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.