How to look after yourself

It was a pretty typical Sunday morning when my phone rang.

Typical here meaning that I was hungover, hungry yet aware I had only a pomegranate and some gin in the fridge and in a spiral of shame because I’d been on a tinder date the night before and fallen asleep at the table.

Before you all tut and roll your eyes may I just say that I was incredibly nervous and the wine had hit me like an actual stone.

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Add to that, my date had nearly passed out upon arrival (think went green, had to go to bathroom for extended period of time) and I had convinced myself that he found me so repulsive I had made him physically sick you might see why I hit the wine a little harder than intended.

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So, there I was…just reliving the hideous moment when I’d tried to pretend I’d been looking for something on the floor rather than actually having a really pleasant dream about being anywhere else than on an awkward first date when my phone rang.

“Sorry to call so early. We’ve got the results of your biopsy. We need to refer you to hospital for treatment I’m afraid.”

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Nope – not for my chronic alcoholism/lack of social ability. Although if there is a procedure for that I’d love to put my name on a waiting list of some sorts…

I’d had a smear test you see.

And it had come back showing CIN3 abnormal cells but I was assured this was nothing to worry about and probably nothing.

Then I’d had a biopsy which I was assured would come back just fine.

And now this.

Shit.

THAT’S RIGHT PEOPLE – TODAY IM TALKING ABOUT MYYY CERRRRVIIIIIXXX.

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I’m sorry I know its hideous/uncomfortable/a wee bit grim but it’s also so unbelievably important.

My health was, at that point, something i’d really given absolutely no thought to. Living in London means that i’m usually always with some form of cold/rundown-itis and I’ve come to think of myself as fairly high functioning in this respect. Like an ox or a sturdy sheep of some kind. I don’t know…it’s been a long week.

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So, as I sat in my bed that warm Sunday morning, cold sweat running down the back of my neck everything in my brain was racing at 1000 miles an hour. Because let me tell you what happens if you google CIN 3 abnormal cells. The words ‘cervical cancer’ come up. A lot.

Oh, my god what if this is it. What if this is THE END. What if all I’ve got to show for my 27 years on this earth is an unfinished knitting project covered in holes, a half paid off student loan, a string of terrible ex boyfriends and a questionable blog? OH GOOOODDDDDDDDDD.

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I jest. I jest.

It’s easier to jest.

But in the spirit of honesty, at that moment I felt very scared, small and alone. And cross with myself for not being more ‘on it’. Why hadn’t I followed up my letter sooner? Why hadn’t I prioritised my health? Why had I fed my precious body a diet of rose and crisps? Why Why Why.

It’s easy to be blasé about our health. We’re conditioned to live with a ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality, to push on with a ‘it’ll be fine’ attitude that’s typical of British culture. It’s easy to be blasé until you read that smear tests prevent a staggering 75% of cervical cancers from developing. It’s easy to be blasé until you realise that 5000 deaths could be prevented each year if we all attended our smear tests when invited.

Sure, it’s not the best way to spend an afternoon* but when you look at the alternative it’s pretty much a complete no brainer.

*Read: up there with the most embarrassing moments of my life. Especially as a) everyone looks weird and scary when forced to remove their bottom half of clothing but stay fully dressed on top and b) I missed the instruction from the nurse to put my clothes back on following my smear and went to resume my seat at her desk still naked from the waist down. She was not impressed. Nothing like being barked at to ‘PUT YOUR PANTS ON FOR GODS SAKE’ to really dent a gal’s ego.

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Especially when you consider that cervical cancer is incurable. And 800 women die every year in England alone.

This is not intended to scare or have you running down to your GP’s yelling INSPECT MY CERVIX NOW LEST I DIE. What I am saying is Attend. The. test.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here. There are probably people reading this and thinking ‘shut up idiot woman’ who doesn’t attend their smear test immediately!?

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Well one in five women don’t and, on average, women in their twenties are likely to delay their screening for up to 15 months according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and that delay is steadily rising. One in 10 women were found to have delayed their smears for FIVE YEARS.

So, calling all ladies ignoring that letter that arrived a couple of weeks (or months – no ones judging) back: If it’s the thought of the procedure itself that’s holding you back I’m afraid you must get over that forthwith. It’s mildly uncomfortable and takes all of 30 seconds. Get it done.

If you think you’re too busy, I’m sorry you really are not. I thought I was ‘too busy’ and I regretted that heartily when I was informed that the three large injections to my cervix I had just endured were, in fact, just to numb me up before the real fun stuff got going.*

* side note: If you end up having to have abnormal cells removed from YOUR cervix may I suggest you don’t look at the screen. ERLACK is the main word that springs to mind.

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If you’re scared – please don’t be.

First things first: smear tests do not test for cancer. They test to check the health of the cells of the cervix. 1 in 20 women show abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix.

Secondly between 90 – 94% of all smear tests come back normal. Nice and easy! Just go back again in three years.

Thirdly, it’s more common than you think. A quick ask around of my friends, relatives and strangers on the street (lol not really…maybe) proved this to be true. A wholly reassuring fact.

If they come back abnormal it’s still not cause for major alarm! If you’ve got a low grade of abnormal cells you may just be asked to come back again in a few months.

If you have a high grade (welcome to my club layyydeeez) you might still not need treatment but if you do (a la me) you’ll be fine. I won’t lie and say it’s a cold glass of rose in the pub but it’s doable. It’s just FINE. Remember I got through it and I fainted when I had my nose pierced…so….

Don’t bury your head in the sand like a gigantic ostrich. Just go. And if you need more info from some much more insightful people – head here. The sooner you go, the sooner you know – and the less likely you’ll find yourself in a situation you have no control over. The NHS have recently started to inform young women that cervical screening is their choice. And it is. But, if I haven’t hammered this point home enough, the only sensible choice is to go.

I’m one of the lucky ones; eligible for treatment and hopefully the soon to be proud owner of a CIN-3 free cervix!

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But we’re all the lucky ones really. We live in a country that (for now) protects our health FOR FREE. So, if you’re 25 or over and you haven’t had a smear yet – I urge you to get thee to your GP’s and cast your pants aside in wildest abandon!*

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It could save your life.

*Just remember to put them back on afterwards yeah. They don’t like it when you forget.

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