I was scared, I rang and demanded an emergency same day appointment with my GP. Between tears I explained the last 6 months, they took a smear there and then as tears rolled down my cheeks.

The results came back irregular again. I was referred to the hospital for a colposcopy.

Colposcopy

The colposcopy appointment, I have to admit, was the worst bit for me. In principle it’s the same as a smear, just with a microscope so they can find and take a sample of the abnormal cells. It was made more unpleasant because it took that bit longer than a smear but the nurses were fantastic and reassured me all the way through. The specialist took the sample they needed, assuring me that I would be contacted within 2 weeks with the results. Another 2 weeks of waiting.

LLETZ

LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone), it was explained, is a biopsy where they use a loop type of device which has an electric current. I needed this treatment to remove the abnormal cells. I was told that I had quite a large area of abnormal cells so they would need to do it under a general anaesthetic, not a local which is usually the standard. I have to admit, knowing what my friend had gone through, and how this is how it started for her, I was terrified. Looking back I shut off thinking about it, if I didn’t think about it I couldn’t feel the emotions that came with it, and so convinced myself that it was just procedure. I focused on talking to people about being scared of the general, never having one before, then the treatment or what this all meant. I don’t know anything of the LLETZ procedure itself with being knocked out, and apart from feeling groggy from the general I felt fine. The consultant stressed that it was very important that I let myself heal though. I was told to take a week off work to recover from the general, and no baths or swimming for a few days, no sex for 4 weeks, no exercise for 6 weeks. But I didn’t care, it was all over.

The Follow Up

I had a follow up colposcopy a couple months following. It was then that I was told that my second smear had been classed as severe CIN3. My first smear was borderline CIN1-2. CIN is Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia, rated 1-3, and the terminology related to abnormal cells that, if left untreated, can turn into cancer. CIN3 is the highest category, the next level is when the cells are diagnosed as cancerous. The specialist, whilst unpleasantly still poking and prodding my insides, showed me how my cervix looked now after the treatment. And then showed me the before. The before was covered, you could barely see any healthy cervix on my original colposcopy picture.

I had another smear 3 months following. The results came back irregular again, but CIN1. I was referred for another 3 month smear. Nearly a year to the date after my second smear, when I had the irregular bleeding, I had my smear and got back CLEAR results. I was being put back onto the 3 year list, and they didn’t want to see me again until then unless I had any irregularities.

I was chuffing over the moon!!!!!!!!

#NoFearGoSmear

The reason for sharing my story after 2 years? To highlight the important of attending your smears when called. It was a terrifying experience that I would never want to go through again, but it will by no means ever put me off having a smear. I know that as soon as my letter lands on my door calling me for my check up that I will ring up straightaway. I can guarantee that I will be anxious, but my story proves that there’s a reason for it. Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t of had that LLETZ treatment? And my friend, what would have happened if they hadn’t found it and treated her? Smears are as important as any regular health check, such as visiting the dentists, and can make the difference between a small bit of treatment and hearing the C word. They are a preventive measure, to remove those irregular cells before they develop into something worse. If you are due for your screening PLEASE book an appointment today, it can make all the difference. And if you ever have any irregularities or concerns, regardless of your age or when your next smear is due, PLEASE speak to you GP and demand a smear if needed. Ask for second opinions if you don’t get anywhere the first time. You know your body and if something’s not right listen to it. It’s not worth waiting.

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19 Comments

  1. 23rd March 2015 / 7:41 pm

    You have inspired me to get on with it and book my smear – I keep putting it off – I received the letter 6 months ago. I’ll book it first thing in the morning – thank you. I am so glad you are clear 🙂

    • 23rd March 2015 / 8:23 pm

      Definitely get it booked! It’s worth those few seconds for peace of mind 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by xx

  2. Stacey
    23rd March 2015 / 7:42 pm

    Glad that you are ok now and telling your story. I came across your blog through a retweet by cervical sceening. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer last July and have been through a radical hysterectomy, losing all my reproductive organs and the chance to ever have my own family. Now I am in remission and back at work but I genuinely think about it every day. I was never scared or anxious about the smear test, I just never ‘had time’ to go as a busy investment banker and expat living in Dubai where there is no NHS to remind me to go. Very foolish but I can’t turn back the clock. I do disagree with the petitions tho, I think that Sorcha was treated extremely badly and that exceptions should be made for under 25s with family history or any symptoms such as bleeding/pain/discharge but I do not believe smears under 25 as ‘the norm’ is appropriate.

