So a little while ago I entered real womanhood. When I was young and thought where I’d be when I was 25, I didn’t really anticipate having to show a nurse my hoo-haa before 9am. A smear test is awkward and weird, but completely and utterly necessary.
So when my nurse said that my results would show up in the post in a few weeks’ time, and I wouldn’t have to see her again for 3 years I thought nothing more of it.
Until my letter came through the door.
To cut a long winded letter short, my smear had showed some abnormal cells and I would have to go to hospital for a colposcopy. And immediately my thoughts went to that dark place of ‘ah well, that’s me with cancer at 25 then’. If you have also received a similar letter, STOP PANICKING.
Abnormal cells do not necessarily mean you have cancer. It just means that they aren’t 100% average, and if they are left untreated they could potentially one day mutate and become cancerous. And this is why smear tests are in place. To catch these cells in their early stages, deal with them effectively and keep you safe and healthy.
And for those absolutely pooping themselves at how terrifying the word ‘colposcopy’ is, fear not. It’s essentially exactly the same as your smear test. The little cone thing (speculum) will be put up … there, and along with the cotton swab they used before will be a teeny tiny microscope with a light. The microscope is attached to a thin cord that will feed through to a monitor so the doctor can see inside your business. No one will have their head up in there, and it’s nothing you haven’t experienced already.
There are a few outcomes that can happen once your letter from the hospital arrives telling you when and where your appointment is. The doctor will perform the colposcopy, review your cells and tell you what level they are at. If they are low risk all the way through to high risk of potentially turning cancerous. And there will be two outcomes from this:
They will tell you that they are low risk, your body will clear them up on its own. However you’ll have to have another smear in either 6 months or a year just to see how things are progressing. And chances are you’ll end up back at the hospital with the same results while your body is getting rid of the cells.
Or they will tell you that they are higher risk and will need to be removed. Again, this doesn’t mean you have cancer. It’s a precaution and is in your best interest. Now, there are a two methods of removing the abnormal cells:
- Large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ) – which is a heated wire loop that is used to scoop out the abnormal cells. This is carried out whilst you’re awake, however your cervix is numbed and you can go home the same day.
- A cone biopsy – now this is done under general anaesthetic, and it is where a cone shaped piece of tissue with the abnormal cells on it is cut from your cervix. This is for more extreme cases, and you may have to stay overnight in hospital.
I was referred to my local hospital for about 6 weeks from when I received my letter telling me I had abnormal cells. And it honestly felt like a lifetime. I had far too long to think of the ‘what ifs’. I turned up at the hospital and waiting in the gynaecology unit, my brother the utter babe took me and listened to my whining whilst we waited for my name to be called.
Pretty soon I was called in by the sweetest little nurse who called me ‘sweetie’ and ‘my love’ and I instantly felt at ease. I sat down with the doctor who introduced herself, told me that from what she could see in my results that my cells were low risk and then asked me the standard questions. Are you pregnant? Have you ever been pregnant? Are you on any medication? And you know the drill.
Then the dreaded ‘if you’d like to go behind the curtain and take off everything from the waist down and come out when you’re done’ phrase happened. Luckily I had remembered from last time and wore a dress. So there was no shuffling around trying to preserve my dignity. Then I sat in the examining chair with my doctor down the business end, two nurses to my left and my legs in stirrups. It was quite an ordeal.
And just like the original smear the speculum was ‘inserted’. As was the camera and swab and me awkwardly talking to the nurses about how I wanted pie and mash later on. I don’t even like pie, I panicked when there was a 0.3 second lull in conversation and decided word vomit was better than nothing.
After about two minutes of talking about pie, something I have no knowledge in, my doctor asked me if I wanted to look at the monitor to see what she was seeing. And ohemgee. It was a LOT to see. As soon as my eyes hit the monitor the words ‘oh god ew’ had flown out of my mouth. After a brief adjustment period my doctor showed me the area where the abnormal cells were. It was an area smaller than the surface area of the cotton bud tip and it was a little dark cluster tucked in the corner.
My doctor said that there was nothing to worry about, they weren’t doing anything, they were low risk, my body would clear them up but it will probably take over a year and I would just have to go and have a smear test in a years time to see how it was progressing. PHEW.
I pulled my legs from the stirrups, tiptoed back behind the curtain, popped a pantie liner in my knickers (as recommended seeing as they’re rooting around in your vee and it could dislodge some yuckiness) and whipped them back on. All in all I was only in the examining room for about 10 minutes if that. The ladies were so incredibly lovely, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. Showing a bunch of strangers your hoo-haa is never going to be a good time. But it’s their job and it’s only to help you.
Again, if you’re scared to go to your smear or have been and have received a letter as well, you’ll be fine. It’s just a little weird and uncomfortable. But for some time out of your day and showing a stranger your business, you’re only benefitting yourself. You’re only taking your health into your own hands. And being a responsible adult when it comes to keeping yourself in the clear.
Cervical cancer is a real threat. And 99% of ALL the recorded cases could have been prevented if those poor women had had their screening. The screening isn’t to embarrass you or a peculiar right of passage. It’s to make sure you live the longest and healthiest life possible. So please, make the appointment and stick to it. You’re braver and stronger than you know.