Recently I reached a point of very low, winter morale. You’ll know the one. The kind of suffocating, plunging mood, when you spent all your money on advent calendars in the sale and you’re one rainstorm away from a fatal Vitamin D deficiency.
For those who make rational decisions in life this seasonal depression may coincide with a decision to book yourself in for some valuable me-time, perhaps a spa retreat or a bath of cookie dough. Ever one to take the alternative and mildly self-destructive route, I saw the most positive course of action as attending my first ever smear test.
Girl’s got to treat herself from time to time, right?
I wrote all about it HERE because it turns out vaginal swabbing is the most fun thing to live-blog ever.
This visit proved that spreading your legs for the NHS can lift your seasonal depression pretty effectively actually, because afterwards a) everything that isn’t a speculum is positively glorious and b) you can’t help but feel pretty damn sassy after you’ve climbed up and over what is definitely the most miserable thing every woman endures when they turn 25.
However. The joy that came with conquering both my seasonal affective disorder and my fear of foreign objects down below – not to mention a long-lasting disappointment at not getting to use the stirrups – meant I got sidetracked and lost sight of the actual big deal surrounding smear tests.
Turns out whether it has succeeded in making you flexible will not be the biggest issue you face – that would be the result that gets posted through your letterbox afterwards. And later in the month, on the way back from a little staycation in the Brecon Beacons with Eduardo, where there had been enough Welsh cakes and snowy mountains to distract me from my own vagina, I remembered the postal service exists.
Obviously the four hour journey home that followed this realisation meant I had a pretty decent amount of time to build this letter entirely out of proportion. I’d say my hysteria by the time we reached my doormat was comparable to the level of dread Ron gets in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Mrs Weasley sends Ron a Howler. Multiplied by 1000 though because at least she isn’t telling Ron his cervix is abnormal.
When I picked up my ominously padded envelope I had, to put it mildly, a sense of the deepest foreboding. Surely a ‘babe don’t worry you’re FINE’ letter would more likely be a post-it stuck on my door than news wedged between five leaflets screaming ‘Everything you need to know about colposcopies’ and ‘What does YOUR abnormal result mean?’
So there it was. My cells were abnormal. Which took me completely by surprise because, of all the things I reckon could be wrong with me most of the time, I actually thought my womb was on my side. In a split second my emotions frazzled completely and I cried on Ed for about ninety minutes, staggered between episodes of Homeland because even smear fear can’t distract this girl from Damien Lewis.
In the moment I felt a deep sense of injustice that as number one Google symptom checker this couldn’t have happened to a less rational person. Plus for Christ’s sake I’m trying to read all the Harry Potters in one month – this girl don’t have time to spread her legs AGAIN.
In retrospect though what I think made me freak out the most was having zero friends with comparable experiences to reassure me that everything would be okay. Being the youngest means I’ve never been the first to do anything. I desperately wanted someone to tell me the colposcopy wouldn’t put me off sex for life and that you get free ASOS vouchers or a puppy for being brave.
But perhaps this was some sadistic higher power giving me first go for once. I couldn’t go be the first to go clubbing, or drive, or buy a lottery ticket, but I could get the insides of my vagina spray-painted before anyone else (literally – that happens).
And with all these things you can’t stop the next steps materialising. You just have to get on with it. Which is why I’m putting my story out into the ether – because there is NO COMFORT to be found on Google. Google will instil all the fear, make you feel betrayed by your own womb and get you planning your own funeral. So after justifying a pretty impressive amount of self-pity chocolate and googling every possible outcome of a second screening I started to feel a bit better about it all and pushed the worry to the back of my mind.
For anyone who loves the inns and outs of these things as much as I do, my results showed I had mild to borderline dyskariosis, which is the lowest grade of cell changes that exists and thankfully the least worrying.
So it was about time I stopped my chocolate binge.
Abnormalities are pretty common and shouldn’t be so scary. It’s not cancer – it’s just not normal. Anyone whose results show these changes needs a colposcopy – a more in-depth examination of your cervix which either tells you that the cells are back to normal and you can get back to reading Order of the Phoenix or that you need some form of treatment to make sure any rebel cells don’t develop into something more high-risk.
I’ve learned the most important thing to remember with these screenings is that they aren’t testing for cancer. It’s seriously unlikely you’re going to have cancer. They’re actually looking out for signs that cancer might develop later in life and as a class-A hypochondriac I am SO up for eliminating anything remotely risky.
So in that moment the colposcopy became my friend. And aside from some minor irrationality on the day, manifesting itself in a belief that the better you look the less likely they are to tell you you’re doomed – “How much should I shave? Where is my best dress? Do my feet look decent?” – I was ready.
I wish I could say you get ASOS vouchers. You don’t. But other than that it’s really not so bad. ‘Colposcopy’ might appear scary, because it sounds like somewhere between ‘octopus’ and ‘autopsy,’ which are both top of the list of the things anyone would least like near their vagina, but please be reassured that the fear is far worse than the actuality.
During a colposcopy a speculum goes inside you again (they just can’t get enough) but this time they do the testing in the moment so it lasts a little longer. After spraying the entrance your cervix with dye, a strange medical form of graffiti that makes you feel like you might wee a rainbow afterwards, they use a colposcope – a large magnifying glass outside your body! – to highlight any abnormal cells on a screen. The dye stings a little bit – no worse than mistaking any citrus shower gel for your fem fresh – and other than being moderately uncomfortable for ten to fifteen minutes it’s one hundred percent within the realms of manageable things we must deal with in life.
Even better for me, this time you definitely get to use the stirrups, and I have to mention that the nurse mistook me for an actual BALLET DANCER because I moved so gracefully into position. SAY WHAT! Twenty-five years I’ve tried to be graceful. Ten years I made every dance teacher want to throw themselves off a bridge because I was mutilating their art form. All this time I just needed to be paralysed with fear that my cervix was wonky. Too little too late, much?
Having a doctor paint the gateway to your womb is not the one. However bringing your boyfriend along with you is one of the most precious things in life. You’ve gotta take your kicks when you can get them. It’s not every day he’ll get to see your cervix on the big screen and these boys damn well need to witness what it means to be a woman.
Just as it seemed to go on a little too long and the numbing effects of the ballet dancer comment were wearing off – enough for me to contemplate asking for some mild
cocaine anaesthetic I was told everything was fine. The cells that had previously shown as abnormal were not. My vagina was a-okay.
The best result I could have wished for this time round made me feel pretty lucky. Anyone who’s shown an abnormality has to go back within a year to rule out any further changes but at least that gives me time to finish Deathly Hallows. In the future I might need to cope with more, but the lovely team of NHS doctors and nurses I had with me on the day have made me feel ready for that.
Did you know?
- 1 in 20 women will receive an abnormal result from a smear test.
- 1 in 3 women in the UK don’t attend their cervical screenings.
- 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year.
So girls – PLEASE book now if you haven’t already. It might sound scary but it’s no more traumatising than using a tampon for the first time and wandering around school thinking your womb might fall out. It is without a doubt the most important thing you will do in the year of your 25th birthday because it might just save your life.
Peeeeeeace sistas. X