Just before Christmas, I received an NHS stamped letter following my recent smear test. You know something isn’t right when the envelope isn’t a standard sized one, and instead it’s bigger and full of leaflets.
So even before opening the letter I knew the news wasn’t going to be good.
And as expected they had discovered abnormal cells on my cervix. They further tested the cells and found I had high risk HPV which is often the cause for cervical cancer.
HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, and it’s very common. According to some statistics 80%-90% of sexually active people will have a form of the HPV virus.
Most people will be subject to this virus as soon as they start having sex, and condoms can’t even offer full protection.
Luckily there is a vaccine which is offered to teenage girls before they become sexually active. This will prevent against certain HPV related diseases, specifically the cervical cancer causing one.
But please remember HPV isn’t the only cause of cervical cancer, although it is the most significant one, so even if you have had this vaccine make sure to regularly get your smears done as well.
Many people can get this virus and show no symptoms. Which is why you can’t blame your current partner if you have found out you have HPV because it often remains dormant. Just because you have no symptoms now, doesn’t mean you don’t have the virus. Which is why your smear test is so important.
Cervical cancer is one of the slowest growing cancers and therefore early detection saves lives.
My smear test highlighted the abnormal cell changes due to high risk HPV. 99% of cervical cancers are associated with high risk HPV so it was essential for me to undergo further testing.
I had to have a colposcopy at my local hospital which involved being examined under microscope. The procedure itself is very similar to the smear test and isn’t anything more than just uncomfortable- mainly because someone is staring at your vagina!
My cervix was tested with a vinegar solution, which is used to show the abnormal cells. I was able to watch the examination on a big screen which was offered as an option to me, and the vinegar solution turned my cells white. Which further concluded the presence of abnormal cells.
Unfortunately this was followed by a biopsy which was considered a necessity to further investigate the cells.
The biopsy wasn’t as painful as I had in my mind, I was more petrified of the thought than the actual process when it happened.
When I got home, I felt rather violated. It’s a strong word to use, but I can’t think of another word to describe it. It’s just such an intimate area and even though it wasn’t painful I did feel really quite shaken up. I curled up on the sofa and I didn’t move for the evening. I was on the brink of tears and very aware of my body.
For the days following I did have painful cramping sensations, bleeding and dark discharge.
If you want to see my colposcopy you can watch it here.
I decided to film it as a way to highlight the issue as well as deal with what was happening to me personally. It sounds odd, but by filming it, it allowed me to remove myself from the situation because it was for something bigger than just me. It was a totally selfish need for me.
The results took 4 weeks to arrive, and they were the best results I could have had.
I do have pre cancerous cells, however they are at the lowest grade right now. The cells are graded on a scale of CIN1 to CIN3 (CIN stands for Cervical Intra-epithelial Neoplasia). CIN2 and CIN3 require treatment currently to remove the cells. Whereas CIN1 is left because in some cases (60% of people with CIN1) the body naturally rids the abnormal cells and therefore treatment isn’t necessary.
For now I’m ok, I have a follow-up smear test next year as opposed to three years as is the UK standard, and depending on those results it’ll determine what treatment I will need or if I’m completely discharged from the system.
I would imagine if abnormal cells are still showing I’ll have to redo the colposcopy and biopsy to see if the cells have progressed into the higher CIN categories.
Please, if you avoid your smear tests don’t. Early detection of this slow-growing cancer can save lives. The smear test itself doesn’t hurt and is over quickly.
I’ve been getting mine done regularly since it became available to me on the NHS. If I have a daughter and the age hasn’t changed from 25 for smear tests, I’m likely to have her tested privately just to put my mind at ease once she starts being sexually active.
If you are going through a situation similar to mine, there are various charities that can help you understand your prognosis and help you with support. I found the whole experience really quite isolating because it’s not something that is openly discussed.
Since I filmed my You Tube video I have been approached by many ladies who have had the same letters posted, regarding their smear test results. They have found comfort in being able to chat to me about what’s happening and in return I have found comfort in them. It’s something that’s very personal, highly emotive and distressing when you do get called back in for further testing. Please don’t think you have to go through it alone.