Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Go For Your Smears, My Dears!

"There are different types of cells: healthy ones, slightly ugly ones.....and then there are the really dodgy-looking kind. As you have stage 3 pre-cancer, well.....yours are the type you'd cross the road to avoid....."

Oh. Rightio.

My GP carried on talking, but, having dropped the C-bomb, all the other words she was saying seemed to be dissolving like sugar in tea. A few seconds passed and I realised I was looking at her lips moving but I wasn't really absorbing what was coming out of them. I made a conscious effort to focus my racing mind. One, two, three.....aaaaaand you're back in the room.

"....So you'll need to go to the hospital for an operation to remove the affected area. They'll perform what's called a Loop Cone Biopsy - you'll get a letter with all the details shortly. Any questions?"

It's very rare for a motormouth like myself to be rendered mute but here I was, aged 24 and uncharacteristically lost for words, muttering a simple "No" before gathering my things and walking back to the flat I shared with my boyfriend Liam, clutching the leaflet she'd given me.

Liam and I had met late in the summer of '98, when I was living in Ibiza and he was on a lads' holiday. We went on our first "date" to Amnesia, danced all night and the rest is history; when he went home at the end of his holiday we kept in touch by phone and post (yes, actual letters!) and were reunited the moment I arrived back in the UK that October. He was from Essex, I'm from Kent, and after a year or so of dating we began renting a little place together in Brentwood and were blissfully happy. The only reason I'd had the smear test that had set off this rollercoaster chain of events was because we'd registered with a new GP after moving home; the accompanying nurse appointment was standard procedure.

In those days, cervical cancer screening was offered to women from the age of 20 every five years. I'd previously had one smear test at 21, which had come back fine, and wasn't due another until I was 26. So it was by pure chance a few years later that I'd had the extra test that had detected these aggressively mutating cells.

The result letter had dropped on the mat: "abnormal."

I'd had a further investigation at hospital via a colposcope (basically a telescope for ladybits) whereby they put iodine on the cells of the cervix, explaining that the bigger the area that changed colour (from black to yellow) with the iodine, the worse it was. The gynaecologist and I peered at the screen as the entire area instantly lit up like a Christmas tree. Oh.

Hence that dreaded follow-up appointment with the GP and then the operation to remove the cells using a hot wire. Had I not moved surgeries and just waited to be called for my next smear, two more years would have passed and they said I'd almost certainly have had full-blown cervical cancer due to the rapid rate of mutation - yet I'd had no symptoms.

Time passed, I was closely monitored with extra smears: every six months at first, then yearly. All clear. Liam and I bought a house, got married, and turned our attention towards starting a family, safe in the knowledge that there would be no repercussions from my earlier treatment. Wrong!

When months turned into years and no double blue lines appeared on the pregnancy stick, more tests revealed that, having had a sizable chunk of my cervix removed, the area was more prone to infection and my fallopian tubes had subsequently been completely damaged by an undiagnosed infection. I wasn't prescribed antibiotics after the treatment as a precaution; I had no symptoms of infection, just as I'd had no symptoms of pre-cancer. I was left infertile.

I had to have a partial hysterectomy during which both fallopian tubes were removed (salpingectomy) and parts of my ovaries (oopherectomy). Attempting pregnancy with damaged tubes can result in potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy. We both took a sabbatical from our jobs and backpacked around the world for 6 months, before throwing ourselves headlong into the IVF process.

The subsequent years of treatment proved fruitless whilst everyone around me effortlessly popped out sprogs at an impressive rate. It was like a baby-making conveyor belt; it made my head spin. My marriage broke down under the strain after fifteen years together and at 37 I was eventually diagnosed with premature menopause as a result of all the treatment and surgeries (approximately fifteen years earlier than is normal) and prescribed HRT, which was a godsend after suffering years of menopause symptoms, and essential when weighing up my age against the considerable health problems associated with not taking it. Even with the hormone replacement therapy, my life expectancy is reduced.

