Avoid transvaginal ultrasounds and other fun things this Cervical Screening Awareness Week - Lucy L. Austin

Avoid transvaginal ultrasounds and other fun things this Cervical Screening Awareness Week

You may not be on the pulse of what’s moving and shaking in gynaecology circles, folks, so in case you’re unaware, it’s Cervical Screening Awareness Week starting from today (10 – 16 June 2019). Though it’s not my usual blog-fodder, I wanted to share my personal experience of how I overcame doctors wanting to burn cells off my cervix, to being given the all clear.

I learned a lot in my experience, and my choices and routes might not be for everyone, but I hope the below serves as a reminder that we’re all ultimately responsible for our health, and we must do what is right for us in any given situation. We’re fortunate enough to be able to benefit from preventative measures like smears freely, so we’d be foolish not to take advantage of it.

Context

Before I got the smear jungle call in Nov/Dec 2017, I had experienced irregular bleeding between periods for about two years. It was kind-of-like-having two menstrual bleeds a month (lucky me!); not FULL ones, but enough for me to have some concerns. I spoke to my local GP, of course, and went to the hospital for various tests – bloods and a transvaginal ultrasound (as sexy IRL as it sounds), which is an ultrasound via your vagina. My results from both came back okay, but the bleeding continued.

The journey begins

Post a routine smear test in mid-December 2017 I received a letter saying there were some slightly abnormal cells called Low-Grade Dyskaryosis in my sample. Dyskaryosis is essentially any cervical cell changes. I’ve had ‘abnormal smears’ before, and so have lots of my friends. So far, so not out of the ordinary – apparently, 1 in 20 smears register abnormal changes.

They also recorded that I had an HPV infection – Human papillomavirus – which means that any abnormal cells in my cervix are less likely to go away. At first, I was like WTF???, but most women apparently will have HPV at some point in their life (it can lay dormant for years). There are no symptoms, and the body often clears the virus on its own before any problems occur – kind of like a cold.

Additional context: When you’re a 30+ woman, they find HPV testing to be useful in assessing your risk for developing cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer along with the traditional smear.

They booked me in for a colposcopy appointment to take a closer look at what was going on – they usually arrange this within a few weeks of screening.

While their wording in the letter was no way leading or scaremongering, the enclosed leaflets detailing the colposcopy procedure and some on cervical cancer felt weighty and foreboding. I get it, they want you to be well-informed and take the appointment seriously, but it all felt a bit much.

 

Excuse me, your dye’s discoloured my cervix…

I went to my local hospital for the colposcopy a few weeks later. The colposcopy allows the doctor to see the placement and scale of your abnormal cells, and help determine whether you need treatment to remove them. They open your va-jay-jay, squirt some dye on your cervix, and pop a camera up there (sophisticated selfie-stick) to see what’s what. On screen, I was able to see a distinct halo of discoloured cells above my cervix, concentrated like a pile-up on the ‘North-Circular’, with a few stragglers to the south. In truth, they looked like scar tissue or a weird cold-sore, but instead of parasite-ing above my lips, they were on something way more intimate. The doctor explained these were the ‘abnormal’ cells. He took a biopsy; I felt glum.

Afterwards, the doctor began to talk to me about CIN levels. CIN stands for Cervical Intra-epithelial Neoplasia – which means abnormal cells found on the surface of the cervix that could potentially lead to cervical cancer. Please note the words could and potential. They have classification stages of grading the severity of your cells.  The doctor guessed mine was at CIN stage 1-2. Here’s some info on the stages in a bit more detail:

CIN1 – indicates mild changes; affects one-third of the thickness of the surface layer of the cervix. These changes are not due to cancer, and in most cases, do not lead to cancer in the future.

CIN2 – indicates moderate changes; affecting two-thirds of the thickness of the surface layer of the cervix.

CIN3 – indicates more severe changes (still not cancer); affecting the full thickness of the surface layer of the cervix.

Even with CIN2 or CIN3 grade changes, the cell changes are unlikely to be cancer, but there is a lot of talk about ‘pre-cancerous cells,’ and for many I’m sure, it’s the first indication of cervical cancer. The doctor was quite insistent about an invasive procedure to eradicate the ‘problem cells,’ called a Large Loop Excision which involves removing the abnormal cells using a thin wire loop, heated with an electric current.

