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I got invited for my cervical screening in July during Lockdown. I was just entering the menopause at that point - I think I'd had a couple of spells of a few months with no period and by the time I went for cervical screening it had probably been going on for six or nine months.
I think the nurse realised something wasn't right - there was a tiny bit of blood and she asked me when my last smear had been and I was horrified to realise I'd missed about three! I had no idea I'd missed any at all! The results came back and sure enough they found HPV and some cell changes so I had to go for a colposcopy.
I'd started to experience vaginal dryness because of the menopause by this point but the nurses were very kind and professional.
They tried and tried to do the examination, and used different sized speculums which I didn’t know were available. In the end, they decided to abandon it and send me to have the colposcopy under general anaesthetic because it was causing me pain and I was in such a state emotionally. It didn’t help that this was during lockdown and I had to go in for my appointments alone, on top of my hormones not knowing which way to jump.
I ended up having two colposcopies both under a general anaesthetic in the end and the consultant told me in October they had indeed found cancer and I'd have to have a hysterectomy - the hysterectomy threw me more than the diagnosis. Then the second wave of COVID hit and it wasn't till December I could get a date, so I spent Hogmanay in hospital.
Following the hysterectomy, it was - as my sister commented - the nuclear cold winter of hormone withdrawal, so all the menopause symptoms I'd been experiencing suddenly ramped right up. I wasn't sleeping at all. Night after night after night of no sleep. My mood was awful. Brain fog was awful. And I was recovering from surgery.
I have to have follow up vault smears, the first was at about ten months and it was such a relief to get the all clear when I got the results. I had the second this year which has come back clear too.
But the last one was pretty painful, and the nurse said I'd have to have them annually from now on. I will just dose myself up with painkillers next time before I go in. That little bit of discomfort is nothing compared to the hysterectomy (open abdomen) and I feel very lucky the cancer was very early stage.
I don't understand how I missed any smears at all. I keep wondering if I hadn't, would they have found and treated the cells earlier and spared me the surgery? However now I can use my experience to tell other women how important it is to go.
I started having smear tests back in the 80s when I thought they could only test for cancer, and the science has advanced so much - I'd never heard of HPV and didn’t know the tests now look for that. I would like to see every cervix tested and loved and protected from cancer - no matter whose cervix it is!
Hopefully we won’t have any more lockdowns as the worst part for me was having to go by myself. For anyone who finds a cervical screening appointment difficult and scary, for all the reasons you could find it to be, that would be my advice: take someone with you that knows you and you trust.Someone to hold your hand. There is lots of support out there too. During my treatment, I reached out to the Jo’s Forum and the support and advice that I received from so many women was incredible.