10 Things Women Should Know About Gynaecological Cancers (and I hate myself for not writing a post for so long that I almost didn’t bother but then again who cares? I care arrggghhh.)

I haven’t written a blog post for over a year. What the hell? I feel so lazy and stupid that I almost didn’t post this, and the only reason I am posting it is because I had to write the below list to accompany a podcast I did recently. I say I will put the link to that podcast in the next post that I write, but will that happen? Statistically it’s a big chunky ‘no’. We shall see.

The above photo is of cancer/vagina related badges that I have had made, (more about that in another blog post, i.e. never) and two kittens that Helen Fisher and I have recently adopted. They are called Arthur Miller and Christopher Marlowe. They are so gorgeous that I feel dizzy when I cuddle them and I don’t care who knows it.

So, here are some things that I hope are informative and hilarious (classic Karen). I want to write more, so I really, REALLY will try to. I know it doesn’t really matter to anyone else if I don’t, but it matters to me. Therefore, if I have said it ‘out loud’ on the Internet then I might stick to it. Or not. Shut up, babe.

1. There are FIVE gynaecological cancers. 

That’s right, five different bits ‘down there’ that can get you entry to the cancer club. They are: womb, ovarian, cervical, vulval and vaginal. Yes, the vagina and vulva are not the same thing. I like to think of the vulva as the letterbox and the vagina as the doormat.

2. If you are bleeding when you shouldn’t be, see your doctor. 

Abnormal vaginal bleeding (i.e. bleeding after the menopause, in between periods or after sex) is a symptom of four out of five gynae cancers (not vulval). It’s probably nothing serious, or your boyfriend just has a huge penis, but you need to get it checked out by a doctor just in case.

3. Ovarian cancer is sneaky. 

Most ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed until it has spread outside the ovary. One of the most common symptoms is persistent abdominal bloating, aka ‘puffy tummy’. This is often misdiagnosed as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and therefore the cancer is left undiscovered for longer. If you feel bloated for three or more weeks, see your doctor and fingers crossed that you’re just a gassy bitch.


Smear tests save thousands of lives every year in the UK. They can detect abnormal cells that if left untreated, could turn into cervical cancer. Please, please, please don’t avoid your appointment. Yes, it can be a bit awkward having a stranger give you a poke with a bit of plastic, but a few minutes could save your life. So take your knickers off and spread those legs.

5. Hashtag Don’t Judge.

Almost all cervical cancers (plus some vaginal and vulval cancers) are caused by a virus called HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). There are sooo many different strands of HPV, but types 16 and 18 are the ones that can over time, turn cells in your cervix against you, which is a real bugger. HPV is caused through sexual contact. Condoms don’t protect against it entirely and you can get it from just having sex once. Therefore, if someone has HPV it doesn’t mean they are having dick for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, if they were, does it even matter? Most people who have had sex will get HPV at some point in their lives and only in very rare cases can the body not get rid of it. Then it might turn into cancer, but it might not. It’s like very unlucky and scary Russian Roulette.

6. Don’t suck, swallow or blow. 

Cigarettes. Without going into boring science stuff, you’re twice as likely to get cervical cancer if you smoke, so it’s really not a good idea. I know a menthol cigarette, glass of sauvignon blanc, pub garden and outdoor heater burning the top of your head is the stuff that dreams are made of, and lord I have been guilty of living that dream. But. Just. Don’t.

7. Losing lady parts doesn’t make you less of a lady.

If you have a gynaecological cancer, chances are you will lose at least some of your ‘lady parts’. Surgery is very likely, so yes, you might have your ovaries, or womb, or cervix, or vagina or vulva partially or entirely removed. I know that’s sad and horrible, but please remember that you are no less of a woman just because you can’t carry a baby, or because you need your labia rebuilt from your arse skin. You’re amazing.

8. Make the jokes.

Oh my god it feels good to laugh, doesn’t it? It’s so much FUN to make jokes about awful things. If you don’t want to, that’s absolutely fine, but if you do laugh at the fact that you have now been fingered by more medical staff than lovers (like I have) then you are my new best friend and let’s go and drink gin.

9. Have a night in. 

With yourself.  Aside from being on bleeding and bloating patrol, get to know your body. Touch yourself. Yes, that means what you think it means. What does your vagina feel like when you insert your finger(s)? What do your labia feel like when you rub them in between your thumb and index finger? If you do this regularly, you will notice if there is a change and can get a doctors opinion if you need to.

10. Everyone handles a cancer diagnosis differently. 

If you’ve had ‘that news’ then I’m really, really sorry. It’s scary and weird. Please remember that there is no right or wrong way to ‘have’ cancer. It doesn’t matter if you talk about at every opportunity or never utter a word. Just look after yourself and do whatever is right for you.

*Here’s another photo of Arthur and Christopher, because they are delicious.*



Happy Birthday To Me: 1 Year Cancer-Free!


Yaaaayyy! It’s been 1 whole year since my operation, and I’m not dead! I have my next check-up and MRI scan in a few days time, so hopefully I’m not speaking too soon in congratulating myself on being sans cancer for 365 days. Oh well. I’m going to celebrate, and continue to milk the cancer cow. Squeeze, squeeze. Thank you to everyone who has read my blog so far – it’s had over 10,000 views, lord knows how. Oh wait, my Mum and Big Claire pressing ‘refresh’, that’s how.

My next post will probably be something like ‘An extensive list and humorous descriptions of all the amazing things that have happened to me and wonderful people I have met since getting cancer’, but to mark the 1st birthday, anniversary, whatever you want to call it, of Karen Without Cancer (and a cervix), here are my ‘Pre and Post-Surgery Top Tips: Some General, Some Vagina-Specific’. Wow, definitely just found the title of my first book. Please read and enjoy. If you don’t enjoy, then I’m sorry and don’t hate me. I’ve had cancer.

1. Consume a lot of alcohol, cheese and chocolate before the operation. Not immediately before obviously, but in the days/weeks leading up to ‘hospital time’ I would definitely recommend necking the wine and stuffing your face with brie, Reese’s peanut butter cups etc. as for a little while after my operation alcohol and dairy-based products made me feel sick. This was devastating.

