Hello fellow beauty addicts, I am popping back onto my blog today with an update but also some important information about a new initiative in the UK that I am 100% behind and want to let you know about. You know me, this post is going to be a long one but if you read any of it, please read the first half!!!
I came across the 'Time to Test' initiative whilst scrolling through Bloglovin' and seeing this post by Hayley at London Beauty Queen, who I am sure you are all an avid fan of like me-and if not, why not?
As regular visitors to my blog will know I was diagnosed with Stage 1B2 Cervical Cancer on the 14th July. It's hard to believe that was just 6 short weeks ago.
I have been very open and honest on my blog that I hadn't had a smear test in the 9 years I have lived in Dubai. I think I went for my first 'invited' one from the NHS just before I moved to Dubai when I was 25 and then, as the cliché goes, life got in the way. I work full time, travelling every month and my weekends were sacred-there was things to do, people to see, lipsticks to buy. As I suffer from asthma I am at the doctors at least once a quarter for a check up and my GP always used to say to me 'have you had your PAP smear'? and I would blush and promise to make an appointment. Life got in the way.
And it seems, that's pretty common as 1 in 5 women in the UK do not attend their cervical screening appointment when invited-whether that's through embarrassment or fear or simply because they work full time and can't get to an appointment during their doctors working hours.
Cervical cancer-the facts
Almost 3000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK each year and the disease kills almost one third of that number-970 deaths a year. Cervical screening aims to pick up and treat abnormal cells before they become cancer and is estimated to save 5000 lives per year. Cervical screening is NOT a test to find cancer-it's a test to identify any abnormalities in cells early.
Screening is offered free by the NHS in the UK.
Robert Music, Chief Executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust says: "We know from our research that a barrier to attendance can be being able to take time off work and so it's crucial that employees ensure their female staff are given time off to attend what is a simple five minute test that could potentially save their lives. We're delighted so many companies have already shown their commitment to cervical cancer prevention and hope that many more follow suit"
Time to Test is a GSK initiative supported by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust-the only UK charity dedicated to supporting those affected by cervical cancer. Nine British businesses and professional organisations including the Intercontinental Hotels Group, global beauty brand Bare Escentuals, chocolatier Green and Blacks and the The Female Entrepreneur Association have all signed a pledge showing their commitment to female employees having the flexibility to attend cervical screening during working hours if they are unable to get an appointment in their own time.
The company YOU work for can also sign the pledge on the Time to Test website so send your HR department this link.
Please prioritize your own health ladies. Hayley has written a brilliant post called What actually happens during a smear test. The stupid thing is, I wasn't afraid or even particularly embarrassed-I just didn't make my own time to test. It's worthy to note as well, that in my case the company I work for which is a huge UK domiciled multi-national would 100% not have put any barriers in my way if I wanted to leave the office during working hours to have the test done if I wasn't able to get an appointment over the weekend or in the evening-it's just my own, ridiculously stupid fault. I never thought this would be something that would affect me.
And I guess that leads me on nicely to an update on myself. If this is the first time you're reading my blog then firstly thank you, hello and welcome and you can catch up with the story so far by reading these posts-Life lately...London and other news, The Curveball and The Recovery.
I am now four weeks post surgery. The surgery was to remove the malignant tumors in my cervix and during a 6 hour operation my surgeon removed my cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, the top third of my vagina and 30 lymph nodes. Pretty grim hey. My The Recovery post covered off the first couple of weeks after surgery and I won't lie, it's been pretty shit. Please understand this is about recovery from surgery-but surgery I had no choice but to have because I didn't have regular smear tests and it was too late to catch and treat any pre-cancerous cells by the time I did. For an educated, 34 year old with a good job I feel pretty stupid.
I ended up back in hospital just after my last post. I had some routine blood tests on a Thursday (the weekend here is Friday/Saturday) and at 9pm on Thursday evening my surgeon rang and asked me to go back to the hospital at 9am Friday morning for a repeat test as my D-Dimer level, which is the test they do for DVT, strokes and Pulmonary Embolisms was 'elevated'. So I went back the next day and repeated the test plus a blood oxygen level test which is frankly the most unpleasant experience as they take the blood from your artery rather than your veins. It hurt-a lot. And I had two in 24 hours. Within an hour of the blood test my surgeon was on the phone instructing me to go to another hospital where they have specialist scanners because my D-Dimer levels were again elevated. A normal D-Dimer reading is <0.5, mine was 6.5. I spent 4 more days in a different hospital having many many tests. The hospital was quite far from home and I think it was really hard on my mum but especially Mike. But at least there was no cockerel this time. And the TV choice was slightly better. The consultant there was a lovely Italian lady and we talked privately about what I had been through and how I felt recovery was taking such a long time and how much pain I was in and she said to me "Stacey, you have had major surgery, they have cut through your stomach muscles, removed and then rearranged everything around in there-it will take time".
I've had a lot of 'after effects' from the operation-some I hope are temporary, some may be permanent. To mention a few (I know some of them are too much info, but if it scares you into booking an overdue smear then I am not apologising!)
1) my bladder loves to play up. I still don't know when I need to pee so I have to make sure I go every 3-4 hours. When I go I have to think to myself 'have I emptied my bladder?' and it can take a little time. I don't think I will ever go for a 'quick wee' again. I've had 2 UTI's since the operation. And now my bladder has started leaking whenever it feels like it. My surgeon has actually confirmed its lymph node fluid draining and not urine and it should go away on its own but it feels gross and is embarrassing
2) I'm hugely constipated. When I do manage to go to the loo it looks like I have pooed out some kind of tiny sheep pellet poo.
