*Warning. This blog post includes words like; vagina, cervix, and discharge… I get the impression that some people have issues with these words. So… sorry, not sorry.
In June I went for my smear test, nothing out of the ordinary, or anything to get excited about. I’ve been for smear tests before. They’re pretty low on my list of fun things to do. But it’s definitely something that needs to be done.
It’s not pleasant but it’s not terrifying either. In fact this time around the nurse was especially lovely and we had a nice chat about how difficult teenagers can be.
Anyway, I had it done, I went home, I forgot about it.
Two months later, on the 3rd of August (Saturday) I was heading out the door to go for my haircut ready for my holiday to Florida (brag alert!), and I was greeted by a letter from the NHS informing me that my smear test had found some abnormal cells and I needed to have a colposcopy.
I’m not going to lie, it scared me. And I cried. I didn’t cry because of the potential prospect of cancer, I cried because of the thought of the procedure.
Smear tests make me uncomfortable, mainly due to a not-so-nice experience when having my coil removed many years ago, I passed out and I was unable to have another one put in. So now anything to do with my cervix makes me very nervous.
My previous smear tests results have always come back normal, so I was freaked out by this.
Plus, I was due to go on holiday in 5 days, (Friday) perfect timing!
I was told an appointment would be sent out to me, so I tried to put it to the back of my mind until after my holiday.
I then received a phone call on the Wednesday informing me that an appointment was available for the next day. I really wanted to say no and just wait until after my holiday but I knew the only reason for this was irrational fear, so I went ahead and booked the appointment.
And because the Universe was being ever so kind to me, Mother Nature decided to pay me a visit. I assumed I couldn’t have the procedure done if I was on my period, so I phoned to cancel the appointment but the nurse informed me that due to the severity of my initial tests results I needed to keep the appointment. Obviously this did nothing to ease my worries and only spiked my anxiety.
I arrived at the hospital shaking and in tears. I could barely make it up the stairs. I was then met by the horrific poster of the adorable little boy telling us that his Mummy missed her smear test and now he misses his Mummy. It almost floored me. I’m not going to put it up on here because it’s hauntingly sad, if you want to see it you can Google it.
Luckily once I made it past the unsympathetic receptionist, I was met by the nicest nurse in the world. I wanted to hug her. She made me feel better almost immediately.
She took me through to speak with the doctor, who was equally wonderful.
The doctor talked me through the entire procedure, what would happen, how it would happen, what to expect afterwards, etc. She also said they could remove the cells, if necessary, that day. However, as I was going on holiday the next day she said to wait until afterwards because of the bleeding that can occur. And, as waiting a couple of weeks wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the cells that needed removing, I agreed to wait.
So the procedure this day was just to have a look at my cervix, very similar to a smear test, a speculum is inserted into the vagina and the doctor has a closer look at the cells (which you can also view on a monitor! I missed out on this because I was so pre-occupied with being anxious that when the nurse gave me this information I completely blanked her…!)
Also, FYI, you can request for a smaller speculum to be used! I never knew this.
Fast forward two weeks (an awesome fortnight in Florida!), and I was met with a letter from the hospital with an appointment for the upcoming Thursday. This was three days after I arrived home. I was jet lagged to hell and I had experienced one of the worst migraines of my life on the last day of our holiday, and to top it off we ended up missing our connecting flight , which left us a day late getting home! Because who doesn’t love a bit of extra stress…
Anyway… I returned to the hospital to be greeted by the same lovely doctor.
(She had actually said at the last appointment that she would request for her to do the treatment for me, so that I wasn’t being dealt with by lots of different people. Seriously, this doctor is amazing and I love her.)
I also had my Mum with me, sat next to me throughout the entire procedure, she sat and held me hand and wiped my tears away. Yes, I cried, I was scared! I also had a nurse at the other side of me holding my hand too… and I don’t even feel pathetic about it. I’m happy to admit I cried and that I was scared.