2. Have a decent grooming session before going into hospital. The type of operation I had made my stomach very swollen and the muscles were shot to shit, so I couldn’t bend down to shave my legs or mow the lawn, and general maintenance was a bit lower than I would have liked. I thought this might happen, so I took precautions and before the tumour removal I got my hair done, plucked my eyebrows, cut my toenails and shaved off everything from my neck down.

3. When in a restaurant, talk loudly about having cancer, maybe cry a bit and the bill will (occasionally) be less than it should be. 

4. Take some form of cotton wool/squishy stuff to the hospital. The oxygen tubes will probably dig into your cheeks, but you won’t be able to tell as you’ll (most likely) be attached to a morphine drip. So, use your own cotton wool, or ask for a donation from the hospital and fashion these fabulous facial accessories:


5. Be prepared to see a lot of your own blood. I bled (from my vagina) for weeks after my operation, and whilst in hospital the nurses were very needle happy, taking countless blood samples (from my arm).

6. Take a break from exercise. It’s important to let your body heal properly – I haven’t exercised in at least a year. I’d say give it another six months or so and I’ll go for a brisk walk. Maybe.

7. Arrange for your check-ups to be in the middle of the working day. What manager won’t let you go for a cancer check-up at 2pm?

8. Buy a bottle of chamomile lotion. Or smile nicely at the doctor. You will need it if this happens to you:


Burned like a bitch.

9. Plan your funeral songs – just in case. I know that’s a bit morbid, but it would have really annoyed me if I’d died and the wrong music was played at my funeral. My entrance song is the Lion King’s ‘Circle of Life’ and I’ll go out (via the oven) to ‘Proud Mary’ by Tina Turner.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for their seat on public transport. 

11. Take all the pain relief you are offered. It will hurt. A lot. Do you want to stay on the morphine a little longer? Yes, you do. Do you want to take painkillers more frequently? Absolutely. Don’t worry, hospital staff won’t let you overdose.

12. The first post-operation poo is HORRIBLE. As some of you will remember from a previous post, I have a fabulous digestive system – a bowel movement after every meal. Not the case after my operation. It took 3 days for anything to happen and when it did, I thought I was giving birth out of my arse. Poor Fishy was visiting at the time and she got through almost an entire episode of Masterchef before I emerged from the toilet.

13. If someone says ‘can I get you a coffee?’ or ‘do you want a glass of wine?’ the answer is always ‘yes’. 

14. Sleep with the lights on. Before my operation, and for a while afterwards I had difficulty getting to sleep at night, as I was worrying a lot. As I said in my last post ‘things are always worse at night’, so I tricked my body into thinking it was daytime by sleeping with the lights and my clothes on. Maybe not the best advice, but it helped me. Just remember to take out your contact lenses.

15. Don’t insert anything for 1 month. I was told to not put anything up my vagina for at least 1 month after surgery. This includes – but is not limited to – tampons and penises. Your body needs a few weeks to heal without disruption.

16. Sex will probably feel different. After a radical trachelectomy, some people have a loss of or decrease in sex drive, experience pain when having sex or just don’t enjoy it as much as they used to – this can be due to the physical and/or mental stress of having your cervix hacked up. I am very lucky in that none of the above have happened to me, but I know that they are common issues for lots of women in my situation. For me, sex doesn’t feel worse, just a bit different.

17. Don’t bite when people say weird shit. I was told by someone that I had cancer because I’m a performer, and am used to twisting the truth, or lying, which then causes a tumour to grow. There are some weird people out there, who think and say very weird things. Just ignore them, or laugh in their face.

18. When your doctor asks if you feel ready to go back to work, say ‘not yet’. 

19. Enjoy the awkward moments. For example, when I went back to work after my two month vaycay, this conversation happened:

Colleague: Hi Karen, did you have a good holiday?

Me: I didn’t go on holiday, I had an operation.

Colleague: Oh, what was it? Did you have your tonsils out or something?

Me: No, no. My cervix.

It was a wonderfully uncomfortable, and I loved it.

20. Get ready to be everyone’s medical guidebook. People will ask your advice on medical stuff – whether they have never met you, haven’t spoken to you in 7 years, or are your best friend – depending on your area of expertise. So, I get general cancer queries and specific gynaecology questions. I like to feel intelligent, so wear my glasses when responding.

21. Get a Netflix account. 

22. Stay busy after each check-up. I have a check-up every 12 weeks, and then have to wait 10 working days (ish) for the results. I always get into a bit of a state whilst waiting, so try and keep as busy as possible. If anyone says ‘Oooh, sorry, not sure if I’ve got time’, then simply reply ‘I’m waiting to find out if I have cancer again.’ and they will soon change their answer.

23. Leave your dignity at the hospital entrance. It’s not the right time to be worrying about countless people seeing you naked, getting washed by a stranger, or flustered about bodily fluids.

24. You will feel VERY tired for weeks on end. This is a blessing when you want to leave something early, or not turn up at all. If anyone questions what the matter is, just whisper ‘it’s the cancer’.

25. Don’t worry that you’re not coping properly. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with what’s going on. Do whatever you want, just please look after yourself.

Thank you so much for reading, I’ll leave you with a photo of me looking like a Princess. Kind of.



A Weird Year: 25 Things I’ve Learned Since Having Cancer


”Where were you one year ago today?” 

I love to Google, and I love quotes. One year ago today I had a nasty surprise, so naturally for this post I Googled ‘quotes about one year ago’, to make sure I ticked the ‘dramatic’ box. On 4th November 2014, a man and a woman put their fingers in my lady pie. Unfortunately, it was not a sexual frisson. They both wore gloves, the lights were very bright and neither had offered to buy me a drink first. One year ago today, I was finding out that I had cancer of the cervical variety. Dun dun dunnnnn…

So today is my ‘you have cancer anniversary’. 6/7th September is my ‘symptoms anniversary’, 18th November is my ‘you definitely have cancer anniversary’, 27th November is my ‘the cancer hasn’t spread to your womb, bladder or arse anniversary’, 9th December is my ‘tumour removal anniversary’ and so on. I’ve had cancer, so I’m going to milk the anniversary cow.