Why am I telling you all this? Who gives a rat's ass about your medical history, I
hear you cry. Because I don't want you, or your friend/sister/daughter to go through what I have.

There are 3 things I feel I have to share with you, and apologies if I'm stating the obvious here:

1. Use condoms to prevent cancer.

 At school, we were told to use condoms to avoid pregnancy and STIs. We were NEVER told that unprotected sex causes cancer. Almost everyone will get the HPV virus, certain strains of which cause cervical and other cancers, at some point in their lives - that's how common it is. Even condoms don't guarantee protection, since HPV is also passed on simply through skin-to-skin contact, but they help. Teenage girls are routinely vaccinated against HPV these days, but the injection doesn't provide complete protection, and obviously it's still fairly recent. And what about those young women aged 19-24 who missed out on/declined the vaccine and are still too young for routine testing?

2. Go for your smears, my dears! 

These days, women aren't called for their first smear test until they are 25 years old. For many that's too late: a woman may have been sexually active for upto a decade by then, and even then abnormalities can be missed. It's just a human looking at a slide, after all. If you have any concerns or symptoms and are under 25 OR if you're not yet due your routine smear test the doctor will flat-out refuse to do it (I know, I pleaded to have one last year and was declined, despite my history), so pay to have it done privately if you have to, at around £80. At the very least get an HPV test from Superdrug online for less than £50, since almost 100% of cervical cancers are caused by the virus. The test arrives quickly in the post, is easy to perform, and the results are emailed to you just a few days later.
It still amazes me that about 40% of women don't go for their smears. Attendance rates are in continuous decline, with women in the 25-49 age group least likely to attend, despite the fact that cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35. Worryingly, it seems the "Jade Goody effect" is wearing off, as this recent article in The Telegraph highlights. Are you crazy, girls?!

3. Don't ignore symptoms.

I didn't have any, but cervical cancer symptoms include bleeding after sex and/or between periods and severe abdominal pain are the main ones and shouldn't be dismissed.

I hope this post doesn't make me sound all little-miss-preachy-pants, that's not my intention at all. I find most things in life are improved with a generous dose of humour served up with a side order of silliness; I don't really do serious if I can help it.

However, since my blog has taken off and gained readers I've felt a niggling obligation to use it as a platform to do some good now and then, rather than purely for my wistful memoirs and inane ramblings.

Since this has been one of the biggest game-changers of my life, I guess it's an issue close to my heart. If it means that even one woman swerves the evil HPV, or goes for a smear test who may not otherwise have bothered, then it's worth the embarrassment of sharing such personal details with you all.

I may have missed out on being a mother, but thanks to the screening I'm lucky enough to be alive to tell the tale.

And that, after all, is what counts  :-)

me being...well...alive :-)

This blog post has also appeared on the front page of The Huffington Post UK

Useful links:

(for booking private smear tests)

https://onlinedoctor.superdrug.com/hpv-test.html  (to buy an online HPV test)

https://www.jostrust.org.uk  (cervical cancer info and support)


https://www.daisynetwork.org.uk/  (premature menopause support)

http://gateway-women.com/   (support for childless women)

www.eveappeal.org.uk (all 5 gynae cancers info and support)

This article has also appeared in The Huffington Post UK.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

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Facebook: Samantha Jane Walsh
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Thursday, 14 July 2016

Festival Chic vs Mud-Covered Freak


Oh festivals how I love thee! Dancing in a field, sun shining, arms slung casually round the bronzed shoulders of a bunch of beaming mates - you can't beat it. That's a Kodak moment right there. When I'm on my deathbed, flicking through my mental back-catalogue of fondest memories, there will definitely be a couple of festival snapshots thrown in: squinting in the sunshine at the camera, carnival-style carnage all around.
Although this love of mine, this festival fondness, it's not unconditional - not by any means. These festivals of fun are not beloved offspring who can do no wrong. No, I love them just as long as they comply with a strict list of prerequisites:

1/ There must be sun...or at least a pretty good chance of it. None of this mid-May madness. (Yes, Glastonbury, I'm talking to you).