I had concerns that such an invasive treatment seemed unnecessary at this point when I hadn’t got clarification about my CIN levels yet, nor explored other avenues. I told the doctor that I’d wait for the results and decide then, but it was likely I would seek my own ways to eradicate the CIN. He was unhappy with my decision, I could tell, but I wanted to have all the information available before I agreed to that kind of procedure.

There are some long-term side-effects to consider from Loop treatment, which aren’t captured by the NHS, but are documented from actual people – see here. They include losing your sex drive, sex being painful, and lower back pain during periods amongst others. I’m sure lots of women have the procedure and have no long-term side effects, but I wanted to know all the facts to make the best decision for me. As soon as I had the letter about abnormal cells, I had already started taking steps to ‘normalise’ them again (I’ll come on to this in detail later), but now it was time to supercharge my strategy – I needed to nip this CIN thing in the bud ASAP.

Why does it sound like you’re offering me an hors d’oeuvre?

At the end of February, I received a letter from the colposcopy department confirming that I was CIN level 1/2, and that they would like to ‘offer me a Large Loop Excision treatment,’ and that they’d booked me in for an appointment in two weeks.

I had a couple of problems with this.

1 – they were presenting the Loop treatment like they were offering me an hors d’ oeuvre. They didn’t recommend I have it, nor suggest, strongly recommend, advise, or any other adjectives that demonstrate concern or guidance/counsel. I’ve never been fussed about vol-au-vents, and I wasn’t fussed on the Loop either.

2 – The fact that that it was an ‘offered’ treatment, but they had automatically booked in annoyed me – why present it as if you’re giving me a choice, to then arrange the appointment anyway? I do appreciate that perhaps not everyone follows up on particular advised/recommended/strongly recommended treatment, and I suppose they’ve learned to mitigate that by not giving a choice, but FFS.

I want to be clear that at no point was I disregarding the advice from professionals, nor abdicating the responsibility of my body – quite the opposite. I called the head nurse and explained I thought the treatment was premature, and that I would like a few months to try and eradicate it myself. If that didn’t work, and they still ‘offered’ me the Loop (they may have even upgraded it to a legit recommendation or advised me by that stage), then I would consider it as an option. The head nurse was more than happy to accommodate and said she would schedule a follow-up appointment for a few months time.

My ‘supercharged’ CIN strategy

I believe that everything is interconnected, and that true ‘wellness’ is dependent on the integration and alignment of physical, mental, emotional and energetic/spiritual states. There’s some useful content written on ‘antiquity’ of this approach here. It’s a widely adopted philosophy in Traditional Chinese Medicine or even the work and theories of psychoanalyst Carl Jung.

I knew I needed to approach this from an inclusive point of view regarding all well-being states. Looking back, I think there was more I could have done in some areas, which I will make a note of below, but things move at the time and pace that they need to sometimes.

 

  • Physical

My physical approach was robust, to say the least. Collectively, I invested a lot in vitamins and supplements, and I didn’t shirk on getting the best, because I was ‘supercharging’ this. I know not everyone has that privilege, but I was able to at the time, and so I did.

I tailored the below program of vits and supps based on knowledge gathered, and then tested these out with Applied Kinesiology – getting information through your body by testing muscles for strength and weakness, which show whether something is in alignment for you. The below were specifically relevant to the needs of my body, but some may well be useful to you as generally-speaking, they often are in helping your immune system, for example.

Vitamins and supplements

Any vitamins or supplements recommended here are vegan/veggie friendly:

Vits from PureBio

  • ProFlora 50B – A probiotic which I was taking already for my gut health, but I do believe that cultivating a harmonious environment in your body is as useful as possible
  • Vitamin D2
  • Selenium – I didn’t need to take this after a while
  • Zinc 30
  • B12 Folate
  • Vitamin B6 (Activated) P5P50
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid 100mg
  • Vitamin C
  • Iodine – I didn’t need to take this after a while
  • Kelp – Organic (Sea Vegetables) – I didn’t need to take this after a while

 

Other vits and supplements

 

Herb-mix

These were prepared for me specially by Guy at the Well4Ever clinic – he is so knowledgeable, and also treated me for acupuncture. The blend was designed to support my immune system against the abnormal/‘potential’ pre-cancerous cells.