I’ll do another ‘update’ post soon (my definition of ‘soon’ is about 5 months), but for now here are 25 things that this 25-year-old has learned in the last 365 days.

1. The ‘Two Week Wait’ was the worst part so far. 

There was a two-week wait after finding out I had cancer, before I knew that it was definitely cancer and what the plan of action was likely to be. This fortnight was worse than any physical pain that ensued. I think I went a bit loopy from having 3 hours sleep a night, and the constant fear of being told ”that’s your lot, Karen.” Uncertainty is hideous. That being said, my stomach got a bit flatter as I was too stressed to eat my usual amount of food. Every cloud and all that.

2. You can’t piss out a tumour. 

I drank A LOT of green tea when first diagnosed. Thanks to Google I had read several articles claiming that it’s linked to curing cancer. I thought I’d fast track Mr Ind’s treatment plan for me, and drink gallons of the stuff, wait until I was really desperate for a wee, and then urinate with such force that my tumour would sort of come off and I could flush it down the toilet. Surprisingly, it didn’t work. I also got really excited when I would see bright red liquid in the toilet bowl. ”YES, I am bleeding out my tumour!” No, Karen. You just had beetroot for lunch.

3. Airport staff are nice to cancer patients. 

At the beginning of August I went to Italy with this lovely lady:

My pal, Sal.

My pal, Sal.

We only took hand luggage, so had to fit all of our liquids into a small plastic bag – and seal it – each. Sally travels a lot (I tease her about this, how spoilt she is and how many items of silk clothing she has, on a very regular basis) so has mastered the art of packing. I, have not. I approached the security conveyor belt with two plastic bags full to the brim and very much unsealed. The security man said ”you’re going to have to throw one of those away.” I looked at him and whispered ”I have cancer.” To which he responded with ”Jason, let all of this lot through, mate.” Bingo.

Then at the end of August, I went to the U.S. of A with my Fishy. Here we are in Nashville:


We both cried at check-in and got bumped up to seats with extra leg room. Maybe if I had said that this was my last holiday, I could have gone all the way to 1st class.

4. Getting ‘Get Well’ cards and presents is really fun. 

5. It’s better to get cancer in the Winter. 

Nobody really does anything during the Winter months anyway, so it didn’t really matter that I was a bloated, stitched-together mess. Then when I did make the odd (okay, fairly frequent) social appearance, people must have felt like they were drinking with The Queen. Of comedy. And cancer.

6. Having cancer = a ‘free prescription’ card. 

I now don’t have to pay for prescriptions if I present the pharmacist with my cancer club-card. The irony is, I have never paid for a prescription in my life. Apart from the odd cold, I have only been ill once. If you’re going to do something, do it properly.

7. Morphine can make you believe that you are Kate Winslet in Titanic. 

8. Doctors, nurses and all medical staff are incredible. 

I couldn’t have been looked after by more amazing, hard-working and caring people, especially my life saver, Mr Ind.

9. People will surprise you in good and bad ways. 

My friends are the best friends anyone could ever ask for. Fishy, Jarbie and Big Claire came with me to appointments, my hospital room was overflowing with visitors, and I had a list of people I had to report every movement to. But there are people I speak to or see all the time, who just couldn’t handle the cancer thing. For whatever reason, they just didn’t ask how I was, and this was a bit disappointing. However, I think it’s probably because they didn’t know what to say or found discussing cancer very uncomfortable. It’s a shame but it’s also okay. I also had – and still receive – lots of messages from people who I hadn’t spoken to in a while, strangers and friends of friends, which was – and is – lovely. If you know someone who has cancer, and you want to say something but are worried that the words will come out ‘wrong’, just say it anyway. It will mean the world to them.

10. Women need to attend their smear test appointments. 

I know we all have busy lives, but when you are due to go for a smear test, please book an appointment and turn up. Nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than health. How will you go on that Tinder date if you’re dead?

11. I wish I had needed a catheter for longer. It was the best 48 hours of my life. 

12. Cancer is a fabulous excuse. 

There have been times when I have been a bit late for something, or haven’t felt like doing something because I was exhausted, stressed, sad, scared or in pain. These were genuine excuses. Mostly.

13. I now spend less money on tampons and sanitary towels. 

Since I was 11, I have had heavy periods that last a solid – or liquid – week. Since being tampered with, I have only needed to sail the red river for 3 days a month.

14. It’s important to get help if you need it. 

Having something like this happen to you can be terrifying and upsetting, and there are people out there who are trained to help you cope with the situation. A couple of months after my operation, I went to see my GP as she wanted to know how I was doing. ‘Not great’ is the short answer. I was able to function in my day-to-day life, but at home I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly and would spend hours on end staring into space, panicking and crying. She referred me to a cancer counsellor for 8 weeks, and I’m very glad she did. If you are struggling, let someone help you.  I’ll write more about the counselling process another time

15. I will be neat and tight forever.

Here is a diagram of my vaginal situation before and after surgery:

DiagramAs I am now without a cervix, I can’t give birth naturally. The upside of this is? I will never rip ‘hole to hole’ and I get to keep the tight vagina that I am so famous for.

16. Things always seem worse at night and better in the morning.

17. I love my body. 

I have an amazing body, and so do you. We are much tougher than we give ourselves credit for. A year ago, I definitely didn’t think that my first naked Internet photo would look like this:


But there you go. I was getting ready to leave the hospital, and it took a massive amount of effort to stand up and strike that pose. 4 days before that photo, I couldn’t even sit up on my own, hence why I think I have an amazing body.

18.  When asked to give a urine sample, make sure that you piss into the sample pot and not the sick bowl.

19. Talking about gynaecological diseases is important. 

Society gets a bit fidgety when talking about cancer and vaginas, so put the two together and it’s the most awkward thing ever. I hope that I’m helping somehow, and showing people that talking about vaginas and having a disease or problem is nothing to be ashamed of.

20. It’s OK to eat biscuits for breakfast, crisps for dinner and drink prosecco like it’s fizzy water. 

Just not every day.

