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Ladies: Don’t fear the smear

How seven simple minutes saved my life

anna pic 2  By Anna Trevelyan

Of all the things I worried about, I never really worried about getting cervical cancer. I always attended my cervical screening tests, and it’s true that cancer usually takes 10 years or more to develop in most cases. Unfortunately though, we can’t all be most cases.

I wasn’t worried when my routine cervical screening came back as ‘abnormal’. I knew that stats; I knew that, if you attend your regular 3 yearly appointments, it’s like worrying about train which might crash in a decade’s time (plenty of time to re-route the track, so to speak).

I wasn’t even worried when I had to attend a colposcopy appointment, as it happens to most of us girls at one time or other, nor was I concerned when the doctor took biopsies. I merrily skipped off on holiday, not particularly thinking about these results. My husband and I had even decided we were going to try to extend our family further, after a succession of three miscarriages in the past (pretty rubbish) year. I hoped my bad luck had come and gone.

I certainly didn’t expect the letter which arrived, almost in soap opera style – bang – onto the mat, and disrupting all I took for granted at that very moment. My health, my chance of having a second baby, the entire future of my family – thrown into an abrupt U-turn by the arrival of the unsuspecting postman. The oppressive opposite of a red letter day, delivered by the kindly man in red.

I was called straight in for a LLETZ procedure. Not the most pleasant of experiences, but certainly a (usually) effective operation to try to remove the bad bits.

I only had about 2 minutes of regretting attending that cervical screening appointment, until I realised it was just a matter of knowledge. It WAS there, and this actually was something I’d rather know. From then on I was glad I’d phoned up and chased my appointment with the practice nurse (as said friendly Postie isn’t always the most reliable).

 

The C word (with a small C)

My actual diagnosis was high grade glandular cervical intraepithelial neoplasia with carcinoma in situ. My doctor described this as ‘stage 0 cervical cancer’. It’s certainly not the best diagnosis, but, of all the cancers, it’s one of the best ones you can have (every cloud and all that). Although it’s a bit of guess work, they aim to remove the malignant cells before they become ‘invasive’. So, although my train crash was imminent, there might still just be time for an emergency stop.

Strangely, for me, one of the worst parts was the lack of control. The timing couldn’t have been more ironic – it was a matter of hours between deciding to try for another baby and being told it was the last thing in the world we should be doing. Being banned from something you had set your heart on is always tricky, especially when I felt so well.

I didn’t cry at my diagnosis, nor during my two (somewhat painful) operations. It surprised me that I had sudden bouts of tears during strange times: my little boy pushing an empty swing in the playground, and seeing a small baby toad when out running (weird in more ways than one).

But it turns out the word cancer isn’t a binary diagnosis. It’s complex and unique to every person. It wasn’t a nice conversation to have at the hospital (back to the bad news room again for me) but early cervical cancer detection isn’t a death sentence. It’s a fire exit.

It saddens me that many women still don’t undertake this straightforward test which is so important. I’ll always be grateful that we live in a country where this test is not only free, but freely available. As for me, I’m not out of the woods yet but I’ve at least finally found the proper footpath. Without this wonderful test who knows where I would have ended up.

After my second operation my husband drove me home in the car. We were both feeling morose. But suddenly I saw a sight which I’ll never forget: a poodle proudly strutting along, carrying its own (filled) dog poo bag. I’ll always be grateful to that ridiculous poodle as it not only made me laugh but it symbolised so much to me at that moment – you’ve got to sort your own sh** out. No one else is going to carry it for you.

Ladies – please put a reminder in your phone, write it on your calendar and call your doctor’s surgery to book your cervical screening tests. Don’t rely on the letters to come – be proactive and book the tests regularly for yourself, as you CAN save the train from crashing. It’s seven slightly awkward minutes, but that simple test really can save your life.

***

Thanks to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and Cancer Research UK for the information and support.

Special thanks to my close family and friends for all your love, laughter and lovely words.

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The babies that weren’t to be

By Anna Trevelyan

A thin veil of sadness covers the happy event I am at today. Like all others taking place in the next few months, my happiness is tinged with unease. I should have had a little plus one in my tummy with me, who sadly isn’t there.

I had a miscarriage recently. And I know I’m not alone in that. Apparently around 500,000 women a year are affected by this, and unfortunately two very dear friends are also going through the very same experience as I am. Many other loved ones have been through it before, and those are just the ones I know about.

It isn’t something people talk about much. I myself am guilty of not speaking about it, so it came as a bit of a shock when it happened to me the first time, and even more the second time. It seems the sort of silent suffering that more people than you would ever realise have had to endure. I feel we should be able to talk about it, if we want to, as it’s a very real tragedy that happens all too often. The fact that it happens frequently though does not make it any less painful.

