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When I turned 25 I booked my first smear straight away. My results came back in around five days which was quite alarming and the letter read that I would need to make an urgent hospital referral due to an abnormal result. I went for a colposcopy examination shortly after and was diagnosed with CIN3 (high grade cell changes, also known as severe dyskaryosis). Whilst I was having the colposcopy examination I was originally advised that treatment could be performed there and then under a local anaesthetic, however after a more thorough observation, the abnormal cells covered a large area of my cervix and it was decided it would be better and more comfortable for me to receive the LLETZ treatment under general anaesthetic. I underwent treatment at the hospital two weeks later.
I was advised not to partake in any strenous exercise for around six weeks and to avoid any heavy lifting and sexual intercourse whilst I was healing. I was fortunate that the bleeding and discharge was fairly minimal, however it did last for 6 weeks. The discomfort was similar to period cramps and only lasted a day or two and was manageable with normal pain killers.
I received the treatment on a Friday, which meant I had the weekend to recover, however by the Monday I felt I still needed a couple of days to feel better and was able to be signed off until the Wednesday. I had spoken to my boss in advance of the procedure in case I needed time off, and I would highly recommend speaking to your boss/colleagues so you don't have the worry of doing it over the phone afterwards if needs be.
I waited patiently for my letter to confirm whether they had removed all of the pre-cancerous cells or whether I would need further treatment. This was a very anxious time and, although no news is good news, I was desperate to hear from the hospital. I received my letter four weeks later confirming that they were confident that they had removed all of the cells but I would need to return to the hospital six months later for another colposcopy.
The time passed quite quickly and I tried to put any negative thoughts to the back of my mind. Six months later I was back at the hospital where a 'white' area was still showing and there were concerns that they may not have removed all of the cells. They took a sample and sent me home and I awaited the good news; the area was due to healing and could be scar tissue. Due to my having high grade cell changes I was fortunate enough to be entitled to a relatively new test; HPV testing. These tests, which look for the Human Papillomavirus which causes 99.7% of all cervical cancers, came back negative to my relief. As a result, I was told I would be able to go back to the normal screening frequency – every three years.
After my treatment, I had two clear smear tests. In February 2016, I moved to the Netherlands to be with my partner. Over there they have a different system and not long after I moved I was invited to attend a smear test. The result came back as ‘3b’ which is the equivalent of CIN2 and I was HPV positive.
I didn’t understand how this had happened. After all, my last two smears had been clear. Although I wanted for these abnormalities to be gone, the doctors were concerned about the potential risks of treatment, as my partner and I were planning to have children in the not too distant future so they decided to “watch and wait”. I started going for smear tests every three months and every time the results were the same: CIN2.
However, my last two smear tests have shown some improvement and the abnormalities have gone from CIN2 to CIN1 so I will go back in six months for another smear test. Although it’s frustrating that I have had recurrent abnormalities and I am constantly worrying about if they are getting worse, I’m so grateful that cervical screening exists and that I have been fortunate to have excellent care from medical professionals both in the UK and the Netherlands. Now in 2020, I am currently pregnant, which I feel is a blessing after all the tests and biopsies!
I feel incredibly lucky that I didn't have cervical cancer, and it made me consider all the women who are less fortunate. That is why, in 2013, I trekked the Himalayas to raise money for Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust raising over £4400.00 for the charity. Jo's was a fantastic resource for me when I needed support and advice, and I owe it to all the other women affected out there to support them as much as I can.
Please donate now and help Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust reach and support more women like Harriett.