 21. Time passes very, very quickly. 

I had 2 months off work and it flew by. I started my cancer holiday thinking that I’d read a dozen books, learn Italian, get ahead with university assignments and be a successful author by the time I went back to work. None of that happened. I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a kettle for the first month, so I’m not going to be annoyed at myself. I am however, much more conscious of how precious time is. I always said that I’d never do stand-up because ”I’m only funny when I’m in a conversation”, or it’s ”just not my thing”. Now, I am attending classes and getting ready for a stand-up show in December. If you really want to do something, find a way to do it. Stop putting things off until tomorrow.

22. I don’t sweat the small stuff (as much). 

I am quite an anxious person, but am gradually caring less and less about the things that just don’t matter, or that I can’t do anything about. I can’t make someone like me, or force the TFL website to tell the truth.

23. My Mum and Dad are wonderful human beings. 

I’m very lucky to have a great relationship with my parents. Here are Team Hobbs in the early 1990’s:

Parents2 Parents1

24. It’s good to cry and scream. 

At the beginning of my cancer adventure, I frequently screamed and cried, and screamed and cried until I could barely breathe. If you are sat at your desk, and feel your eyes welling up, go to the toilets, lock yourself in a cubicle and sob. Then sob a little bit more. I did this countless times, and still do. I always feel better afterwards.

25. It’s even better to laugh. 

Having cancer is not a joke, but there are many jokes to be made about having cancer. It’s funny that more medical staff than lovers have touched my genitals. It’s funny that whilst chatting to friends, I had a bag of wee clipped to the end of my bed. It’s funny that waking up with eternally swollen ankles is the thing that scared me the most.

It’s been a weird year, but not a complete disaster.

If you made it to the end of this, then I’m impressed. Thank you for reading.


Spread ‘Em: Ladies, it’s time to open up

smearSo my last post was in January. It is now June. Cue a tirade of ‘Where does time go?’, ‘Time has flown’, ‘Gosh, hasn’t time flown’, ‘I don’t know where the time’s gone’, ‘I’ve lost track of time’ and all that bollocks.

I’d love to have the excuse that I’ve been busy saving and/or conquering the world. I have neither saved nor conquered, BUT I am still alive. Which is always a plus.

I will write an update on the last few months/my life/cancer/hilarious medical anecdotes in the very near future (she says), but for now this is just a short (ish) post about CSAW (Cervical Screening Awareness Week) which starts today. 15th-21st June.

If you Google CSAW, add the word ‘vagina’ or ‘cervical’ or something else front-bottom related, as the top search results are for Cyber Security Awareness Week and Colonial Saw – Machinery, Sales & Service, neither of which are particularly related to smear tests.

Ladies, please, please, PLEASE don’t avoid having a smear test. About 22% of us don’t attend our cervical screening appointments. That is not cool. If you get a letter asking you to book a smear test, please make an appointment. If you think you are due a smear test, please make an appointment. If you are worried that there might be something wrong ‘down there’, please make an appointment. It really doesn’t take long at all, (unless you want to skip work for a bit, in which case you definitely need to take a half-day for such an arduous ordeal) and literally saves lives. Cervical cancer is a funny (as in weird, not haha) little shit, because it can be prevented. If the dodgy cells are detected early enough, they can be scraped off, and won’t get the chance to even think about attempting to develop into cancer. This all sounds very morbid, I apologise. Of course not every abnormal test means terminal cancer, or that if left unattended it would turn into cancer. Most people won’t ever get an abnormal test result, which is fabulous, but for goodness sake, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

I was experiencing abnormal bleeding, which prompted me to book an examination and consequently to have my first smear test at the tender age of 24. In England the official age for girls to get their first smear test is 25. I will rant about how bloody RIDICULOUS that is another day. Anyway, if I hadn’t been propelled and consumed by the desire to get to the cause of my problem, then of course I would have been nervous at the thought of soberly showing a complete stranger my treasure chest. No one will call you a pussy (pardon the pun) for being hesitant, but I promise it isn’t as bad as you think it’ll be.

After saying hello to the nice person whose job it is to tell you to open wide, you’ll whip your knickers off and lie on the couch with your legs up and dignity temporarily in the waste disposal bin. Jokes. Your dignity will remain intact. A speculum will be inserted and opened up once inside the chamber walls. Don’t worry, it’ll have lube on it, so you don’t need to feign interest. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Then Mr Brush will do a quick sweep of the area, and that’s it. Job done. Below is a picture showing the items in question:

See? Not scary. I promise.

See? Not scary. I promise.

and to counteract:

I want them all.

I want them all.

Do you know what the weirdest part was? Resisting the urge to take the rest of my clothes off. Unless you’re having a quickie in the park, it feels pretty odd being stark naked from the waist down and still wearing a jumper and scarf.

Having a smear test won’t be the highlight of your year, month or even day. Unless you’re having a really bad day or just love a smear. It’s not exciting but it is essential. If I see you, and I ask if you’re due for a smear test and you tell me you ‘can’t be bothered’ or the classic ‘I haven’t got time’, then I will think that you are a silly, silly bitch.

Thank you for reading this. Please spread the word.


P.S. I am crap with websites and things, so if anybody is a WordPress genius and able to help sort out this blog, I’d be very grateful.

This is Morphine: A brief love/hate affair

”My friend’s son has a girlfriend with epilepsy. I know it’s not a nice thing to say, but I wouldn’t want my sons marrying any type of diseased girl you know?…Why are you going to the hospital?”

”I have cancer.”

Up until this point, I was quite enjoying my journey to The London Clinic with taxi driver ”just call me Teddy”. He’d told me how much he was looking forward to Christmas with his family, and that he used to have a different woman in his bed each week. Then he met his wife and proposed to her after 2 weeks of dating. Oh, and that it’s unacceptable for a woman to think a man will be faithful to her, but if a woman cheats, then she has ruined herself. Double standards Teddy, double standards. I should have just pretended to be asleep.

It’s taken me over a month to write this piece, and I don’t know why. I haven’t gone back to work yet, and am now not in much pain at all. Each day passes by so quickly, it falls into the next and that turns into a week, then a fortnight and so on. I thought I would be in a ‘seize the day’ mindset now, but that is proving more difficult than what I’d anticipated.

