‘25 years old and five smear tests later’ #MyCervicalScreeningStory

As part of Cervical Screening Awareness Week, we caught up with Leanne Fahy, 25, a Paediatric Dietitian at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust to hear her #CervicalScreeningStory.

“Growing up in Ireland, I knew I wanted to be a Dietitian, but there is only one course over there and it is notoriously competitive. I decided to travel to Scotland to study Dietetics – maybe that was fate.

Studying in Aberdeen, I lived in a house of six girls who were also healthcare practitioners. We went through a lot together – including receiving our first Cervical Smear invites at the age of 21. Unlike the UK and Ireland, at that time, Scotland started their smear programme with young women from the age of 21. Perhaps it’s because of our clinical backgrounds, but we all knew how important it was to get our smears, so we booked our appointments right away.

After having my first smear, it came back that there were mild changes in my cells so I was invited back for a second smear test in six months. After two further smear tests, mild changes were still evident so I was asked to go for a Colposcopy so they could further investigate.

Unfortunately, this came at a busy time in my life, and after just getting the job at North Tees I made the move ‘down South’. Life sometimes takes over, but it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the important things. Six months later, I booked to see the GP, though the move complicated things with the transfer of my medical records.

At my appointment, I discussed my history so far with the doctor. He was really helpful and decided that he wanted to send me for a colposcopy, to which I was invited in February 2017 over at the University Hospital of Hartlepool. A colposcopy is basically a closer look at your cervical cells, a mildly invasive procedure which gives a more detailed picture of what’s going on.

Whilst there, I met with the Consultant and the Health Care Assistant who were both so lovely and understanding of my situation. The Consultant spoke to me about my past history of smears, advising I might potentially need a biopsy, depending on the outcome of the colposcopy. I was happy to oblige – I just wanted to get on the road to recovery. They were surprised at how young I was, had I been living in the UK or Ireland, I never would have had my smear test until I was 25.

Following the biopsy, I received a letter explaining that they had identified high grade changes in my cervix. When I read this news, it was a huge bombshell. I had just moved to a new city to embark on a new career, I had no immediate support network of family and friends around me. Doing my research and having the support of the clinicians was so important at this stage.

I met with the Consultant again, and we decided that the best option was for me to get the LLETZ procedure to ensure that any abnormal cells were removed. Whilst this is an invasive procedure, I knew it was the right thing to do. It’s a good job I did – after these cells were sent off to be tested, it turned out they were CIN3, the highest grade for abnormal cells.

But it wasn’t over for me yet, six months later a follow up smear showed the presence of HPV. This meant another colposcopy and biopsy and a follow up appointment in another year. My final colposcopy was in November 2018 and, thankfully, that smear came back as normal.

It sounds like an absolute roller-coaster ride, but my story is actually a really positive one. It shows that if you go for your cervical smear test, they can diagnose any abnormalities early on and treat you for those before they become more serious. I did my research so I knew what to expect at each stage, and the support I received from the medical staff along the way was invaluable. I can’t encourage the women out there enough, I had no symptoms so without my smear test, I never would have known about my health complications. It’s so quick and easy, the staff are always approachable and they’ve seen it all before!”

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