So our departure to China was delayed a little. I arrived back from New Zealand with 16 messages on my phone from Kylie, the receptionist at my doctors. I kind of freaked out. 16 messages doesn’t normally mean good news. Neither does multiple messages saying, “The doctor has your results and would like to go over them with you. Please call and make an appointment as soon as you can.”
I had had a pap smear before we left for New Zealand. I have been so slack with my pap smears over the years, and only had one because I was seeing the doctor to sort out contraception before we left for China. I didn’t really understand what information a pap smear gave, I just knew I should have them more often than I did. And then sitting face to face with my doctor, hearing her say, “Your pap smear results have come back abnormal,” I wished I knew what that meant. She immediately followed that up with, “Let me just assure you, this is NOT cancer.” SAY WHAT? Who said anything about cancer?!?!?!?!?!?! You did?! Cancer?! What cancer?!?!?! And I then proceeded to space out. You know how a character in a movie stops hearing anything around them, starts having a conversation in their head with themselves, nods at the appropriate times but ultimately has no idea whats going on? Yeah well, I did that.
I couldn’t even talk to Nick about it. He knew about the messages and missed calls. He knew it wasn’t great news. But I couldn’t tell him what it was. Not for at least two days. Thank goodness he is a wonderful, patient person. He waited for me to talk to him about it, no matter how much it was killing him not knowing.
When I did sit down with him and tell him about it, we googled it together. Because I didn’t really have much useful information to give him. This page on the Australian Cancer Screening website (again with the word cancer…! UGH!) was hugely helpful in quelling his/our initial fears. My doctor had referred me to The Colposcopy Clinic at the Royal North Shore Hospital in St Leonards, and I had been lucky enough to get a cancelled appointment, which cut the anticipation and dreaded wait down by weeks. Nick got the day off work to come with me. I was still freaking out. I had no idea what to expect and of course, my head told me the worst stories.
Let me say at this stage of my retelling, IT WAS NO WHERE NEAR AS BAD AS MY HEAD WAS TELLING ME IT WAS GOING TO BE! First of all, the staff at the Clinic were amazing. Informative, willing to answer any questions that Nick could come up with and even giving him answers he hadn’t asked the questions for (I was still zoning out at this stage… He partly came with me for support, and partly to get the information that I wasn’t asking for!). They talked me step by step through the whole procedure, made sure I knew what they were doing and what to expect pain wise. They were absolutely fine with me being a sookie and needing to hold my husbands hand when they took the biopsy. And they were so accommodating in booking my next procedure, squeezing me into the next day for LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure) because they knew that we were going to China at the end of August.
I felt far more in control as I walked to the Clinic for the Leep. I was still scared. Let’s face it, I’m a sook by nature! But I knew the place, I was armed with information thanks to the awesome staff I saw the last time, and even though Nick wasn’t with me on my way there, he would be picking me up afterwards. This procedure was a little more scary. Instead of the split second scrape that the biopsy was in the colposcopy, this was more invasive. They were going to anaesthetise my cervix (for anyone that knows me… NEEDLES!) and use a heated wire loop type piece of equipment to remove the abnormal cells from my cervix. They would effective then use heat to seal my cervix and minimise the bleeding. And again, it sound so much worse than it actually was. The worst part was the local anaesthetic. The rest was uncomfortable, but not really painful. My main obstacle to overcome was my own anxiety and tension. And the amazing nurse that was with me through the whole procedure was a life saver. She talked me through my panics, she held my hand right the whole time and she talked me through breathing, reminding me to relax my shoulders, my back and my legs. She saved my sanity. And again, the lady doctors who did the procedure were also awesome. Informative, talking me through what they were doing and incredibly encouraging.
Funny thing is, once Nick and I started talking about it to our friends and family, turns out my best friends Mum and sister have both had colposcopies. Nicks sister has too. And my Mum knew that abnormal pap smear results are really common, because she knows people who have had them too. So many people do exactly what I did when I first came out of the doctors after having heard, “your pap smear results are abnormal”. I shut down, internalised my fears and made it far worse for myself than I needed it to be! When instead, I could have been talking to people who knew from experience what I was in for. And thats why I am writing this blog. To put it out there that I have been down the ‘abnormal pap smear’ road and I didn’t spontaneously combust!
We were wanting to leave Sydney about the 10th of August, but with this pap smear result, that just wasn’t going to happen. And my health is priority after all, so we have stayed to see this through. I have another check up two days before we fly out, just to make sure I have healed normally and then when I fly back in February, I will book another check up. And I am really glad that we caught this before we left. I know I have already sung the praises of the doctors and nurses at the Colposcopy Clinic at Royal North Shore Hospital, and I will continue to do so. Having supportive, reassuring, informative medical staff makes a world of difference, and sure as hell saved me a helluva lot of anxiety, freaking out and definitely saved the bones in Nicks hands!
One of the best things we can do as women is share our health stories. Our health is not a taboo subject, only able to be whispered about behind closed doors. Knowledge is power and the more knowledge we can share through first hand experiences, the more we can help each other know what to expect, the more we can support each other when something like this crops up, and the more equipped we are to make good decisions.