Anyway, as per my last blog, I had a radical trachelectomy on the 9th of December. Teddy dropped me off outside the hospital and asked if he could play himself in the film that he’d decided I would be making about my cancer fiasco. ”Of course you can!” Mum and Dad met me in the foyer, and we were shown to my room, 508. My Dad has recently had a hip replacement replacement (the 1st one in 2010 went a bit wrong) so the poor porter didn’t know whether or not to help the man with the walking sticks or the patient with cancer.

Fishcake turned up with homemade biscuits and lovely roses from the wonderful people at DbyD – a company that I temped for last year.

trach 1

Thank you DbyD. X

I’d had my pre-operation consultation with Mr Ind on the previous Saturday. I had to sign the consent form and had left the appointment feeling a tad on edge. He’d said ”the amount of things that can go wrong with your operation won’t fit on this form.” Great. In fairness, it’s his duty to say that. Severe complications are rare, but not non existent, so he has to warn all patients, just in case. Surgical procedures can be put on a scale of 1-25. A number 1 is for example, removing a mole and a 25 is open heart surgery. A radical trachelectomy is a 22. Possible risks and side effects include: Needing a blood transfusion, having to return immediately to the operating table, a cut to the bowel/bladder, permanent bladder damage, blood clots, bladder and/or kidney infection, lymphocysts (swellings filled with fluid that develop in the abdomen), problems with menstruation, inability to open and close legs (this is temporary and occurs when a particular nerve ending is accidentally cut – it’s affectionately known as ‘the virgin’s friend’. I found this hilarious), loss of sensation in buttocks (brilliant if I were to become a spanking model, but not so convenient for trying to work out if I’m sat on the toilet or not) and the one that I was absolutely desperate to not have happen to me was lymphoedema. Lymphoedema is a long-term condition that causes swelling in the body’s tissues, most commonly the legs. I was not okay with waking up to a pair of fat ankles. I’ve got cancer in my cervix, not my feet. No thank you.

Anyway, I got changed into my favourite gown, socks and netted knickers and was feeling pretty sexy, as before going to hospital I’d had my hair spruced by the lovely Lindsey, (I was not going to be poorly AND have roots), and had a decent shave from the neck down. Just because I had cancer it didn’t mean I was going to let my standards slip. So, I needed blood tests (don’t eagerly pounce off of the bed after not eating for hours and having a lot of blood extracted) and had to give a urine sample. This time I pissed into the right pot. This was collected by an adorable nurse who asked me not to mention his name, let’s call him…Dharles. He wore the same aftershave as my friend Peter, so I was probably a bit too familiar with him. Sorry Dharles. I was whisked down to the operating theatre 15 minutes early, so luckily there wasn’t time for an emotional (and hopefully not final) goodbye. I sauntered into the prep room like I owned the place, swinging myself up onto the bed and asking ”Where’s my warm blanket?”. I’m not a twat, I was just very, very, very, very nervous. It turned out that my anaesthetist lives down the road from me, so I fell asleep to him talking about The Bedford pub’s comedy nights…because he’d injected me with general anaesthetic, not because he was boring.

I woke up 4.5 hours later, at 11.30pm. I take back every complaint that I’ve ever made about an ailment. Bloody hell I have never, ever, felt so crap in all my life. That’ll certainly teach me to boast about not being affected by anaesthetic. I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds, I was drenched in sweat, and it took the lovely recovery team a little while to stabilise my temperature (this involved aiming a fan at my face, and hence caused my eyes to stream profusely.) The nausea was overwhelming, but I couldn’t actually be sick as I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for so many hours. Then there was the shoulder pain. Oh the shoulder pain. I started to panic, but was reassured that this is completely normal. Gas is pumped into the abdomen so that the doctor can clearly see the organs and safely remove lymph node samples. It takes a few days for the gas to disperse, and often gets trapped in the shoulders. The stomach and shoulder pain was a nasty, pulsing, cramp-like feeling. It felt like I was in labour, which is ironic because now I’ll never actually be able to give birth naturally. That’s a fun topic for another blog post. I vaguely remember seeing Mr Ind out of the corner of my watery eye and holding out my hand to him. Oh dear.

I was taken back to my room, where Fishy was waiting for me. Apparently I did some sort of royal wave to her as I was wheeled in. A wonderful night nurse named Kim was on duty, and she hooked me up to the morphine drip and blood pressure machine. She’s from Malaysia and I was telling her about the 24 hours I’d spent in Kuala Lumpur before getting a bus to Singapore. I don’t really remember this. Kim explained to me that every 5 minutes I could press a button that would give me a dose of morphine. In my drowsy state I didn’t understand, and she had to keep reassuring me that I couldn’t overdose and die if I accidentally pressed it too many times. I asked Fishy if I could have my mirror from my handbag, as I wanted to see what I was dealing with. She later told me that she pretended she couldn’t find it as ”no offence, but you looked like shit.”

I did not sleep a wink that night. The blood pressure machine was put on a timer, so every 5 minutes (slight exaggeration) I would hear ”beep beep beep” and feel the tightening around my arm. I was also attached to an oxygen supply; the tubes were digging into my cheeks and making it difficult to turn my head. I thought it would be a good idea to order a cheese sandwich at 4.30am. It wasn’t. I think that’s the first time I’ve had cheese in front of me and not been able to eat it. At about 8am I managed a piece of toast and a pot of peppermint tea. Ladies, drink as much peppermint tea as you can. It takes a while to kick in, but really does help to ‘shift the gas’. Initially I was hesitant to start drinking lots of fluids because I didn’t think I’d be able to get to the toilet. Then, I looked under my blanket and was reminded that I had a catheter. This catheter was the silver lining to my cloud of pain. I LOVED having a catheter. Perhaps naively, I thought I’d have the urge to go for a wee and have to relax and allow the tube to ‘catch it’. No, no, no. You don’t even get the ‘I need a wee’ feeling. It’s amazing. I couldn’t feel a thing, yet there was a tube coming out of me and at the end of the bed, there was a bag full of my piss.

