Posted in Family, Home, Medical, Women's Issues

It is unlikely that you have cervical cancer…

It’s always nice to receive mail that’s not a bill.  Right?  Especially when it contains a line like that. How reassuring.

I’m sure that’s what their intention was when they formulated the bog-standard automated response to be sent to people who’s regular routine cervical smear test returns ‘abnormal results’.

Except, it’s not.

The ONLY reassuring answer when waiting for the results of being scraped by a nurse at your local surgery or clinic or other chosen location would be the other bog-standard automated response; namely “Your results were normal.  See you in 3 years”.

Definitely not “In some women these abnormal results can develop into cancer”; or “Only about one out of three women would develop cancer in the future”.  Or even on the most recent leaflet  “Treatment is nearly always 100% successful”.

It’s not so much the actual results, or the wording of the letters that’s the worst thing.  It’s the waiting.

I’m sure every woman, in whichever country they experience their regular screening, feel that tinge of ‘What if…’, even if just for a fleeting moment; between the run-of-the-mill appointment at their GP surgery, and waiting for that letter telling you your smear test results are normal.  And then experiencing that wave of relief you never even realised you were waiting for when you do finally receive that normal results letter.  Even the time between those two moments seem endless.  If you stop to think about it.

I’m in my mid-thirties.  I’ve had my fair share of smear tests.  First in the UK, then when we moved to New Zealand, now back in the UK again.  I’m used to waiting around for a few weeks, pushing the “What if..” to the back of my mind; then feeling weirdly elated when that letter finally drops on the mat telling me I’m fine.  Even though I’d felt that way and been living as though nothing was wrong, until they told me nothing was wrong with me, anyway.

When you're waiting for that letter ...
When you’re waiting for that letter …

But this time was different.  There was the reminder from Cervical Screening Wales to make my cervical smear test appointment.  So I did.  Then the surgery didn’t remind me about that appointment, so I missed it. (OK, OK, I know … It had skipped my mind to add it to my calendar on my phone – my usual means of organising my life these days, and hadn’t looked at the kitchen diary – the usual means of organising everyone else’s lives – in a while; and for some reason I was still in a New Zealand frame of mind when it came to GP appointments.  They used to text a reminder out.)  Sometime in November it suddenly struck me…”I’m sure I made a smear appointment for November” I said out loud to the OH one day.  I made a mental note to check.  Sure enough, there it was in the kitchen diary for about 2 weeks prior.

No biggie.  I made another mental note to call and make another appointment.

Which I, of course, forgot to do.  Until the next reminder came in the post.  This time I made the appointment, and made sure I noted it in about 3 different places. The nurse was only a little concerned that my last recorded test had been in 2005, after I said we’d been living abroad, and I was pretty sure I had one in at least 2009 after #1 was born. (I’ve since found the “You’re OK” letter from that test, it was actually dated sometime in 2010, so must have been after I had #2).

And that was that.  And eventually the letter arrived from the NHS. Ah, there we go.

You know when you open a letter you’re pretty much expecting and just scan it quickly to assure yourself it’s what you thought?  Well, that’s what I did. “Your Colonoscopy appointment?  what bloody colonoscopy appointment?” I muttered.  OH looked equally puzzled. “What?” he said, or something along the lines. “Oh, no, Colposcopy.” I corrected myself. And set about actually reading what it said.  The results of my smear test were abnormal.  An appointment had been made for me at the colposcopy clinic. Along with a leaflet explaining stuff.  sort of.

The initial screening test leaflet said something about 1 in 10 women showing abnormal results.  This one said about 1 in 20.  So me having abnormal smear results made me double abnormal as I would have been before?  Great.

I’d made the mistake of consulting Doctor Google before going.  So I read a lot of stuff and some of it kind of made sense, when viewed from a certain angle.  But there was a lot of it.  I joined a Facebook support group.  And they all seemed to chat using far more complicated and unfamiliar terminology than I’d already read about; so it appeared even more daunting.

By the time I went for this colposcopy appointment, I was expecting all kinds of things.  I was expecting the doctor to look up in alarm and check me straight in.  I’d even thrown a travel toothbrush and spare underwear into my handbag incase I went in and didn’t come out again.

But I they didn’t subject me to all the LLETZ and scrapey and pokey things the others on the Facebook group had been talking about.  They took a biopsy. Not even the scary sounding “Cone Biopsy” type I’d been reading about which would have meant going under and being kept in.  A mild (yet very sore) scrape, taking barely minutes, a bit of pain killing stuff added; then he wipes his hands and says ‘thanks very much, I’ll write to you with the results’.  And I’m left wandering aimlessly to the changing area on my own, feeling a little let down that the whole visit hadn’t seemed to reach any kind of crescendo.

The day or two following were a little uncomfortable; but nothing much to write home about in themselves.  The first two weeks, however, I was dreading the outcome.  Every day I expected THE phone call or THE letter, letting me know my days were numbered and there was nothing they could do.  Every time I picked up my phone I prayed it was the agency offering me a days work, somewhere on location or a set where I could make believe I was someone else, somewhere else.

By the third and fourth weeks, it had sort of been pushed to the back of my mind.  Although I did put together a little more of an emergency overnight kit than I normally kept in my work bag.  In quiet moments – what there are when you have three small boys running you ragged – I would ponder my rich tapestry of a life a little more; take a little more stock of what I had, where I’d been and what I’d done with my years.  And, what I hadn’t. I started a simple list of “Stuff I love” and “Stuff I hate”, in the weird little mindset of – how will they plan my funeral if I don’t leave them a list of my favourite songs and movies and colours.  How will they decide where to scatter my ashes if they don’t know where my favourite place on earth is?

Then, the waiting and the wondering seemed to drop off completely.

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve barely thought about it.  I think it goes back to a post on the Facebook group, asking how long it took everyone to hear back their results from their appointment after being told they had abnormal results.  Nearly all of them had their LLETZ (Loop Excision, AKA other things.  If you really want to know, I’m sure you’ll find out) or whatever treatment, at that first appointment.  I felt a little put out having only had a  biopsy, and having to wait for results.  But from what I could gather, it was roughly 4 weeks.

I suppose that since 4 weeks had passed, I’d figured everything was fine and when I finally got the letter, it would say I was fine after all, and they’ll just do a 12 month follow up smear instead of 3 years, just to be on the safe side.

Until this morning.  When the letter arrived.  And it appears that “the biopsy that was carried out has indicated that {I} will need loop excision of the transformation zone carried out”.

And another one of those informative (!) leaflets.
Apparently, “This can be done in the outpatient clinic using local anaesthetic. This is very much like your colposcopy and takes about 10-20 minutes.”.

I think I’ll take the emergency overnight kit.  Just in case.

But at least the waiting for that particular letter is over and done with.  Just 3 weeks until the appointment.  Followed by … whatever comes next.

waitingmail2

I’m wondering if all the waiting around in between these letters and appointments is their way of preparing you to deal with the worst possible outcome.  And making you feel all the more elated if what you actually end up with is the best news.

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Writer; Mother; (nonpackageholiday)Traveler; Actor; Petowner; Homemaker; Coffee drinker; liver of life.