St Anne's mum reveals cancer scare and anxiety battle while pregnant following smear test
She was unknowingly pregnant with her son when a cancer scare left her battling severe health anxiety.
Now mum-of-one Carla Lett, of St Anne's, is backing GPs as they urge all people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 to have a smear test following a temporary halt in services during the Covid-19 pandemic. A small sample of cells is taken from the cervix to check for certain "high risk" types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus group does not cause any problems in most people, but some types can lead to genital warts or cancer.
Carla (33) says that receiving abnormal results in October 2015 was her worst nightmare, which she has also discussed in the debut episode of her new podcast, Fifty Shades of Motherhood. The candid project was launched five weeks ago to highlight painful parenting issues like miscarriage and infertility, and was inspired by the success of her blog and directory, Bump to Baby.
The blogger and podcast host reveals that while her initial smear test saved her life, she endured agonising worry from October to January as she waited for a further examination - all while four months pregnant.
She added: "It was awful. I've always had anxiety but it became worse [during that period]. I always think the worst no matter what. If I have a pain in my head, I'll think it's cancer. I can't help it.
"When I got the letter about my results, I was scared. No-one talks about that letter. I was sitting there on my own reading it and it was all in medical jargon.
"During the following months, I thought the worst."
And it was during this time that Carla discovered she was pregnant with her son, before a second screening revealed she had HPV. She then had to wait until baby George was born before attending her third appointment - and this time, the results had increased from mild to moderate.
That's when doctors booked her in for a loop diathermy, also known as a large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ), which was scheduled for April, 2017. The procedure involves removing problematic cells using a thin wire loop that's heated with an electric current.
But what made Carla's cancer scare so agonising were the bouts of anxiety she endured throughout. While she says she is thankful to have had potentially life-saving treatment, she wishes a doctor had told her sooner that early screening usually provides enough opportunities to prevent abnormal cells from becoming cancerous.
Instead, she added: "I didn't cope well at all and felt depressed. It was near Christmas, and I remember putting the tree up wondering if that would be my last time. I think it was the shocking things that had happened to me in the past that triggered me."
The fear sent her into an obsessive spiral of compulsive behaviour that promised her relief from the pain - but only made it worse.
"I did lots of Googling. I was looking for reassurance but I didn't find it online," she said.
Health anxiety is something the mum-of-one has battled with for years and is keen to help other women tackle.
"You never get told that it's normal to have aches and pains as you get older, so anytime I get one I have a panic attack. I think lock-down has made it worse and has highlighted how much I need help," said Carla, who in the past has turned to work to escape her worries.
"I used to take on absolutely loads at work. Subconsciously, I think I was doing it on purpose to keep busy and I'd work into the night. That's how much I struggle in my own company.
"I get obsessed with things like work, and now I'm obsessed with Fitbits [a fitness tracker], and a bit ago I wanted to start reading more, so I ordered 23 books."
Now she is reassuring women that any initial abnormal results are not necessarily a death sentence as many steps can be taken to help prevent cancer. She believes the meaning of the results and any subsequent medical appointments need to be more clearly explained to patients to help put them at ease.
"People have said to me that getting that letter back is so worrying. They feel anxious about what is happening and why it is taking so long for their next appointment," Carla said.
"The podcast puts it in real terms that mums can understand. Hopefully, it will help them relax and not spend months panicking."
To find out more about cervical screening, head to https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening and to check out out Carla's podcast, visit https://www.mybump2baby.com/podcasts/fiftyshadesofmotherhood/lets-talk-about-smear-tests
For help and advice about anxiety, go to https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/about-anxiety/