I then remembered about the potential problem with opening and closing my legs and numb bum, but it was too early to tell if I would be lumbered with swollen ankles. I gingerly had a little jiggle around and breathed a huge sigh of relief. This is the face of someone who has realised she can still spread her legs and is devoid of arse- paralysis, but is receiving regular morphine:

trach 4

After breakfast, in came Sorcha, a healthcare assistant. I loved her immediately, and she was incredibly tolerant of my practising various Irish accents. (She’s Irish). ”Do you want to get up and have a little wash, my love?” That sounded like a super idea. It took an awful lot of effort to sit upright enough to be able to flop sideways into the wheelchair, but we got there. Sorcha attached my oxygen tank and piss bag onto the chair, and I wheeled my morphine machine along next to me. It looked like the most depressing one-man band. Sorcha carefully patted away at me with a moist flannel, and I slowly washed my face. It’s a very sobering experience to be bouncing around on a Tuesday morning and then needing someone to change your bloody post-operation sanitary towel for you on the Wednesday. I became quite short of breath and dizzy when I removed the oxygen for a few minutes (yes, OK it was so I could moisturise and put on a bit of make-up) which was scary but it was nothing to worry about. It’s just a side effect of the morphine. Sorcha noticed that the tubes had started to dig into my face, so she fashioned this attractive device for me: facepads

During my hospital stay I had regular blood tests, blood pressure and temperature checks. To quote Mr Ind, I was doing a ‘cracking’ job at recovering. Of course I was. The days were filled with visits from my loved ones, who came bearing thoughtful and fun gifts. Having people around me most certainly stopped me from feeling scared and sad; it would have been so easy to feel forlorn, but how could I when I had Susan, Fishy and Jarbie joining me for a ‘temperature party’?

temperature party

After 2 days I had my catheter removed (sigh) and was taken off of the morphine drip. However whilst watching Masterchef with Fishy, the pain became a bit too much for just normal painkillers to sort out, so I was given oramorph. Oramorph is liquid morphine and is the most foul-tasting thing that I’ve ever had to swallow. And that is saying something. Within about 20 minutes that particular pain had gone, but was replaced with shooting stomach cramps and I became nervous and agitated, saying ‘I need to get up, I need to get up.’  After prattling on in a panicked state, I felt incredibly mellow and spaced out. The below photo commemorates the moment I told Helen and Sally that I thought I looked like Kate Winslet in the infamous naked drawing scene from Titanic.


Needless to say, there was no resemblance whatsoever. Whilst I was grateful for the overall pain relief that morphine provides, I’ve resolved that I’d make an awful drug addict. Oh, and to top it off, the next morning I woke up with this:


It felt like my back was on fire, and with the help of a cream, took at least 2 weeks to disappear. Of course, it had also spread to my right bum cheek, so when I got home my Mum not only had to help me put my socks on, but also smear my arse in chamomile lotion.

After 4 nights, I was able to go home. The photo below shows what my body looked like 1 day after the operation:


The day I left hospital I was still very swollen, but was able to sit and stand up without any assistance:

My first naked Internet photo!

My first naked Internet photo!

The next 3 photos were taken over the following 2 weeks:


This isn’t supposed to be a demonstration of ‘weight-loss for the diseased’ but rather to show how amazing and tough our bodies are, and the speed at which they can recover. For the first few days after my operation, I thought I was going to look pregnant and walk like an old lady for the rest of my life. I still don’t feel 100% like my pre-tumour self, but am very happy and grateful to be on my way back to normal, whatever ‘normal’ may be for me.

I’ve gone on and on again, so thank you to those who mustered the energy to read this.

I will write again soon.


You want a piece of me? It’s Showtime

On Tuesday 9th of December, I got into a taxi. I was driven to central London, ready for the 7pm screening of ‘Time’s Up, Bitch.’

Just to clarify, that’s ‘time’s up’ for my tumour, not myself. I had a radical trachelectomy, which is the removal of the cervix, surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. Oh and Mr Ind also scraped off the top part of my vagina as well, just to be safe. Whilst he’s in there, eh? This blog entry is dated the 13th of December, which means they didn’t lose me on the operating table. So I’m using my iPad and typing this out very slowly with my right hand, from my hospital bed. I didn’t have my left hand amputated by the way, there are just 3 cannulas poking out of it.

Before continuing with the black comedy routine, I want to say thank you to everyone who has read and shared my ‘Remember, remember…’ post. Incredibly, it’s had over 1,000 ‘views’ so far, (to be fair, half of them are probably Susan and Big Claire pressing the ‘refresh’ button) including somehow, 6 from Jamaica. I don’t know anyone who lives in Jamaica, but I’m loving it. Cervical cancer is highly preventable; let’s keep going and raise as much awareness as we can. Awkward motivational speech over. But seriously, thank you all. It means the world to me.

Anyway, as I mentioned in my first post, I had an E.U.A. (examination under anaesthetic) on Thursday 27th of November. I’m very lucky that through my job, I have Bupa Healthcare. Thank you to Big Claire, who, when I told her I had cancer, immediately signed me up. This means I am being treated at The London Clinic. The foyer alone is swankier than any hotel I’ve ever stayed in…to be fair the Ibis and Premier Inn aren’t much to go by. The Bear met me at Oxford Circus and we walked to the hospital, with him (eventually) carrying my bag. Susan met us there, arriving by taxi and pleased with herself that she’d discovered this lovely company called Addison Lee. ”Have you heard of them, Karen?” ”Yes Mum.”

Mr Ind, who is my new favourite person, saw us in the foyer and showed me to my room. You know you’ve gone private when the surgeon carries your bags. I was giddy with excitement at being in such luxury:

Apologies for the poor photo quality - Susan's shaky hand and dim lighting are not a good combination.

Apologies for the poor photo quality – Susan’s shaky hand and dim lighting are not a good combination.

Mr Matthew Hacking, my very handsome anaesthetist paid a visit, and explained how long I would be asleep for (about 45 minutes) and that he’d be there to make sure that I actually woke up. Marisa, a very sweet nurse, gave me the outfit I would be wearing for the operation. It included this pair of rather fetching knickers:

It's pretty much a netted nappy.