2/ An abundance of covered dance tents are essential in case of rain (although rain is, of course, forbidden).

3/ They must last just one day - no camping required.

4/ Must be easily commutable from Kent.

Not too much to ask, really. Funnily enough, "mashed mud-wrestling" does not make my festival shortlist.

Does that make me a proper festival-goer, or a half-hearted charlatan, merely dipping a toe in the muddy festival waters?

Well, you certainly won't catch me in grungy hippy get-up, gleefully caterpillaring through the gunk at Glasto, or giving a cheerful thumbs-up as my flimsy tent floats downstream in a downpour. Even if the backdrop is my favourite band, belting out killer beats.

The problem with camping? It's in tents (....intense?). Ba-dum-tsh!

Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed camping in the past, but we're talking sleeping under the stars alongside Ayers Rock in the Aussie outback, or perched atop a misty mountain in Peru whilst on the Inca Trail.....not festering knee-deep in mud under the slate skies of Somerset, catching the down-wind whiff from rows of overflowing pissers.

A trip to Millets is not my idea of fun. Even the concept of "glamping" doesn't get my juices flowing when it's cold, damp and well, BRITAIN, outside. A turd rolled in glitter is still a turd, after all.

I'm slightly ashamed to admit it, but I must confess: I'm a Fairweather Festival-Goer.

As with any long-awaited event, the build up is almost as exciting as the big day itself: there's the circling of the date on the calendar, months in advance. Then comes the rounding up of your mates, the tagging on Facebook with a hopeful "who's in?"

Later comes the ticket-buying, the choosing of an outfit, accessories and those cutesy mini festival essentials that us girls love: teeny bottles of anti-bac gel, mini packets of wetwipes. It's like prepping for a holiday, albeit a very short one.

A fringed cross-body bag is a must for hands-free raving, along with ankle boots as a show of optimism vis-a-vis expected bog levels (wearing wellies is just encouraging mud tsunamis - you may as well do a raindance). Am I too old for bindis and face gems, I wonder? Who the hell cares, they're going on!

The look I'm aiming for is casual boho chic: a floaty summer dress roughed up with edgy jewellery and cute battered boots, maybe a tatty denim jacket to keep out the "summer" chill. Sunnies are of course, compulsory, if only to hide the glazed goggle-eyed expression that often accompanies daytime drinking. I have to admit, the look that starts off as Boho slowly evolves into hobo....and is probably closer to SuBo by the end of the celebrations.

As the party looms, I'll be anxiously checking the weather for imminent typhoons, "watching" rainproof ponchos on Ebay and pondering purchasing waterproof mascara, since the "6ft panda-eyed raver" look is not quite the one I'm hoping for.

Post 40, the windswept matted hair and gothic smudgy eyeliner sported by "real" festival-goers is no longer endearing - you just exude an air of desperation, as if clinging by gnarled nails to one's youth. At best, it exhibits an amateurish lack of prep. No, I prefer ninja-style planning tactics, so that on the day I'm (seemingly effortlessly) ready for any eventuality that the cruel British summer may throw at me.

Come rain, hail or shine (usually all three at once, knowing our country's appalling weather record) I'm there, shaking my money-maker. Hot, dry weather brings it's own set of problems, of course: lobster-like sunburn plus huge clouds of dust that fill your lungs as the moshing masses get into the groove. One day of all that is enough for me.

Yes, I've watched Glastonbury on the tellybox. I've scrolled through mates' messy shots of their "epic Glasto bender" with a teensy sense of envy....but then I remember that it's spring, it's freezing and they will be picking crusty mud out of their belly-buttons for months to come, and I soon get over it. I crank up the heating, pour myself a large Sauvignon and switch to Netflix whilst I wait for the whole unpleasant experience to blow over.

