I never thought I would have much in common with Jade Goody. Turns out we both have two boys, and both of us have had experiences with cervical cancer. Sadly Jade died of this horrible disease, and through cervical screening I caught it early on.
A good friend sent me a link to an article discussing how the ‘Jade Goody effect’ is over and worryingly cervical screenings have hit a 20-year low. So my aim in this blog post is to share my story and talk about why you must, as unpleasant as it is, have regular smear tests.
In 2015, not long after my first son was born I received an invitation from my local NHS trust for a cervical smear test. Given I’d just been through a pregnancy and birth, I had rather hoped interest in that area of my body had ceased. I was really not up for any more medical procedures down there, thanks very much all the same. However I received one letter, and then another, and then another and finally I thought ‘fuck it, ok, I’ll go’. And off I went to get it done.
I didn’t think any more about it. Until I received the follow up letter asking me to report to St Mary’s colposcopy clinic later that month as abnormal cells had been found.
Truthfully, when I read that letter – with a new baby and all that brings – my heart stood still. I read on. CIN 2 cells – a quick google – up to two thirds of my cervix had abnormal cell activity. There are only three levels of CIN cells. After level 3, it’s cancer. Right ok, call to make the appointment and sit tight for a few weeks.
I go to St Mary’s. They need to take a small biopsy in order to decide on further treatment. Lie back and think of England; I look at the dodgy aquarium poster on the ceiling; it will all be over in a jiffy. I’ll find out in 6 weeks how to proceed. I go back to my new baby and try not to imagine how I could end up like Jade Goody.
Time goes on. I return to St Mary’s, this time with my sister, for treatment. I was greeted by a senior consultant who was there to perform the procedure. I, of course, have them in a challenging spot which requires more expertise. I’m not sure if that makes me more or less fortunate. The aquarium poster is still there. I find out later that it’s been comforting women going through colposcopies for 15 years.
I’m informed by the consultant that in the textbooks – all written by men – that the cervix has very few nerve cells so this shouldn’t hurt. She says that in practice this is rarely the case, and that it would be doing me a disservice to say so otherwise. My sister takes a deep breath as my cervix is shown in all its glory on the computer screen. Personally I think that the old girl isn’t looking too bad considering a whole human passed through her not too long before. I return to the aquarium poster. Yes, it hurts, but not as much as having to face cancer.
I go home and am thankful for the NHS and the annoying letters. Whoever designed their communications strategy needs a pay rise, I think. They may just have saved my life.
I remained under the wonderful care of St Mary’s as an outpatient until August 2017. The first smear test after the procedure revealed a low level of abnormal cells still in place. Another 3 months, another test – all clear. Another 6 months – all clear. Another year – all clear.
I’ve never been more grateful for a speculum, swab and sympathetic nurse. I can now go back to regular NHS screening. Left untreated my abnormal cells could have developed into cancer. Had I ignored those letters it could have been a different story. I am one of the lucky ones. Jade Goody wasn’t. Please get a smear test.
This post was written by Jess, one of our Women Aloud members. If you have a story to share, please email me – firstname.lastname@example.org