It’s pretty much a netted nappy.

By 2.30pm I was very hungry and thirsty, as I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since dinner time the night before. I had set my alarm for 7 that morning, with the intention of eating and drinking something before the 8am cut off point. Obviously that didn’t go to plan. So I was ecstatic to see this:

hospital 3

It even had a wine list!

A lady came in and told me that I would be able to eat dinner after the operation. I eagerly chose: vegetable samosas with a mint yoghurt dip, spinach and ricotta tortellini and a mini cheese platter. She hesitantly wrote on her order pad and said ”Are you sure you don’t want to wait and decide after you’ve had the procedure? You might be feeling quite sick after the anaesthetic.” She obviously hadn’t had time to get to know me. It would take a lot more than medication that induces unconsciousness to stop me from having a good feed.

I had to have a blood test, which I used to feel a bit weak even thinking about, but am now able to watch with curiosity rather than queasiness. I also had to give a urine sample. The nurse said the pot was already in the bathroom, so in I went, and ‘passed urine’. 10 minutes later she came back with a small sample pot, and apologised for thinking she’d already put it in the bathroom. Yep, I’d gone and pissed in the sick bowl. 3pm chimed, and Marisa took me down to the operating area.

hospital 4

Sexy, I know.

 The prep room was absolutely FREEZING. A very jolly nurse tucked me up with a warm blanket from the ‘blanket oven’. Yes, that’s right. The blankets have an oven. I was ever so cosy and made the hilarious joke “I won’t even need the anaesthetic”. However, Mr Hacking attacked my left hand with the anaesthesia needle, and soon I was feeling woozy and loudly proclaiming ”It feels like I’ve taken something!” I desperately tried to stay alert and keep my eyes open, to show I was cool and tough…but I must have conked out within 30 seconds.

Whilst I was out cold, (well, warm, because of the nice blanket) Mr Ind used thin tube-like telescopes to perform a hysteroscopy, which is an examination of the womb, a cystoscopy, an examination of the bladder and my personal favourite, the sigmoidoscopy, an examination of the rectum. If the cancer had spread, it would have gone to these places first, so if the three areas are clear, then I would be hopefully be suitable for a radical trachelectomy. This is still a very serious operation, but is preferential to a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) or a pelvic exenteration (removal of bladder and/or rectum and the reproductive organs).

After almost precisely 45 minutes (well done Mr Hacking) I woke up in the recovery room, feeling close to completely ‘normal’. I was wheeled back up to my room and gladly ate my dinner. Big Claire came to see me after work and we shared the cheese platter. She hadn’t met Susan before, but like every friend who meets my Mum, instantly adored her. Mr Ind came to see me after a couple of hours, and as he walked into the room I thought I might bring up my samosas. Whatever surgical procedure he said I would be suitable for, would permanently change my life, and it was just a question of to what extent. Of course I would have found a way to manage,  but I really didn’t want to be told that I’d be wearing a poo bag for the rest of my life.

”Hello Karen. As I hoped, I have nothing to tell you. We couldn’t see anything anywhere else.” Well, I almost felt like I’d been told I didn’t have cancer at all. Excuse my language, but it was such a fucking relief. There weren’t any other tumours lurking up my arse, bladder or womb, just the one stupid lump, or to be medically correct, a poorly differentiated adenosquamous carcinoma, in my cervix. This is the face of someone who has received good news, but was recently sedated:

It takes having surgery for me to snap a selfie.

It takes having surgery for me to snap a selfie.

As Mr Ind left, he said my insides would take a few days to heal, so no sexual intercourse. Susan was gleeful to hear this, and I wasn’t fussed. Don’t get me wrong, I like a ‘good time’, but wasn’t exactly planning on swinging from the chandeliers that night.

I didn’t think I was in any discomfort, but then I went for a wee. I now think my face should be in the urban dictionary, next to the term ‘pissing razorblades.’ Deary me did it burn. As difficult as it is, I’d advise anyone to try and relax, and not tense up; a hesitant flow hurts just as much as a full throttle one, so you may as well just go for it and it’ll be over more quickly. There was a fair amount of blood as well, but that’s to be expected for a couple of days afterwards. Having a ‘bowel movement’ was also no picnic. Being constipated does not sit well with me. I am normally a 5-a-day girl at both ends (as in vegetables and poos, not acts of the sexual variety), so going over 24 hours without any bum action was not fun. Again, it wasn’t a pain free-experience and caused me to be late to meet my friend Tony at Soho theatre the next night. Luckily we’re close enough that I could say ”Sorry I’m late Tony, I was having a shit,” rather than pretend there were delays on the Northern line.

So, that was that. I’m leaving the hospital at lunchtime today, and will write up my experience of the radical trachelectomy and first few days of recovery when I get back to Hertfordshire, where Susan will be waiting on me hand and foot.

Apologies again for length of this post – but I’ve come to realise that I just don’t do ‘short and snappy’. Thank you very much for reading this.


Remember, remember, the fourth of November: The story so far

I’ve been doing this for 3o years, and I’d be incredibly surprised if it wasn’t cancer.

This is what Mr Carter said to me, after he was called into the examination room to give a second and more senior opinion on the abnormal area of my cervix. My response? ”FUCK”, with the tears following in quick succession.

Apart from Mr Carter’s face, everything else in the room became blurry, I think I became temporarily deaf and my body was instantly hot and sweaty. It was a surreal and hideous moment.

Let’s back track a bit. I started bleeding in between periods (or ‘instrumental bleeding’ as medical folk say) on 7th September 2014, then I had a bit of sex (sorry Mum and Dad) and bled a bit more (post-coital bleeding), which was incredibly attractive and a real confidence boost. This was still happening 5 weeks later, so I made a doctors appointment, which happened to coincide with my 1st smear test. Whilst waiting for this appointment, I was on Google for practically every waking minute of the day. The most common cause for abnormal bleeding is adjustment to hormonal contraception in the first 3 months of use. Aside from an awful attempt at having the implant in 2010, I had been on my pill for 8 years. So, down I scrolled and the causes ranged from an STI, to cell erosion, to cervical cancer. Never had I wanted chlamydia more.

