I may not have conveyed it on my blog, but I’m big worrier, huge in fact. Even if I haven’t got anything to worry about, you bet I can find something. So when I received a letter to say I had an abnormal smear test result, I was extremely worried.
The letter said I had borderline cell changes and would need a colposcopy with a ‘punch’ biopsy. The worst part was, I’d had one before and I distinctly remembered it being horrific.
You may wonder why I’m sharing such a personal post with you when I normally write about family, make up and wool, but if I’ve learnt anything from the post I wrote about the time I couldn’t wee, is that people love mildly embarrassing medical stories (and puns).
Anyone who went to secondary school and didn’t become a scientist/doctor will also know that human biology (specifically reproductive organs) is always a funny subject and when combined with a medical condition, piques a certain morbid fascination (which I imagine is the thinking behind the, almost unwatchable, ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ series Channel 4 made).
Anyway, back to the story.
A few years ago I had received a letter saying exactly the same thing, followed by a three week long period that got heavier each day. I finished up in A&E after making an overwrought call to NHS Direct. The Dr I saw was a young looking man who, to my horror, made me describe the colour and texture of my menstruation (let me tell you, blackcurrant jam is still off the menu!).
Not long after that I attended the colposcopy clinic for the first time. I was booked in on a day they were teaching medical students and the room was pretty crowded. The procedure involved putting a camera ‘up there’ to get a good look at my cervix (on a massive screen, near my head might I add) and then cut a tiny bit of cervix off for the biopsy.
I can’t remember anything specific about the first colposcopy, only a sense of it being bad and painful as well as a med student chatting to me about how terrible the local night life was.
So this time when I got the letter, it was accompanied with a sense of foreboding. I immediately turned to Google and landed on the forum boards for the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website.
The forum boards are a mix of worried women like me with varying symptoms and smear test results, very kind ladies who are happy to share their stories and are reassuring to the worriers and (far fewer) stories where cancer has been found (and in most cases successfully treated, thankfully). If you’re worried, I recommend having a browse and allowing yourself to be reassured.
Earlier this week I attended my second colposcopy and, upon arrival was greeted by a very smiley nurse, which instantly made me feel a little bit better.
She sat me into a private room which had chairs in it and lead on into the treatment room. The consultant came straight out to talk to me and contextualised the seriousness of the changes. As it turned out, they were extremely low risk and I needn’t have worried.
He told me the changes that were found were only just in the borderline category and slightly fewer changes would have defined me as ‘normal’. He also explained I was a full five categories away from the ‘cancer’ diagnosis. This was a massive relief and I think if I’d been told that on my previous visit, I probably would have felt a lot better.
I was then left to undress and given a plastic sheet to cover my modesty. It was then I realised I had been sitting on a chair that quite possibly had a bare bum on it in the very recent past.
Inside the treatment room I had to lay on a bed and put my legs in stirrups (oh, the indignity!). The nurses were chatty and very good at distracting me when my mood was teetering on panic. I didn’t look at the massive screen, I prefer to keep the mystery.
The nurses said I had lovely hair and the doctor said my cervix was good and he couldn’t see any cause for concern (but took a biopsy anyway). It’s not often I get a compliment on my hair and my cervix on the same day (I know, whatever happened to gentlemen, eh?).
This time was completely different to the last. It hurt a little, but it was a manageable amount and I only felt a bit funny afterwards because I have a little bit of an anxiety problem, but I ate a muffin in the hospital cafe which seemed to solve it. I have to wait a couple of weeks for the result, but I’m expecting it to be okay. It was over in about 20 minutes and I even went back to uni afterwards because I’m a trooper.
If you stumbled upon this post because you were worried about a colposcopy, then I hope the post has eased your concerns slightly. (Also, my advice to you is to take a sanitary towel because you bleed straight after, and for a few days.)
I can’t promise the nurses will like your hair or the doctor will like your cervix, but I do strongly advise you keep up to date with your smear test and attend any subsequent appointments that result from it. By the sounds of it I’ve been lucky but I know of plenty of people who have had to have more serious procedures than me and are very thankful they attended.