I am fortunate, as I have a gorgeous little boy already, and a loving family to support me. Compared to some of the experiences of friends and family I know of, mine wasn’t even that bad. It was early, it was uncomplicated and it was physically over very quickly. If my mental scars stay with me I dread to think how similar or very different fertility problems have affected other people less fortunate than me.

Sometimes you just know something isn’t quite right. After a few weeks I began to dread any trip to the bathroom, wondering just what it might bring. I think my husband thought I was slowly going mad – elated 6.30am starts with the exciting news of two pink lines on the plastic test, followed by frantic internet searches and finally the sombre realisation of what might be happening. I did some things that seem odd to me now. Lingering outside by the festering bins as the smell made me gag slightly – a reminder of the comforting waves of pregnancy nausea. Sadly, morning sickness turned to mourning sickness as a trip to the hospital confirmed what I already knew.

It’s funny the things that you remember. The toilet door with the broken lock at the hospital. The small puddle of my tears collecting on the floor, as I couldn’t quite see to tie my shoes up. The Bad News Room full of posters about every possible problem that could occur with a pregnancy: unexpected pregnancy, abortion, a bad test result connected to the baby. I wondered how many women had been in here, sitting just where I was and feeling close to devastated about what they had just learned. The different scenarios, some ironic to my situation, flowed through my mind. The minefield of pregnancy many of us must navigate through, I suppose.

The very weather seemed to mock my situation that day. In a tragic novel, nature would empathise with the event and send dark clouds, or sympathetic rain to symbolically wash my old self away. Instead, it was radiant sunshine. One of the oddest things I remember was that there was no bin in the Bad News Room of the hospital. My balled up white tissues had to stay in my tightly clenched hand, and come back out to the car park with me through the blazing sunshine. I held onto those tissues tightly until I got home. The only thing left to show for my brief but significant (to me, at least) pregnancy.

It must be difficult for partners, too. They don’t have to suffer the same physical pain but it must feel strange to know how to deal with this very abstract concept of pregnancy that is now passed, sometimes with not even a bump (let alone a baby) to come out of all this suddenly shattered joy.

For me, I was not only sad and exhausted with what was happening, but I also mourned the loss of my old self. A part of my happiness had been taken away, and I worried I wouldn’t be the same after. It’s true that is has changed me, but I hope not for the bad. I am resisting the temptation to become over-protective of my little boy, or to start withdrawing myself from other people with babies. I have decided I will never do that, as many of the very people I would be avoiding have been through exactly the same thing. I am more grateful, and hopefully more aware. We should always try to be kind, as you never know what others have been through. They may very well have also suffered with the loss of the babies who just weren’t to be.

 


Thank you to my wonderful family who have supported me so much over the last few weeks and months, especially my superstar Mum. Special thanks to Frimley Park Hospital’s EPU, who were both kind and caring in a very difficult situation that they unfortunately have to deal with all too often. I am happy to speak about this to anyone who wishes to talk about it, or if you’d rather someone better to talk to this is a fantastic organisation that has helped other friends of mine: http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/.

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Things I thought I’d know by 30

cropped-anna-pic-2-e1436354275658.jpg By Anna Trevelyan

 

It’s a funny thing, age. It creeps up on you. In spite of the fact that I still feel 14 (mentally), I am definitely somewhere over 30 now.

I’m probably not the only one who thought being 30 would feel different to how it actually does. I still don’t feel like a proper adult, after all this time, and here is why.

 

Ten things I thought I’d know by the time I was 30…

better. I still eat curry in white tops, I still burn myself using a tea towel to get stuff out of the oven and I always forget my coat. My mum, for instance, would never do these things so I probably shouldn’t either (but still do anyway).

my ultimate career goal. Even though I am currently running two separate careers at the same time, I still think that one day I’d like to try my hand at elephant podiatry. Or go back to my first career as a Children’s TV Gunge Maker. Or spend another summer in a pit excavating bits of old sea urchins in Winchester. Let’s hope common sense prevails (however – see above point – it probably won’t).

how to do vital things. Any thoughts I had of re-wiring plugs left right and centre, baking wedding cakes and making my own clothes never really materialised. I probably learned more practical things when I was at school than I have learned as an adult – I could even do a great hula hoop back then, and I actually had a use for a hypotenuse. Some things change but some things stay depressingly the same.

what to do in a crisis. I wouldn’t want to wish ill on someone, but I desperately want to use that defibrillator at work. In the (fortunate) absence of any real drama, I am often left speechless when someone tells me something slightly dramatic. I still do what I did when I was seven – find a tissue and give them a bit of an awkward pat on the back.

