“I didn’t get my first smear test until I was 32… and that’s when I discovered I had cervical cancer”.
In the UK, all women from the age of 25 are invited for a cervical screening (‘smear test’) every three years. This test is vital for detecting any abnormal cells in the cervix which could be, or could develop into, cancer. According to the charity Jo’s Trust, one in four women do not go for a smear test.
Gemma Anderson, 34, continually put off going for a cervical screening. She tells why she wished she had visited earlier.
“I started getting letters from the NHS to come for my smear test around the time of my 25th birthday, like everyone does. But I didn’t end up going until seven years later, when I was 32-years-old.
The thought of a smear test left me really embarrassed. I really don’t know why. I was just nervous. My friends had all been for them and they couldn’t understand why I wasn’t going. Everyone used to say to me, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad’ but I just had it in my head that it was going to be awful and so traumatic.
My husband saw the letters from the doctor and had been telling me to go; then my boss started asking if I’d ever been for one. Eventually, they kept nagging me so I went and booked an appointment in July, 2016.
My first thought afterwards was that I couldn’t believe I’d been so embarrassed. It was nothing! The thought of it was so much worse, the test was over in minutes, it was so quick.
That’s that, I thought.
A few days later I got a call from the doctor asking me to go back urgently for a colposcopy, a procedure which would look closer at my cervix, and to have a biopsy too. I wasn’t worried. I’d picked up a leaflet when I’d gone for my smear, and it said how plenty of women undergo colposcopies. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. After getting over the embarrassment about the smear test, I was okay now and so I went for the colposcopy. They told me afterwards the results would be back in two weeks.
But when they rang just three days later, I knew something was wrong. I was off work on annual leave, getting ready to go out for the day. I answered the phone and heard the hospital staff member telling me: “You need to come in to discuss your results, urgently.” I asked her to just tell me over the phone, but she said no and suggested I brought someone with me to the hospital. That’s when I started to think I had cancer.
My husband and I sat in the consultant’s office as he told me my diagnosis: Stage 1b1 cervical cancer. This means the cancer was larger than the smallest group of tumours, it was around 4cm, but it was still just in the tissue of the cervix. Luckily, it hadn’t spread.
The doctor was explaining things, and my husband kept asking for more and more information and facts. But I just sat there, I didn’t take it in. I was in complete shock. I’d had absolutely no cancer symptoms, nothing at all. I don’t think the fact I had the disease sunk in through the whole time I was having treatment, to be honest.
As for treatment, surgery was recommended and an operation was scheduled for August. It happened to be my wedding anniversary on that day. I cancelled my planned September holiday to Mexico and instead had a radical hysterectomy, which meant my womb, cervix and the top of my vagina were removed.
The hysterectomy means I’m no longer able to have a baby naturally. Starting a family was something my husband and I had talked about, but we hadn’t started trying. When we were discussing my treatment, my husband said to just forget about all of that though, and to concentrate on myself. So I did. I have been left with my ovaries so we are able to look into surrogacy or adoption if and when we want a baby. Lots of people do that now, it’s pretty normal.
The doctors told me I was lucky the cancer hadn’t spread. They said if I’d left it for any longer, it could have spread and gone anywhere in my body. That’s a really scary thought. It was lucky I went for the smear test when I did, but I wish more than anything I’d gone earlier.
I wish I’d never ignored the letters. I wish I’d gone from the age of 25.
It’s not as bad as you think it might be and it is literally over in minutes. A few minutes of embarrassment is worth not having to go through what I did. A smear test is absolutely nothing, especially compared to all those other procedures I’ve had now. It’s quite ironic that I put going off for so long and now, because I had cancer, I have to get a smear test every three months instead of three years like most people.
Don’t put having a smear test off. You never think cancer could happen to you, you think it just happens to other people. But that’s not always true – as I found out.”
Article by Olivia Blair, Cosmopolitan UK from netdoctor