We all know we should get a cervical smear every three years but what happens when you open the results letter and it says the smear was abnormal? And that you'll need to come in for a 'colposcopy'? If you're anything like me, you'll immediately eat a jar of peanut butter with your finger and try not to google 'what happens when your vagina drops off'. But don't be like me. Be like the me of the future, who just had a colposcopy and can tell you that – regardless of what people say on Yahoo Answers – it's absolutely fine. It was so fine that I live-blogged the experience for your reading pleasure (hi, Dad).
But before we delve into the depths of my cervix, let's first look at what's actually going on here. An abnormal smear doesn't, in fact, mean your vagina is going to drop off. It also doesn't mean you've got cervical cancer. Statistically, around 5% of smear tests produce abnormal results; given that there are 32.2 million women (and cervixes) living in the UK, that works out at 1.6 million abnormal smears. There were only 3,224 cases of cervical cancer in the most recent statistics, which are from 2014. That's VERY few in comparison.
All an abnormal test means is you've got some cells that could, over time, become problematic. On the other hand, your body's immune system could fight them off. And it's not just cervical cancer they could turn into, either. If you contract human papillomavirus, or HPV (which 80% of the sexually active population will do at some point in their lives), that can cause an abnormal result. Smoking, too. Vaginal inflammation. Other STIs can as well, which is why it's good to get those regular checks done.
A colposcopy, then, is just a more in-depth smear test where they check what sort of abnormal cells are knocking around down there. That's it. Obviously the next stages depend on what sort of cells you've got; they may remove the cells, which requires anaesthetic, or they may – like they did with me – send you away and allow your body's immune system to sort it out. Either way, don't fear the colposcopy. Read the live blog I did (alright, I did it immediately after, rather than during. That would have just been rude), and banish the fear once and for all.
I am called in to meet the colposcopy team, who wished to remain anonymous. "Oh hello! I like your trousers," says one. I am, admittedly, wearing good trousers.
She tells me to take the trousers off, behind a curtain. I'd recommend wearing a good long jumper so when you take your trousers off you don't feel like Winnie The Pooh.
I am sat down in a big chair covered in white paper towel, and there are stirrups like the ones you see in films when women are giving birth. I've never put my foot in a stirrup, apart from when my boyfriend bought me a horse riding lesson for my 28th birthday and all the other class members were 10 years old. It was embarrassing then, and it's embarrassing now. This is where the long jumper comes in handy, as I can put my feet up in the stirrups and it covers my dignity. "Shuffle down and pull your jumper up," one of them says. There is a screen, and one lady sits and looks at the screen. I ask her if there's anything good on; it's a hilarious joke that gets a strong reception.
I still haven't shuffled down the seat enough. I realise it's because the other woman is sat at the foot of the chair, between my legs, and I don't like the sensation of shuffling my vagina really close to her. Nobody needs that. Nobody asked for that. "I'm sorry," I say. "Don't be sorry," she responds. "People always ask us why we do this job, but we love it don't we?" "Oh yes," her friend replies. "It's a wonderful job." I have to admit they've indeed done a wonderful job of distracting me from the fact that one of them is lubing up a speculum.
A camera inside a speculum covered in lube is put up my vagina. I am looking up at the ceiling, where they have taped a picture of some palm trees, which I feel is a nice touch. I've discussed speculums at length with a lot of friends, and the general consensus is similar to teaching kids to swallow tablets: they've swallowed much larger pieces of food before, so it's all psychological. Speculums are just lubey test tubes. Quite thin. The thought of them is so much worse than the actuality – think of it as a transparent tampon.
The camera takes some pictures. The woman by the screen invites me to have a look at my own cervix. Quite concerned about what's to come, and trying to stay relaxed so as not to tense my vagina and shoot the speculum/camera back out into the other woman's face, I decline.
A lot of looking. They are asking me what I do for a living, and one of their daughters is quite interested in drama school – do I know if Central is a good one? "Oh yes," I say. "A friend went there and had a really good – I'm so sorry, is something going in or coming out?" While I'm talking, there is a sensation that I can't get a handle on at all. To be really clear, it isn't pain. It isn't discomfort, like when your elbow hurts because you slept on it weirdly. It's like I'm maybe having a really bizarre wee, but with none of the bladder being involved. "I'm painting your cervix," she says. Oh, of course.
More chatting, and I really can't get my head around what's going on down there, because I can't really feel anything significant. No cramps. No pain. Just movement. If we're going to be frank, it's like the world's least arousing dildo.
There is some further business which feels like something slimy being taken out of the depths of my vagina. Apparently that's exactly what is happening, as I'm now told that it's over. Done. Colposcopy finished. While getting changed, I'm told to put a massive sanitary pad in my knickers "because of all the dye". When I sit down and am told the more in-depth results, I ask to see my cervix and would recommend you do the same. In one picture, it looks like a pink bowling ball with a tiny white smudge (the abnormality). After the dye, it is entirely black, like it's decided to turn to the dark side, with yellow smudges. Darth Cervix. They're going to let my body attempt to fight it off for a year and if that doesn't work, then I'll get a biopsy. Which I'll also live-blog, obviously.
And that was that. At no point did I want to yell, cry or scream. The trick is to breathe deeply and remember that a speculum is just a lubey test tube, someone painting your cervix feels like you might wee, and that walking around with a dyed black vagina makes you feel oddly powerful. But whatever you do, don't look at internet forums of women discussing their colposcopies. I managed to hold out and then, afterwards, had a look at what I would have read – honestly, it would have worried me. So don't be worried, go in with deep breaths and slay that colposcopy. Oh, and if your specialists have a picture of palm trees on the ceiling, say hi to them from me.