A few days before the smear test I went to the sexual health clinic on Dean Street in Soho, so that they could tell me I had an STI and give me some tablets. However, I was given a full M.O.T and everything came back as negative. Bugger. I hopped up onto the bench, where Sebastian, Sinead and Gary all had a look at the goods that they quickly deemed to be damaged. Elizabeth, the lovely nurse who did my smear test that following Wednesday confirmed that something wasn’t right, and put me on the 2 week referral list to St. Georges hospital in Tooting. The next 2 weeks were not great at the time, but in hindsight not bad at all. Everyone was being very reassuring. Every second sentence that I uttered was ”but it might be cancer”. To which their response was always ”it won’t be”. Oh how I wish they were right.

So on the 4th of November I went to my referral appointment at St. Georges and saw a lovely doctor, who, bless her, was equally as convinced it wouldn’t be cancer. I was having a colposcopy which is an examination of the surface of the cervix using a colposcope. A colposcope is an instrument that has a light and magnifying lense, so that abnormalities can be seen more clearly. There was a television-type screen next to me, and I could watch the procedure if I wanted to. Which I did. After a couple of minutes she said ”I’m just going to get Mr Carter for a second opinion.” Well that was it. I knew it was cancer. Mr Carter entered the room in his smart navy waistcoat, and hitched my legs up even higher so that I was practically holding my ankles (which I am normally happy to do, just not in a hospital) and showed me on the screen, a lump on the left side of my cervix. He took a biopsy (a small tissue sample) of the area, and told me to get dressed and take a seat. As soon as I sat down I asked ”is it cancer?” to which he answered with the sentence that changed my life. He said I was to come back in 2 weeks to have an MRI scan and the biopsy results which would confirm whether it was a ”yes” or a ”no”. I knew it was going to be a bloody (literally) ”yes”.

I left the room, and my wonderful friend Helen Fisher, whom I call Fishy or Fishcake, was waiting for me. She was already in tears as she’d seen Mr Carter being called in to see me, and said she ”just knew.” We had a cuddle and I sobbed onto her coat in the waiting area, which must have been unnerving for the other poor sods waiting to see a doctor. She took me home via the Marks and Spencer food hall in St Georges, and we were soon laughing at the thought of my wearing a pink wig to her wedding in February. I phoned my parents, The Bear and my manager/friend Claire (who is known as Big Claire, as we are both the tallest girls in the office by at least 5 inches). My dad was definitely in denial at first. His response was ”Well, we all have our lumps and bumps. Now, have you seen that Morgan Freeman film on Netflix where he lives in a cabin and has a dog?” ”No Dad, I haven’t.”

Now all I had to do was get through the next 2 weeks without going completely batshit crazy. I spent the first few days barely eating, dipping in and out of uncontrollable crying and hysterical laughter and getting no more than 3 hours sleep a night. I did not look pretty. Everyone around me was (and still is) incredibly supportive, and very positive. I was planning my funeral but everyone refused an invitation, which is just what I needed. During the 2 weeks, there were moments, albeit fleeting ones, when I actually completely forgot about what was going on. Apart from the aforementioned pockets of temporary ‘normality’, the worry and panic was all-consuming. I got into the shower and felt a twinge in the back of my neck. ”It’s spreading, I now have a neck tumour. I’m going to die.” No Karen, you just slept on one too many pillows. I also drank green tea by the bucket. Green tea is supposed to cure everything isn’t it?

The 18th of November arrived. I went for my MRI scan in the morning. Big Claire came with me, and afterwards we had coffee and (very hard) ginger biscuits in the hospital café. We saw a handsome doctor, which was pleasant. A few hours later, Fishcake, my Mum, who I often affectionately call Susan (which is her name) and I went back to the hospital for the ‘results’. Between appointments I had spent a lot of time in the bathroom. Nerves are wonderful for a flat stomach aren’t they? Anyway, Mr Carter called me (and Susan) into room number 16. I was all ready to hear what stage the cancer was at, and how dead I was. None of that happened. He confirmed it was cancer, which despite having come to terms with it, still wasn’t exactly music to my ears. He said the MRI scan would be studied, and I would be given more of an idea of what we were dealing with on my next appointment, the following Monday. I felt deflated, and stomped out of the room and declared to a once again emotional Fishy; ”This is fucking ridiculous.” My mum was upset, which was horrible to see, as she’d been hoping that they’d say ”Oops we made a mistake, it’s just a friendly lump.” So we went to a restaurant and had pink champagne, courtesy of my generous Nan. Cheers Nan.

So, Monday 24th of November arrived. This time my marvellous friend Jarbie (proper name: Jo Arber) came with my Mum and I. This time I was seeing Mr Thomas Ind, the doctor who would be my main man from now on. Well, he could not have been more lovely. We spent the first 10 minutes talking about who I am, what I do, what I enjoy doing and what I want to do. I was obviously cracking jokes left, right and centre, and to my delight he laughed. He told me that the MRI scan didn’t show my cervix clearly enough, so I would be having an E.U.A (examination under anaesthetic) that Thursday, the 27th. This would allow him to have a proper look inside me, and see if the cancer had spread elsewhere. He didn’t think it would have, and that it looks like a stage 1b, grade 3 tumour. 1b is good, because it means it’s relatively small in size on the staging scale of 1-4. The grade 3 isn’t as great. Again, the grading is on a scale of 1-4, and judges how abnormal the cells and tissue are. Grade 3 and 4 tumours are considered as ‘high grade’ and tend to grow/spread more quickly than a grade 1 or 2. However, I’m telling myself that small and naughty is better than big and naughty.

I had the E.U.A on the 27th and thankfully there aren’t signs of any other tumours. Just the one little bastard. I’ll write a separate post about that examination and the current plan of action. Of course I am scared, but I’m being positive. Cancer is definitely barking up the wrong chuff.

If you’ve made it to the end of this long-winded post, then thank you! I’ll make sure that future writings are significantly shorter, and hopefully a bit funnier. I just wanted to write down what has happened so far.