I've always been very aware of the importance of regular Pap tests, as my Mum had early-stage cervical cancer in her 30s. She encouraged me to start having regular Pap tests when I turned 18 and I followed her advice, albeit begrudgingly!
After always having normal results from my two-yearly Pap tests, I was alarmed to be told by my GP that my latest results (when I was 30) were abnormal and were graded CIN 3 or dysplasia (high grade change). CIN 3 is not cancer. This kind of change can often just be monitored and sometimes goes away, or a minor procedure to remove the abnormal cells can be performed.
My GP immediately referred me to the Dysplasia Clinic at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne for a colposcopy, to investigate further. This is like a Pap test, but the gynaecologist examines the cells through a microscope while you lie there.
So off I went, with Mum by my side, to have this procedure. The doctor examined my cervix, dabbed on a vinegar solution to show up any abnormal changes to cervical cells, took another Pap test and did a biopsy. The results came back showing abnormal changes, so I was booked in to have a LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure) to remove the abnormal cells, which would then be analysed.
When I got the results in the mail, I didn't understand why I was summoned back to the hospital, so again I took Mum with me for support, for what I knew was going to be bad news.
The fact that I was seen by the head professor of the Dysplasia Clinic didn't give me confidence, and he gently told me that I had early stages cervical cancer.
I immediately burst into tears and Mum comforted me while he gave me a minute to compose myself.
He went on to explain that I didn't have the usual type of cancer that is only present in the squamous cells of the cervix, but they had also detected adenocarcinoma, which is cancer cells in the glandular tissue.
He explained that if it was any other country they would perform a hysterectomy, but that in Australia they like to be conservative in terms of treatment, especially since I was fairly young and still wanted to have children.
So it was back to the operating theatre for a cone biopsy. This is where a cone-shaped section of the cervix containing the abnormal cells is removed. Thankfully the biopsy results were excellent, with no cancer cells found, or sign of spreading.
Since then I have been in and out of the Royal Women's Hospital for routine colposcopies every six months. I have recently reached the five-year mark since my diagnosis, and due to my normal results, I only have to go in once a year now. I am also on first-name terms with the head nurse Barbara! I am very grateful to the lovely nurses and doctors at the Royal Women's Dysplasia Clinic.
The wonderful thing is that the operations did not affect my fertility or ability to have children, although if or when I fall pregnant they will have to monitor my cervix closely to ensure it doesn't open prematurely due to weakening from the surgeries.
I am a very lucky girl and if it wasn't for the push for regular screening by my GPs, advertising campaigns and my Mum, I might not be here today.