It is Cervical Screening Awareness Week after all...
Last year I wrote about my experience of going for my first smear test. I covered everything from putting it off for a year, actually attending, getting my results, needing a biopsy and receiving confirmation that I required treatment to remove abnormal cells on my cervix. If you'd like to read more about all of that you can read my blog post here or watch my super detailed video here.
Today's blog post will be an extension of that. I previously explained that I'd been booked in for a little operation on my cervix, called Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), performed under local anesthetic. I arrived at the hospital for my appointment, popped my legs in to the stirrups and tried to relax whilst someone stared at my vagina rather intently.
She popped her head over the blanket after a few minutes of fiddling around up there and said:
'Nope, no can do'.
I immediately burst in to tears because: well, because being in that situation immediately heightens your emotions; you feel vulnerable, exposed, scared. And to then be told 'NO' without any explanation, well that wasn't quite alright with me. Not one bit.
Once I calmed down the doctor explained that in short my abnormal cells were covering a pretty large area and they were extremely close to my vaginal wall. Now neither of those things meant anything to me, as I'm sure they don't to you either - but she advised that basically the local anesthetic wouldn't cover it, I'd probably be able to feel what was happening and be in rather a lot of pain, which neither of us wanted.
She asked me to head down to pre-op because I'd need an actual operation. HOLY SHIT, is all I could think, I've gone from having a vagina that had a mild case of the flu to pretty much being told that the one I've got is broken? It was a bit of a shock to say the least.
The operation would be exactly the same as the procedure they'd planned previously, just I'd need general anesthetic rather than local. It meant they'd be able to do what they needed to do without the risk of it hurting me, which I have to say I was a little relieved about. Pre-op booked me in for a few weeks time.
I hadn't been put to sleep since I was 4 years old, so I was incredibly nervous, but when the day came I felt nothing but support from everyone.
I arrived at the hospital with mum at 7am and the system worked on a first come first serve basis. There were cancer patients on the same list and so they were seen to before anyone else and it was around 11am once I was wheeled through to the operating room.
Prior to this the surgeon came and spoke to me as did the anesthetist, explaining everything that would be happening on that day in great detail. Because it wasn't an overly invasive operation there wasn't a need for me to stay over night. I just needed to bring someone with me to essentially take me home once I'd managed to have a wee and eat a biscuit an hour or so after coming round.
I was petrified about being put to sleep - the thought of not waking up terrified me, but I have to say the pair that looked after me were wonderful. One chatted to me about blogging whilst the other inserted the needle and I felt a cold rush down my arm and that was it, I was out.
She said that everyone else that had been brought back in was as quiet as a mouse, but you could hear me from a mile away.
Before the operation, the surgeon asked me if I'd like a pain killer whilst still asleep - basically this meant did I want them to shove a pain killer up my bum that would work faster than regular ones. I said yes, but good god I don't even want to think about how it got in there. I enjoyed it whilst it lasted, because within an hour I was in a considerable amount of pain. I immediately felt groggy and exhausted and my stomach had a dull ache that felt like someone had punched me repeatedly. I had a bit of a cry, because: hormones, and then we were on our way home.
They advise recovery time is 4 weeks, which in my case was pretty accurate. It was a hellish first few weeks, what with constant murky discharge, persistent aching pains, subtle bleeding, fevers, chronic exhaustion - I mean, it wasn't pretty lets put it that way. I think a lot of the poorliness post op was due to the anesthetic, it knocked me for six and took every last ounce of energy I had. I just took ibuprofen and paracetamol, had a constant hot water bottle and got as much sleep as possible.
I checked in with Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust because I was worried I might have an infection due to a constant temperature but they reassured me that all my symptoms sounded normal and to wait it out a little longer.
Everything cleared up and I can safely say 4.5 weeks after my op, I was 'back to normal'.
I then received a letter in the post, confirming that my results had found what the biopsy showed and that I would just need to go back for my repeat smear in 6 months time to double check they'd got it all.
6 months flew by and before I knew it I was being examined again. Now during this time, I had experienced some quite serious pain whilst having sex, along with a few occasions of bad bleeding afterwards. Obviously this was a worry and my GP examined me a few times to find nothing shady going on or any infections.
When I went back for my smear my GP had asked the hospital to take a closer look to see if anything else was up and the doctor confirmed that I had some irritated scar tissue and on contact, my cervix was bleeding. He reassured me that over time the scar tissue would heal and become less sore, meaning I'd just have to deal with a bit of pain during sex for the time being (not the end of the world if it means I don't have cervical cancer) and that the tenderness of the cervix would be down to the operation also, so he applied a solution across the cervical wall to help with this. Since then my bleeding has completely stopped and pain is only a fleeting visitor every now and then.
I also received my results a few weeks ago confirming that I HAD THE ALL CLEAR!
I don't need to go for a smear test for another 3 years, which is absolutely amazing.
I know that this is the longest most rambly blog post ever, but I just wanted to give you all of the information. Yes, there are parts of this process that haven't been rainbow pooping unicorns but each hurdle has been so worth it to come out the other side healthy and more knowledgeable about my body.
So with that in mind, help me spread the awareness for Cervical Screening Week. You can do this by uploading a selfie with smudged lipstick like mine to Twitter or Instagram using the #SmearForSmear, share my latest video that went live this morning promoting the #SmearForSmear cause or even pass this blog post on to your nearest and dearest ladies!
But most importantly, if you haven't already: GO BOOK YOUR SMEAR TEST.
It saved my life and it could save yours, too.
Putting it off wont save you; being brave will.
You've got this.