when not to laugh. Bottom burps are still funny. People sitting on creaking chairs are still funny. Fake poos are still funny. Proper adults know how to ignore these things, which brings me onto my next point…

when to keep schtum. Real adults know where their mute button is. They don’t laugh at toddlers who put bank cards down the loo, and they say things like “it’s a bit stuffy in here” when someone has clearly let one off. I am still yet to learn this skill.

to dress appropriately. Last week was by no means the first time I turned up dressed exactly like my friend’s three year old. Yes, I sometimes resemble an adult baby in my jelly shoes, but everyone is secretly really jealous when it rains.

stuff I used to know. We all used to be able to trot out certain things for exams, but nowadays I can only just hum the words to Auld Lang Syne and I barely know pi to one decimal place. It’s a sad state of affairs on New Year’s Eve, I can tell you.

..my limits. Nearly slipping a disc after trying to give my Grandad the bumps was a low point. Apparently there is some sort of personal alcohol limit too that we all must know, but try telling me that after two vinos and a martini.

how to behave. I don’t know what it is about summer but it makes me want to do ridiculous things. Last summer I fell over, mid cartwheel, in front of a park full of strangers (what on earth possessed me to try field gymnastics after 20 years I’ll never know). I still can’t help laughing during serious ceremonies, and being anywhere near a bus makes me want to sit at the back and mess around. This does not go down well on the number 3.

 

I’m not sure when I’ll grow up, but it doesn’t look like it’s happened yet. They say 30 is the new 20, which may explain it. So if 60 is the new 50, maybe I’ll be a proper adult by the time I’m 70 – but, then again, maths was never my strong point.

 

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Hazardous handbags: when working mum and mumsy mum collide

By Anna Trevelyan cropped-anna-pic-2-e1436354275658.jpg

Today wasn’t the first time I accidentally pulled something inappropriate out of my handbag in a meeting. I was aiming for my pen but instead produced a plastic dinosaur.

I have had this conversation with other friends who end up using the same handbag for work and their days at home with the children. It eventually becomes a littered, bulging mess of half-used detritus that was obviously really useful for something (probably). After reading a disturbing article about how the average handbag contains alarming amounts of E.coli, I thought I had better clean mine out. (I can only hope for a bit of E.coli – mine seems to have spawn its own primitive life-form inside it – it truly is a disgrace.) When I finally did clear out my mum/work bag, here is what I found:

  • Half a dinosaur (the other half was thrust aside during said meeting)
  • A stale, half-sucked sandwich
  • Wax crayons (alarmingly, two appear to have been chewed in half by some animate object which I hope was my son rather than a rat/mouse)
  • A sick bag (this has gone back in – I used to carry it in case of nasty hangovers, but now I use them for all sorts of other disgusting emergencies. How my life has changed)
  • A squashed blueberry
  • Some leftover deer/goat food (from the farm)
  • Some antibac (can’t be too careful with deer/goats – or, indeed, this handbag)
  • What I can only hope is a piece of dried mud (not poo)
  • A snail shell (see below)
  • A feather (my toddler seems fascinated with them and clearly wants to keep his finds for a rainy day)
  • Some tissues (half used – yuck)
  • Some sugar (probably from a coffee I didn’t have time to drink)
  • A suspicious off-white residue which I hope is glue or butter
  • A mini tape measure (from a Christmas cracker. In my defence, you’ll be surprised how often you need to measure things and people gasp in awe when they realise I actually have one on me)
  • Some asprin (not for headaches but because I had a dream once that my colleagues Nigel and Pete both had a heart attack at work and we only have one de-fib)
  • Plasters
  • My ID badge (guilty as charged)
  • A charger cable for a phone that I no longer own (but I have kept it in case of needing an emergency snake bite tourniquet, or, more likely, that someone has a Samsung that needs charging one day)
  • A password on a Post-It which I have no recollection what it is for
  • A spare pair of socks (very useful at work, but only if you’re a size 6 toddler)
  • Ten hair bands (I wondered where they had all gone to)
  • A notepad containing my idea for an amazing invention (in the cold light of day, not so amazing)
  • A spare purse (I saw on Crimewatch once that if you carry a spare purse you can give the decoy to a mugger. Luckily for me, one look inside the bag of doom and I think the mugger might be the one running for the hills)

 

Upon reflection, I seem a little like a kleptomaniac with a cleanliness disorder and a penchant for the dramatic. But, I AM the person you will want around in a crisis. Be it a snake bite, dodgy ticker or just a paper cut – I’ll have the tools to sort you out. My handbag may grow with every year that I age, but by gum I’m much more prepared than when I was 21 (and used to carry around a ridiculous clutch). Yes, I have a laughably large handbag that contains pointless items, but what can I say? I’m a mum, I work, and I worry about other people getting into a crisis. I don’t have time to constantly be swapping bags, so I’ve decided it’s best just to let sleeping bacteria lie.