Even in August the UK weather is far from guaranteed. I remember one particularly soggy SW4 festival when the heavens opened the second we laid one besandaled big toe on Clapham Common. It was a total washout. The tents were rammed to bursting with clammy bodies, steam rising from frizzy heads as everyone gyrated to the music like funky drowned rats. When the tents were simply too full to allow any more partgoers respite from the rain, restless revellers huddled together in portaloos or cowered by wheelie bins, their lids flapped outwards to provide a makeshift plastic roof. It was a sorry state of affairs.

And if said portaloos are festering cesspits by 2pm on a one-day music event, I can only imagine the bio-hazardous hell-holes they become during a week-long shindig. I've witnessed Trainspotting-worthy scenes at Lovebox whereby squiffy partygoers,  elbow-deep in waste, attempt to retrieve precious iPhones from loos. Shudder. One tipsy girl had accidentally dropped her designer suede handbag into the bowl and was weeping silently as she yanked it from the slurry, door open to allow her to breathe, albeit with one arm held over her nose. Bleugh.

All this unpleasantness is just part and parcel of a festival : the dodgy weather, puke-making portakabins, overpriced cider, dirty burgers and lunch-curdling fairground rides that look as though they're one loose screw away from a disaster.

But let's not forget the real reason we're all here, stomping in unison in this muddy field : our collective love of the music. That sense of utter freedom and carefree abandon that only comes whilst throwing some shapes out in the fresh air, cavorting to your favourite ear candy.

I skip and swirl to the music, hyperactive as I high-five randoms, all of us fully embracing the experience. I suck up the atmosphere....right up until the very last tune, squeezing every last drop from the shenanigans.

Then it's onto some afterparty or other, carried along by the surging throng as everyone makes a bee-line for the tube. Several more hours of partying ensue, until we collapse, exhausted, into the back of a taxi as the sun comes up.
I never know where we'll end up - that's all part of the fun - but one thing's for absolute certain: when I do eventually allow my shattered body to succumb to slumber, it'll be in the comfort of my own bed...

....not some water-logged tent.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

You've got the brains, I've got the Braun...

...let's make lots of money. 

Remember that old Pet Shop Boys song? Okay, so I may have replaced "brawn" with Braun, but this is a post about the merits of electrical goods, not catchy old Eighties tunes, so hear me out. 

If you don't remember much from the Eighties, chances are you're too young to need natty facial fuzz removal devices anyway, so feel free to scroll on by if I'm boring you. If, however, you find yourself absent-mindedly twirling and twizzling your beard like a thoughtful wizard, read on. You need this. 

My regular readers will testify that I don't usually use my blog as a platform for selling or recommending stuff. I leave that to the stunning bambi-eyed babes: bronzed, bikini'd-up and pouting into the camera as they gush about the latest fake tan/juicer/whatever. I'm not knocking them, it's where the money is, however I generally prefer to use my little corner of the interweb solely for reminiscing, observations, rants and musings. I blog for the love of writing, not to sell shit. 

So, as I say, I wouldn't ordinarily share personal grooming tips on here, but the footy's on so hopefully all the men are goggle-eyed on the box. If you're a fella please look away now, there's no need to trouble your pretty little head with such business. Go on, off ya go....unless the women in your life make Chewbacca look clean-shaven, in which case, send them the link to this post, pronto.

Pssst, girls! Listen up! In the name of the sisterhood I have to share this with you : buy a facial epilator. Get one. Just do it. O.M.G! Oh...em...to the capital gee.  

They are totally like sha-mazingggg!!

I won't go into deets, but let's just say I was starting to cultivate facial hair that any Shoreditch hipster dude worth his skinny jeans woulda been proud of - ya get me? It was either a Braun epilator....or beard oil. I was in serious danger of turning into a werewolf every time I could sense a full moon was approaching. I was getting the twinges. 

You know you've got a problem when your fella is worried about you giving him a rash from kissing. One of his nicknames for me is The Bearded Dragon. Say no more. 

