One night to walk 21km for cancer – 4 December | Last chance!

Lena, 32

I’ve always been really health conscious and have stayed on top of my Cervical Screening Tests.

I know the guidelines have changed so nowadays you only need a test every 5 years starting at age 25, but it used to be every two years starting at age 18. So, I’ve probably had about 6 tests in total.

My first Cervical Screening Test

For my first test, my GP explained step-by-step what was going to happen, and showed me what the speculum looked like which was helpful. I booked my test with my regular GP – I found it reassuring knowing that my GP wasn’t judging me and I also preferred to have my test done by a female.

I was nervous that the test would hurt, that it would be embarrassing having someone look so closely down there, and I was worried about what the results would be. But you certainly get a sense that GPs do this all the time and they’ve seen it all.

It was over really quickly and wasn’t too uncomfortable. It’s just one of those things that has to be done as a person with a cervix!

We have such a low rate of cervical cancer in Australia and that’s because screening helps catch abnormal cells early and means they can be treated easily.

The test may be a little bit unpleasant, but a few minutes now will potentially save your life down the track. Don’t leave it too late.

I always had my results come back normal, but then in 2019 I was diagnosed with HPV (non 16/18), which can potentially lead to cervical cancer.

My HPV diagnosis – a rollercoaster of emotions

I remember feeling a rollercoaster of emotions: I felt scared, and angry at myself because I thought maybe I’d picked it up from having unprotected sex with someone I didn’t know very well. I felt confused because I had received the HPV vaccine as a teenager, and I also felt embarrassed that I had to tell my new partner and that she may have been infected too.

My GP explained that the HPV vaccine only covers certain strains of HPV (which there are many!) which is why I still managed to pick it up despite being vaccinated. She reiterated how common HPV is, and that the fact that I have non-16/18 means it is less likely to develop into cancer than the 16/18 strains. She also said that there’s a good chance my body would clear the HPV infection up on its own, but if not, the treatment is really straightforward. This put my mind at ease a bit. 

My colposcopy experience – it was cool to see what my cervix looks like

I went on to have a colposcopy, and was anxious in the lead up to that test which was delayed a few months due to COVID-19. My GP had previously explained that it takes many years for an HPV infection to progress to cervical cancer, so I tried to remember this in the moments when I’d feel uneasy!

I was eventually seen by a specialist in the public system who was amazing- they explained the process clearly, and we were just chatting away during the procedure. The colposcopy is a bit like a cervical screen, the specialist just does a bit more poking around down there! And you can see on a TV what they see- which I found very cool to see what my cervix actually looks like.

It was all over in about 15 minutes – luckily that there were no abnormalities on my cervix,  but I was told I would need to back to my GP for a cervical screening test in 12 months.

It is interesting that I when I’ve shared my experience with friends, how many say they’ve also had HPV and a colposcopy, and even had to go on for further treatment. It just goes to show how HPV is a pretty normal part of being sexually active, and how easily treatable it is – but also how important it is to get screened to prevent cervical cancer.

Lena

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