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How innocent it looks from the outside – like butter wouldn’t melt (sadly, inside, it did)

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What fresh soft play hell is this?

Soft play is a necessary evil of modern parenting. Although it’s a great way to entertain/wear them out without anyone wrecking your own clean (ish) home, for goodness sake do your research before you go. Some can be fine but others are a seething pit of bogey-smeared miniature disaster zones. I found this out the hard way recently.

It was a rainy day. He was bored. The house was a tip. So I thought I’d take my toddler to a new indoor play area (I use new in the sense that we hadn’t been before – the run-down building situated on an old industrial estate that looked like a Mafia torture den definitely wasn’t new in any way). I had a bad feeling about this place as soon as we walked in. It was like a barrage on the senses: loud screaming, bright lights and the faint whiff of vomit greeted us at the door. Sadly we had already paid the £5 entry so we were going to try to stick it out, much to my better judgement.

We wound our way around the ominous ‘caution wet floor’ signs to find a table that looked as though only 3 previous groups had been there and eaten their body weight in turkey dinosaurs before us. Within one minute my little one had slipped over in a pool of drool that wasn’t his own. (I never thought to bring towels and plasters to these places but I will do from now on.) Drama over, I thought we should give the climbing frame a go.

If you haven’t ever managed to get slightly stuck at the top of one of those soft play frames then I am impressed. The giant rollers are the worst (though annoyingly they were never a problem for smug Pat Sharp fans on Funhouse). This one was so badly designed that you had to turn a sharp right straight after the horrific rollers, then go straight down the slide. I’m sure they did it on purpose. When we were at the crucial half way point through the rollers (boobs successfully through but now for my bottom), some spoiled brat at the top decided he would block the slide and not go down. I couldn’t go backwards for the queue behind me, and my little one couldn’t go forwards due to spoiled brat blocking slide who would not be reasoned with. I looked around and, with no visible parent in sight, I made a decision to push the brat down. He shouted for his mum, only to be told by another adult at the bottom that she was “out having her fag”. Whilst I had gotten away with it I decided we had better hot foot it to the ball pit on the other side.

The ball pit smelled like an actual cesspit. I checked my little one’s (empty) nappy, and there was nobody in the immediate vicinity who could have let one off, so we carried on regardless assuming that we were simply downwind of the dodgy toilets. Just then, a trouser-less urchin came running up, holding his mum by the hand, saying “done a poo” – whilst pointing into the pit. I’m not sure I have ever moved so fast. Not wanting to tread on the actual floor of the ball/cess pit I hauled my toddler out, above my head, like those army people who have to walk through a lake whilst keeping their guns dry. I bet Pat Sharp never had to put up with this sort of rubbish.

Shuddering at the thought of what may have unwittingly touched us in that pit I whisked him straight to the loos, to wash every square centimetre of skin which was exposed, when – to my horror – there was no soap. The realisation that almost every child and adult in that hellhole had not washed their hands just about tipped me over the edge. We marched out, shoeless, to the safety of the car.

The thought of that day still makes me want to get the anti-bac out. Let this be a warning to you: just because the equipment is wipe-clean doesn’t mean it has been. And on that note – I’m off to get my hepatitis B jab.

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The ugly truth: a day of speaking my true mind

By Anna Trevelyan cropped-anna-pic-2-e1436354275658.jpg

I’ve always admired those people who say exactly what they think. It’s a risky strategy, as those who speak their true minds do tend to divide opinion (and have a fair few enemies) but is it really necessary to want everyone to like you?

How refreshing, I thought, to not have to self-edit and to just say exactly what’s on your mind. So I tried it one day. Here’s what happened.

The day began quite well. My husband and I tend to be quite frank with one another, ditto my toddler, so by 7am so far so normal.

Upon arrival at work I met a colleague at the entrance. We walked in together and he asked me how I was. Instead of usual “fine thanks!” I said “a bit achy really. Plus I’m fairly worried my breath smells like a used nappy.” The look on his face was priceless. He was still staring at me with that pitying half frown (usually reserved for one-legged-pigeons, or animals inappropriately humping in public) when I skipped on past him to retrieve a mint from my desk draw.

Apart from a few fraught phone calls (it turns out Finance don’t like it when you tell them the truth: that you haven’t called them back because it “really wasn’t a priority”) the morning passed without too much drama.