The treatment procedure starts off very much like a smear test or colposcopy. A sepculum is inserted in to your vagina and the cervix is checked again. Then comes the really unpleasant part, the local anaesthetic, where the cervix has to be injected. It was a short sharp scratch, followed by another short sharp scratch, followed by a few more injections, which, by this point I couldn’t feel because the area was already numb.
Then the doctor proceeds to the actual removal of the abnormal cells and this is done by using a heated thin wire loop, (LLETZ treatment) so the cells are effectively burnt off. As horrific as this sounds, it wasn’t as painful as I was imagining it to be and who doesn’t love the smell of burning cervix in the morning…? Just me then…?
Obviously I’d had anaesthetic, the area was numb and the only ‘pain’ I felt was pressure and tugging. Of course this may be different for others, if it is painful then just say something, or scream, they will either apply more anaesthetic or arrange for it to be done under general anaesthetic.
The entire procedure took less than 30 minutes. It was honestly over before I knew it, I kept expecting it to get worse and it never did.
To be honest the recovery period has been worse.
My appointment date for the LLETZ procedure was the 29th of August and the bleeding has only just started to slow down this week (23rd of September). So that’s been fun! Also, you can’t use tampons, so it’s been a fun four weeks of uncomfortable sanitary towels. Plus I missed out the use of the spa on a weekend away 🙁
However! All of that is way better than the alternative.
I do want to talk about my recovery a little bit though. Because although it is vital that anyone gets this treatment done when needed, I think it’s important to realise that recovery is going to be different for everyone. Bearing in mind I had just arrived back from holiday so I was really jet lagged and I was also still exhausted from the most horrific migraine of my life, this could be why my recovery has taken longer.
I experienced some mild cramping, pretty much like period pain, across my stomach and around my back, for about two weeks following the treatment and I was completely wiped out. I had the treatment done on the Thursday and I stayed in bed for three days, this wasn’t out of choice! I just could not function, it was horrible, I couldn’t remember the last week or anything I’d done. It was like I was in a dream.
I’ve gradually started feeling better and even started looking forward to going running again (something which I am yet to do!). I have however started exercising again and I do feel better for it.
The recovery period information I was given said that a return to work should be fine the next day, that just would not have been possible for me. Luckily I’m self employed and can generally move my work load around to suit me. But this won’t be the case for everyone. I would advise to at least have the next day off work. Like I said, I was wiped out for three days.
Obviously you know your own body and generally how you deal with things; don’t forget that you’ll be receiving a local anaesthetic and the stress of the whole procedure will have an affect on you, mentally and physically.
Bleeding is normal after the procedure and I bled for four weeks following treatment, although this didn’t start until three days after the treatment. Prior to the bleeding it was a watery discharge and it felt like I was wetting myself every time I stood up, not a pleasant feeling! And made me feel pretty crappy.
*The discharge should not have an unpleasant smell. If it does then please phone the clinic where you had the treatment, or see your GP as this could be a sign of infection.
I think I have covered everything here. And if not, you know where to find me…
One of the main things I have taken from this whole process is that women are not talking about this enough. As I was documenting this on Instagram I have had so many people message me to let me know they’ve had it done and although I knew about it previously, I had never heard people around me talk about it, yet they had gone through it all themselves. Maybe they felt strong enough to deal with it on their own, maybe they think social media isn’t the place to share this sort of thing… but I guarantee that there are many women out there that don’t have the support and information they need when it comes to smear tests and cervical screenings, colposcopy’s or what even constitutes as a “normal” period. So please let’s stop being so damn coy. Call a vagina a vagina, confidently say the word ‘period’ without hiding behind your hand. There is nothing to be ashamed about and maybe if we did talk about these things more openly we wouldn’t have women being too embarrassed to go for a smear test.
My top tips for your colposcopy!
- Take someone with you for support; hugs and tissues!
- Wear some comfortable clothing
- Make sure you’ve got the rest of the day (and the next day) to relax.
- Plan some yummy treats for when you get home.
- Get stocked up on sanitary towels, you’re going to need them!
- Take some painkillers beforehand if you can/want to. I had some valium and paracetamol! (Check with the doctor about medications beforehand.)
- Take it easy.
“A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water” – Eleanor Roosevelt.