    Fingers crossed for more clear smears for you x
    Stacey | Expat Make-Up Addict

    • 23rd March 2015 / 8:22 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear about your story Stacey, but so pleased to hear you’ve had your treatment & in remission. I can only imagine how heart breaking it is to receive the news in the first place, to then be told that’s the only treatment. Hopefully it won’t be long before you hear the words that you’re cancer free & you can try to move on as best as you can. Thank you so much for stopping by & sharing your story xx

  3. 23rd March 2015 / 8:58 pm

    This was an amazing blog. Thank you so much for writing so indepth about your experience.

    I’m so glad everything is clear for you now!

    I think young girls think a smear test is painful and long but they can last for a very minimal amount of time and also save your life! Maybe they’re not so bad for me as I’m a bit of a veteran as I’ve been having them since I was a teenager, but that’s due to other health issues I have.

    But this was a fantastic post! This needs to be discussed more!

    Ladies! #nofeargosmear

    • 28th March 2015 / 11:19 am

      Thanks Kirsty, it definitely does need to be discussed more – we’ll probably actually find that the results I had are actually more common then people realise, but as no one talks about it when it happens to you it’s abnormal and you immediately think the worse. Thanks for stopping by x

  4. 23rd March 2015 / 9:35 pm

    Thankyou for this post. Booking mine tomorrow!
    Glad to hear you’re all cleared now 🙂 what an up and down time that must have been for you x

  5. 23rd March 2015 / 9:37 pm

    Hi,
    So sorry you had to go through such a worrying time, but glad everything is ok now. Your post actually brought some tears to my eyes, because it made me realise how foolish I had been, going 2 years later for my smear. The thing that prompted me in the end was a little lump on my cervix that I only discovered because we’re trying for a baby. I realise now how stupid I was, and when I found that lump I was so worried, but luckily it worked out just fine. I felt so guilty that there are measures in place to avoid cervical cancer developing and I wasn’t bothering, and suddenly realising it wasn’t just me but my husband too who relied on me being healthy. Sorry I’m rambling a bit but, in summary, well done for promoting the importance of smears, when silly girls like me don’t take it seriously.
    Jilly x

    • 28th March 2015 / 11:21 am

      I’m so glad everything turned out OK for you Jilly, I know a lot of people who don’t go and don’t see the urgency and like you will often leave it years before they do. My friend was actually nearly 1yr late for hers and it’s scary to think what a difference that could’ve made to her diagnosis. Thanks for stopping by xx

  6. 25th March 2015 / 8:43 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story lovely. I’m so sorry that you went through all that, I would have been so scared but sounds like you were so brave too! I imagine you have inspired a lot of women with this post particularly myself! I’m only 23 but so cannot wait until I’m 25 and can have a smear test, have been looking forward to it since I was 18, so many stories in the media such as poor Socha, it really is frightening and just to think it can all be detected and prevented with a visit to the doctor but they make us wait until we are 25! I really want the age to be reduced for everyone it’s so so important. Thank you so much for this post & I really am sorry you experienced this x

    Love Claire xx

  7. 28th March 2015 / 8:07 am

    This is so poignant to read. I’m so glad I discovered your blog. This is something I’ve been dreading since I was aware of it’s existence but you’ve put my mind at ease. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and perhaps a little embarrassing, but nothing compared to the effects if it’s left and you’re unaware if something sinister lies beneath. Great writer!! Fantastic blogs. X

    • 28th March 2015 / 11:23 am

      I’m glad this post has helped! I know exactly how you feel, as I was really dreading my first smear too – all the scary stories and the unknown. It’s there for a reason and we’d be foolish not to use it! Thanks for your comment and for stopping by xx

  8. 29th March 2015 / 8:55 am

    So glad you are well. I’d ‘add” that at the other end of the spectrum (I’m 64) attending these often uncomfortable procedures are equally important. A routine mammogram, which I nearly missed ( bad weather, car wouldn’t start) picked up DCIUS. Two operations later, I have been given the first ”all clear”. The nurses told me so many people just don’t turn up. Turn Up People! You have family & friends who need you to be there.

    • 3rd April 2015 / 10:35 am

      Thank you so much for your comment Carol, I’m so glad you’ve been given the all clear – it’s scary how many people don’t turn up for routine check ups that are there for a reason x

  9. 18th April 2015 / 8:24 am

    Again, thankyou for highlighting the importance of smear tests, I had mine 2 weeks back, it’s come back has positive for HPV and need to go for a coloscopy in a month’s time. Fingers crossed it’s not too bad..! Would have kept putting it off if it wasn’t for this reminder so thanks for this x

  10. 13th March 2016 / 6:26 pm

    I got my letter a few weeks before my 25. I am now 26 and still haven’t had it done and feel awful. I’ve definitely been inspired to book this in! Thank you z

    • Sarah
      13th March 2016 / 7:11 pm

      Definitely go Cat, it’s not worth waiting and 9 times out of 10 it’ll be fine anyway! x

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