The next sticky situation came when I was tasked with showing someone around the building. They must have thought me quite mad, and rather cynical (the latter of which I am usually not). In response to their questions I advised them to consider bringing in their own loo roll, as well as revealing the truth about the meat in the canteen and finally that I had to cut the tour short because I had more important things to do. I felt a bit mean really but it was the cold hard truth.

Later on a friend sent me a message to ask what I thought about a certain man. I think she was hoping I’d compliment his nice personality, but instead I was forced to point out his rather prominent nose hair.

Things started to go downhill when a colleague kindly offered me some home baking in the afternoon and I declined – explaining that their biscuits simply “weren’t worth the calories” -and when I went to a meeting I told someone else that their jumper really wasn’t very flattering. I also complained to the cafe that their cups were a bit grubby, and I found myself ranting in an open-plan office about how pointless I think Ellie Goulding is.

My final moment of speaking my mind came when I was chatting on the phone to my best friend in the evening. Instead of casually closing the conversation, I told her the ugly truth: “Sorry, I’d better go now as I really need a poo.” Her stunned silence and uneasy laugh told me that it was time to stop, and start self-censoring again for the sake of everyone around me.

I have to admit, it was quite a cathartic exercise. I have never over-shared that much, and I have never disclosed so much about my personal life and habits to colleagues and near strangers. It actually felt fairly self indulgent and quite lonely, and I’m still un-doing some of the truths dished out that day. So, although it was easier to say exactly what I thought -the fallout was more hard work than it was worth. I was also aware that people were discussing my don’t-care attitude, and whether it was my ‘time of the month’, which was uncomfortable to say the least.

I still admire those who speak their mind. It takes a thick skin, a cut-throat standpoint and real confidence in your own views (not to mention a willingness to share EVERYTHING). So, for now, I’m quite comfortable with keeping some stuff to myself.

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A letter to my 16-year-old self

By Anna Trevelyan cropped-anna-pic-2-e1436354275658.jpg

Dear young, naive and slightly ridiculous me. You are only 16, so I will forgive you for not knowing much yet, but I thought I’d impart some wisdom that you will need to learn over the next few years.

You’re now 31; you have learned a bit more about some stuff, and I’m sorry to say you’re still slightly ridiculous. Here’s some information which will save you a whole lot of time and hassle over the coming 15 years…

 

  • The sum of a person’s character = their good side minus their bad side. Even if they are very nice one minute, but can be a real evil little turd the next, walk away. Remember the overall balance: I’m sure even Jack the Ripper was a right hoot at a dinner party.

 

  • There are two types of people who will profoundly affect you: Diamonds and Dementors. Diamonds are the lovely ones: they are rare and they truly care. You’ll leave their company feeling happier, and they’ll always want the best for you. Dementors are the cold, selfish ones who can suck the life and soul out of a person. They bring you down, care only about themselves and will leave you feeling empty inside. Beware that Dementors can sometimes masquerade as Diamonds, so be sure to avoid them to leave your soul intact.

    “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

    – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

 

  • If you do something for someone else, always do it with good grace. The only thing worse than a moaner is a self-proclaimed martyr.

 

  • Don’t worry too much about your appearance. You will change – physically of course – but more importantly you will change mentally. What matters to you one year will be trumped by something else the next. You can always dye your hair if you go grey, or lose weight if you like, but the time you waste putting your life on hold can never be brought back.

 

  • Just because a food/product is described as ‘natural’ does not make it healthy. Fancy a side of natural arsenic, lead or radiation with that ridiculously expensive organic yoghurt? Thought not.

 

  • Prioritise family and close friends. You’ll have limited time to spend with people in later life, so make the most of it now and don’t spread yourself too thinly by trying to be too many things to too many people. Life moves on and people change, so invest in the relationships that are worth it.

 

  • Always take a plastic bag with you wherever you go. If someone needs to vom, something poos, or there is some sort of liquid explosion it will come in handy. Plus, they are worth five whole pence in the future, so stock up now! (N.B. invest in Bag 4 Life bag shares whilst you’re at it, and something called Facebook.)

 

  • Don’t bother with expensive skincare. You’ll fork out a small fortune and still develop a monobrow-style frown line whilst still in your mid 20s. Consider it an imperfection where all your powers of assertiveness are stored – and stick to cheap, good old fashioned Simple.

 

  • Oh and stop freaking out about your spots. You’ll still get them when you’re 30. Get over it. Nobody cares about all that stuff except you.

 

Lots of love, and I’ll write again when we hit 50,

Early 30s Anna

x

 

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