3) I am very very bloated-I do look pregnant and inevitably someone is going to kindly and well meaningly say to me 'when are you due'? My doctor has said the swelling can last up to 12 months. I am extremely conscious of it.
4) My hair and skin are really oily-I have heard this is common sadly after a hysterectomy
5) I am nauseous all the time. Everything smells different-scents and smells I loved now make me feel sick. Sometimes I can't smell things at all. Some smells make me almost want to be sick.
6) I walk like your granny. Mike and I went to a small mall in Dubai yesterday to buy one thing and even four weeks after surgery I was almost crying by the time we got to the car-the pain in my tummy was just awful.
7) My surgeon was able to preserve my ovaries which is supposed to be good because it means I still produce my own hormones and don't go through early menopause. Having said that I have a 1:3 chance of going through early menopause in the next two years. The week, exactly 28 days after surgery my ovaries kicked in, producing an egg (which dissolves as I have no tubes) and gave me the WORST period pain like symptoms I have ever had. I was doubled up in pain and I had to ring Mike to come home from work, I was so worried because the cramping was horrific. By the time he got home I was crying my eyes out at the pain. I thought I had just done too much pottering about at home. The next day I saw my surgeon and he explained it was my ovaries thinking it was that time of the month. Cheers guys.
8) I still can't drive, swim or have a bath.
9) I get a bit anxious sometimes. Little things that would never have bothered me before now do-for example I worry that Mike might go out to the garbage chute in our apartment block and the cats might run into the corridor and he wouldn't notice and they might run away. It sounds stupid writing it down but it fills me with anxiety and I have to check where they all are every time he opens the front door.
10) I sleep very little and have developed a 4am chocolate biscuit habit. I also can't sleep on my tummy which is my usual pose de riguer for sleeping.
11) I am always in pain-sometmes its discomfort and manageable with painkillers, sometimes it's worse. And I can feel bits moving around in my abdomen-my surgeon says its tissues healing and repairing themselves. It's a very strange pulling and tugging sensation. And it moves around-one day on the left side, next on the right.
Having said that I know I have improved significantly since the operation-four weeks ago, if my mum hadn't have been here things would have been so much worse. I couldn't shower or dress myself. I couldn't get in and out of bed or off the sofa without help. I didn't sleep. Every day the challenge has gotten a little bit more achievable.
Having said that-it has been pretty easy to find positives in every day and by and large my mood has been ok. I've had so many messages-twitter, my blog, emails, whatsapp, facebook, texts. I've had lovely cards and gifts. And every gift/card/message all has the same value to be because it means someone is thinking about me. Someone cares enough to try and brighten my day. If I have needed a pep talk I haven't had to look far to find one.
My biggest fear before the operation was that cancer was going to define me and I was going to be a different person after the operation-emotionally I mean. I also worried, maybe again stupidly, that I wasn't going to be as feminine without all my lady bits. Over the years we have all read news articles of cancer survivors who say that now the sun and the stars shine brighter and the birds sing louder but I honestly don't feel like that. Maybe it's too early, and maybe I am still a little bitter this has happened to me because it has changed my life. I didn't expect at 34 to not be able to have my own children. I didn't expect that choice to be taken away from me. I didn't expect I would never be a mum or my mum and dad would never be grandparents to my children. I didn't expect I wouldn't have my own children to build a future and eventually an inheritance for.
And of course there are suddenly babies and pregnancies all around me. Let me set the record straight that I have absolutely zero bitterness or resentfulness towards one of my best friends who is about to give birth, or to one of my other best friends or my sister in law who are both pregnant. They're my friends and family and I love them to pieces and am absolutely thrilled for them. It's just like the doctor putting you on a strict diet and then suddenly everyone brings in cakes and sweets and biscuits into work.
However, there are definitely days at the moment where I feel like a worse version of my pre-surgery self.
When I was at secondary school, there was the most incredible lady at the helm as Headteacher. When I was doing my GCSE's my nan was dying of cancer and I took it very hard and she supported me a lot. We've kept in touch since I left school and one of the many pearls of wisdom she said to me, that I have always remembered, and she said to me again recently when I got in touch with her to tell her about my diagnosis was 'go as far as you can see, and then see how far you can go'. For me it's about taking each day at a time at the moment. And some days I literally repeat what Liz said to me over and over in my head because it refocuses me. Another gem I found on instagram was this:
Life and the future is different for me now and I guess what this does give me the opportunity to do is to really nail down who I am-really define what Stacey is and what she stands for. Work on myself a bit. Make myself a better, stronger person. Make some decisions about how I want my future to be. Make the stars shine brighter
This week I am due to have a PET scan which is a whole of body scan using a radioactive dye that is injected into you. This scan is designed to identify any residual cancer in my body and also to allow my oncologist to put together a treatment plan if I need it. My surgeon seems very confident chemo/radiotherapy will not be needed as the surgery was extensive and he feels he has been able to remove all the cancer. I think I have taken comfort from his confidence and haven't been worried at all about the scan or the results.
I know this is a ridiculously long post again and I want to end it by saying a huge thank you to Gemma from Miss MakeUp Magpie for all of her support in arranging and posting all the guest posts on my blog-and of course a huge thank you to all the girls who have very kindly taken the time to guest post. I am still not really able to come back to maintaining my blog as much as I want to so please continue to support the guest posters who are doing a great job.
And finally thank you to everyone who has continued to support me through the diagnosis and operation.
If you're over 25 and are overdue a smear test, then please, first thing tomorrow just pick up the phone and make an appointment. So many of you have contacted me and told me you have. Don't leave it too late like I did. Don't go through this.