Unfortunately, I no longer have the information about what was included in the herb mix, but I recommend that you work with and speak to a herb specialist like Guy. I live in Walthamstow and travelled to Putney for his expertise, so you know that’s a good sign!

 

Acupuncture

Guy treated me about once a month at the Well4Ever clinic, and I found many other benefits with acupuncture over and above its immediate support in helping eradicate CIN. Acupuncture is based on the concept of Qi – vital life force energy – and is the practice of placing thin needles into specific points on the body to encourage Qi to flow freely, so you maintain balance and a free-flowing of energy in the body. I needed all the free-flowing energy I could get!

 

Vaginal steaming

Yes. I know. I bought a Yoni Steam seat from Mama Luna, and put five drops of Young Living’s Thieves, Lavender and Frankincense essential oils in a bowl of very warm water, and sat on top and let it get to work. The idea is it helps your pelvic region absorb certain regenerative oils they would not usually be exposed to. It isn’t invasive; it isn’t pressure-washing your most sensitive areas; it’s very gentle if a bit of a faff. It’s best to meditate while you do this, but I can’t say I meditated every night – I was juggling other stuff too! Here’s a bit more on the oils below.

  • Frankincense – promotes healthy cell regeneration and keeps existing cells and tissues healthy
  • Thieves – highly effective in supporting the immune system and good health
  • Lavender – well known for its soothing and healing properties

External application of oils

I applied Young Living’s Sacred Frankincense oil on the abdomen/pelvic area every evening. As above, it helps promote healthy cell regeneration.

 

NingXia Red

I bought this from Young Living, I took this for the first six weeks of my ‘supercharge phase, until Applied Kinesiology confirmed I didn’t need it anymore. It’s high in Goji berries, which are well known for their restorative and wellness properties. It is quite sweet though, and I was happy when I no longer needed to take it, to be honest.

 

Reiki healing

Just before I went in for ‘round 2’ colposcopy, my friend applied Reiki energy healing eternally on the area. Reiki is a Japanese energy healing practice whereby a practitioner places their hands on an area of your body to encourage physical (or emotional) healing. It gave me that last minute boost I wanted but is something I could have incorporated a lot earlier on.

 

  • Emotional/energetic

For me, looking back, I’m much more inclined to think this CIN stuff was fostered and triggered by emotional trauma, but I didn’t give quite as much attention as I could have, at the time. What I would suggest if you do have a smear with ‘abnormal results’ or are going through something similar, be open to looking at emotional traumas. Given that the cervix is so specific to female reproductive organs, is there something you’re holding there energy-wise? A past trauma? Something prevalent in females in your ancestral line? I’m not ignorant to why I didn’t dive head first into this emotional stuff – often it’s painful, or sometimes we’re completely blocked/unconscious to it – so if you feel this is relevant to you in some way, do seek the right support and specialist help. Additional therapies could be useful, i.e. talking therapy, or transcendental energies and spiritual practices, depending on what works for you.

 

  • Mental

I used a combination of daily affirmations, meditations and visualisations, to help the healing/recovery process, and give myself space (crucial in some of our toxic lifestyles/jobs). In truth, there was probably more I did here (that might be relevant to the emotional/energetic stuff too), but this strategy was very much a weekly/day-to-day ever-evolving thing, so do incorporate your own ideas too. This is just what worked for me.

Colposcopy: the sequel

I went back to the colposcopy department for a second time in July, having had several months to lock in the above strategy. I had a woman doctor this time who seemed a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. On screen, there were still a few cold-sore type discolourations on the ‘North-Circular’, but they were greatly reduced. The tiny little cluster down south had gone too. From looking at my notes, the doctor agreed that it had decreased significantly as well, but she took a biopsy to be sure.

All clear

At the end of July 2018, I received a letter from the hospital ‘confirming that the biopsy taken showed no pre-cancerous abnormality.’ They also acknowledged ‘research has confirmed that women with borderline or mild dyskaryosis have only a 15-20% chance of having an abnormality significant enough to need treatment.’

HAPPY DAYS. No need to burn cells. My cervix was grateful, as was I.

I wanted to outline my experience as it might be helpful if you’re going through something similar, as well as highlighting the importance of regular smears – you don’t want anything that could be manageable and easily eradicated to be missed, or become worse. A smear is a simple thing, and it’s something we are fortunate enough to benefit from freely. Let’s make sure we use it.


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