What happens when you have an abnormal smear test

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I'm not writing this because I think that my story is in any way special or noteworthy. By the nature of the fact this will happen to 5% of all women it clearly is not special. In fact it's RIDICULOUSLY straightforward and normal to the point this blog post probably is essentially BORING.


I am writing this for two reasons:

1. Ever since I learnt how to write I've made sense of stuff like this and cleansed my mind by writing it down. This is my outlet. I'm an overgrown teenager. Forgive me.
2. When I got the letter saying I had an abnormal smear test I cried for hours as I had no idea what was going to happen and then googled and googled and all it did was make it worse. I am writing this so if you, dear reader, ever have an abnormal smear test, or ever know someone who has had one, can tell them my story about how it wasn't That Bad At All and they will be Totally Fine.

So from the beginning this is what happened.

In February, six months before my 25th birthday, the NHS, the fabulous NHS who really care about women not getting cervical cancer, sent me a letter asking me to book a smear test. For two months I didn't even bother to try and book a smear test. I was very busy at work. In my personal life I was trying to navigate a secret relationship with my housemate. I barely even had time to blog. Of COURSE I didn't have time for THIS.

It came to April so I thought I'd better ring up and made an appointment for May. Unfortunately by the time it got to May a member of my family was diagnosed with cancer and died all within two weeks. It was a horrendous time. I cancelled the smear test. I couldn't face it. Why someone close to me dying of cancer made me not want to be screened for it myself I will never understand, but at the time I just assumed that my cervix was obviously fine and being tested was an invasive waste of time. Of course you always just assume that.

I rescheduled the appointment for June. Sadly the week before I had a chest infection and was put on antibiotics. I once read that antibiotics will induce thrush in one in three women taking them - living as a woman is a bloody mug's game - and sadly the odds were not in my favour. I actually turned up for the smear test this time but after I told them I had thrush the nurse said they wouldn't be able to do it. I rescheduled again for July.

Finally in July - FIVE MONTHS after my letter - I had it done. Naturally, I was a bit nervous beforehand about being prodded and poked and the like. If you've never had a smear test before I can reassure you that it was completely fine. It was in no way painful and was barely uncomfortable and the whole process took under two minutes. I skipped out of the surgery proud of myself for being so brave and that evening threw a garden party. By my first sip of my mysterious punch I'd forgotten all about the smear test and assumed somewhere at the back of my head I'd go back in three years and that would be that.

When I came back from a weekend away with my boyfriend to see a letter on the doormat saying 'URGENT MEDICAL INFORMATION - THIS IS NOT A CIRCULAR' I felt my whole stomach drop. It turned out that pre cancerous cells were found in my cervix. The letter threw about words like 'dyskaryosis' and 'NOT CANCER'. The accompanying leaflet said 'NOT CANCER' about four times. All I could think was that the word 'CANCER' was being used very often for something we weren't supposed to think about.

I cried every night for a week.

Logistically, this is what happened next. About three days later I got a letter through with a number for me to ring up and book an appointment for a 'colposcopy'. 'Scopy' is a particularly uninviting suffix. I rang up straight away and the earliest they could see me was September, about seven weeks later, which wasn't too bad.

It was scary, and it was horrible, and I was nervous. I have the world's lowest pain threshold and am a complete baby and I just didn't know how I was going to get through this horrific sounding 'scopy'. MORE PRODDING. MORE POKING.

The day arrived and it was today. This is what happened:

I brought someone incredibly lovely and supportive with me. She was allowed in the room when I had it done.

Before it happened a very kind and lovely nurse explained they were going to look at my cervix under a microscope and put some solutions on it to try and find the pre cancerous cells and work out how bad they were.

I took my pants off (wear a flowy dress or skirt: colposcopy tip) and put my legs up in stirrups. They prodded and poked with a speculum which was exactly like a smear test: very slightly uncomfortable, but in no way painful. It just lasted maybe four times as long as a smear test.

They got the microscope out and had a video screen next to my head so I had the pleasure that is not afforded to many of being able to view my own cervix. My birthing canal was pointed out and I saw how small it was and felt a little faint. They dabbed some solution on; still painless, and I could see for myself where a small white area of precancerous cells came up. They took a biopsy which didn't really hurt (they asked me to cough as loud as I could whilst they were doing it...) and then that was that.

The nurse explained to me that the cells looked like low grade precancer. They've sent off the biopsy and I get the results in 8 weeks. If it turns out to be low grade, I just have to go back for another colposcopy in nine months to keep an eye on things. If it's high grade, I have to have treatment under local anaesthetic, but I and indeed my blog readers should cross that bridge if it comes to it.

The bleeding has already six hours later almost stopped but I do have horrendous period style pains so if I were you and you were having it I wouldn't make any plans for the rest of the day.

So why am I writing this? Why am I sharing this very personal information online? Well:

- if you've got the letter, and you have the colposcopy coming up, don't worry. You will be fine. It's okay. It doesn't hurt. We are all here for you.
- being told you have precancerous cells is scary. But it's also very humbling. Look at the NHS! Look at what they do for us! If we didn't have these smear tests there's a chance in a few years I'd end up with cervical cancer. But look at me. I'm being watched over and looked after and they really CARE and really want to HELP. It's incredible.
- if you've been putting off your smear test - because you are busy or scared or for any plethora of other reasons - please don't. Please go. They are fine and they are in place for a reason. 95% chance all will be fine and you won't go back. 5% it won't be, but - those precancerous cells are there whether you go for the test or not. And if you go for the test, people are watching over them for you. Remember that.
- there's no such thing as over sharing online if you think that it might help someone or make them feel better about something.

I think I've probably bored you all sufficiently with the gory details but if you have any other questions about what happened please feel free to drop me an email at gonetodeadlock [@] gmail.com!

X

Note: This blog post has been shared even more widely than I could ever have hoped, which has been amazing so thank you so much! I just wanted to note that since writing this post I've been contacted by a cytoscreener, who has asked me to reassure anyone worried about getting a smear test because of thrush that this is no means some kind of NHS policy and was only my personal experience. In fact, when I was turned down for my smear test because of thrush, I was told that I could have it if I wanted to but it would just be painful (and I said no). So don't let this put you off! x

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