Sunday, 2 September 2018

Cervical Cancer & Me

My name is Francesca, I am 24 years old and on July the 12th 2018, I found out that I have high risk cancerous cells within my cervix after going for a routine smear appointment. 
The word cancer resonated one thing for me: I was going to die. Not only was I going to die, I was going to die young from the same disease that had killed my dad when I was a child - the one thing I had prayed would never happen to me. 
My doctor handed me the report which had come back from the lab and I gripped my friends hand tighter as I finished up reading: high risk cancer cells, alongside unstable cells within the cervix lining. 
It's easy to say that you know what you're going to do in that situation, but I sat there completely unable to speak, staring blankly at the doctor and the two support nurses as they explained that I needed biopsies taken from my cervix so that they could grade these in a lab from C1 - C3. 
I looked to my friend who had suddenly become my mouth piece, nodding her head at the doctor as she explained what was about to come. 
Back in May I received my letter from the NHS inviting me to my first cervical cancer screening. My twin managed to get in for her test before me, and I text her whilst waiting in my doctors surgery "I feel sick", "I don't want to be here" and "I bet it's going to hurt" were just a few of the texts I batted to her before I was called in by the nurse. 
The test took less than five minutes to complete, and I manically chatted to the nurse after about how the test was nowhere near as bad as I expected, and that I thought it would be much worse than what it had been. My nurse told me that a lot of women didn't attend their screenings through fear of discomfort or embarrassment, and looking back now I can't help but think how outrageous a reason that is to avoid having the test done. 
As I lay on the surgical table in the hospital having biopsies taken from my cervix, I thought about how on earth I was going to tell my mum about what was happening. I looked to my friend who was holding my hand, and she squeezed it tighter as she saw my face scrunch up in discomfort as the final biopsy was removed and the acid was put in to my cervix to close up the wounds - she held my hand and I clung to her to ground me through one of the most surreal moments of my life. 
My doctor explained to me after that bleeding after was normal, cramping was normal and sickness was normal. Lucky me, I had all three for around a week, but I'd take that any day when I know that the end result was catching the cells early.
"For the next few days rest, recover and don't attend the gym" - attend the gym? Did women actually do this after having biopsies? Do they suddenly decide that they need to sweat out the cancerous cells through the power of pilates? I could barely get my trousers on unaided, let alone bust out some Barre moves to panic the New York City Ballet ensemble.
She handed me a leaflet which explained what was happening next ; my cells were being sent to the cancer lab to be graded from C1 - C3, the grading for the doctors to know how aggressive the mutating cells are.
The doctor was keen to stress that cervical cancer cells, and pre-cancerous cells are completely treatable, and I am expected to make a full recovery thanks to going for my screening test so early.
"You'll come to us now every 6 months for 2 years, where we will cut the cells out of your cervix to stop any clusters spreading, do you have any questions?" - and in that moment, all I could think of was the obvious "am I going to die?". 
That's the thing with cervical cancer, if it's caught early, it is entirely treatable.
 As I lay on the surgical table, listening to the doctor explaining what she was doing, I couldn't help but think how damned lucky I was that this was being treated early, and that it was as simple as cells being monitored and removed. My father's cancer wasn't caught in time, and the initial crippling fear of dying was beginning to disappear the more I listened to the doctor and what she was saying ; I was lucky, I was in good hands and I was going to be okay.
 I was going to be okay.
I am going to be okay.
Smear testing uptake is at a 20 year low, and the NHS are encouraging women to discard their fears of embarrassment or discomfort and to come in for a 60 second test which could extend their life by 60 years.

There are over 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer in the UK each year, and it is the 14th most common cancer within the UK. Nearly all women diagnosed with cervical cancer are done so through their routine smear test, which picks up cells early. The most common symptoms of cervical cancer are : unusual bleeding, either in between periods or after sex, pain or discomfort during sex and pain in the pelvic bones. Pre-cancerous cells do not have warning signs.
99.8% of cervical cancers are treatable (Cancer Research UK), and the sooner you go in for your test, the better your chances are with treatment. If you leave your treatment and ignore the symptoms, your chance of survival drops to 5 in 100 - all for the sake of not wanting a doctor to see parts of you that they have seen hundreds, if not thousands of times before. 
This is not a woe is me post. 
This is not a pity party. 
These are not the words I am going to be imortalised by, if you asked my friends, these would more likely be "has anyone seen my lipstick?", "how much cheese do you reckon I can eat before bed without having nightmares?" or "Does anyone want a glass of wine?". 
It is now my mission to raise awareness of cervical cancer symptoms and encourage my friends, family and loved ones to go for their tests. 
I may be down, but I am definitely not out, thanks to a 60 second test.


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