Hence, I bit the bullet and bought this gadget. It's called Braun Face 810. Wow! My face hasn't been this smooth and soft since about five minutes after I was born. Why did it take me forty long years to discover this thing? How could those deceptively smooth-skinned girls smile slyly as they eyed my Poirot 'tache whilst keeping this a secret? It's a downy-right cheek! (geddit?). Hence I'm shouting it from the rooftops. My bearded buddies will thanks me, especially the one who's developed a nervous tic whereby her tongue flicks out snake-style at regular intervals to moisten her bristly moustache (triggering snorty lols from me).

So what is this magical invention I hear you cry? It's actually nothing new: basically a hand-held battery-powered wand that you run over your face and it just...pulls all the hairs out. Every one. Simples. Sounds painful? Merely a mild tingle. The top lip is slightly eye-watering, granted, but it's more than worth it for the results. It also comes with a facial cleansing brush head attachment, which I used first:


This badboy pulled out enough tufty little hairs to stuff a cushion. If you're particularly bewhiskered you could probably reupholster your sofa whilst you're at it. I'm not kidding. I recommend weighing yourself before and after: I reckon I lost a good few pounds of fuzz in the process. My boyfriend even joked that I'll need to get a new passport now, or risk being whisked aside at the airport. This is not exactly the before and after, but it's close....


And all for the non-bank-breaking sum of 35 measly squid. I know, right? A no-brainer. I read the reviews and was like "Take my money. Take it."

So to all those hirsute honeys, this post is for you. Well all know that hormones play havoc with the old hair sitch, so don't beat yourself up about bumfluff, get one of these. You can thank me later. 

It's one baaaad mother plucker.

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Social Me-Me-Media

No, I haven't developed a stutter. I'm just sitting here, phone in hand, contemplating that innocuous-looking little lower-case blue 'f' with the white background.

The Facebook app.

photo credit
It's just a button, a single tap on my iPhone home screen, but what lurks beneath is a Pandora's box of emotion. By opening it, you could be greeted by cute puppy videos....or a seething snake-pit of fury and condescension. Post-referendum, the latter is most likely. Which is why I'm still hovering a carefully-manicured forefinger over the icon. Do I really want to kick off my day reading patronising put-downs and catty counter-attacks?

Of course, Facebook was initially created for connecting people. What bull! Facebook was created for comparing people. It's human nature. I remember the day, in 2007 I think, when a girlfriend first invited me to join. She explained how it worked. I waited for the punchline.

"But what's the.....point?" I asked, tentatively. "Well, you know, you look people up....and then share stuff."

Oh. Rightio. Sign me up...I guess. I dutifully logged on, along with all the other sheep-like people. Sheeple.

MySpace, Bebo, Friends Reunited - they all faded away into obscurity. The new kid on the SM block was here now, looking waaay buffer and slicker than those scruffy old hoodrats. We quickly became addicted to this new site, lured like naughty teens to plant fertiliser: tapping in the names of schoolmates and work colleagues we'd lost touch with, for good reason in some cases. We looked up old lovers - and even old enemies, just out of curiosity, of course.

Everyone soon got to grips with the profile pic protocol: practise baring your pearly whites in a Cheshire Cat-grin worthy of an Aquafresh ad....no, that's more of a grimace....that's it, give me your best side baby....now wooork it, work it for the camera. Perfect! Then add a filter, crop out your crying kids and the bombs-hit-it background and hey presto: the perfect profile picture. (No-one needs to know that your bank account is in the red, your job sucks and your "best hubby in the world - love you to the moon and back" is actually a lazy cheating douchebag).

Now, every time you happen to be in a picturesque setting, you can't resist snap-snapping away. It's always good to build up an album of envy-inducing images - because you just never know when you might get the urge to reduce your entire network of pals to hot angry tears of jealousy and frustration.

One perfectly-shot holiday snap, delivered right at the crucial moment - say, 9.10 on a rainy Monday morning - and POW! It hits them right between the eyes, a killer blow. Apologies Facefockers, but that's payback for the vom-inducing professional photos of your male-model husband gazing adoringly into your eyes on a beach in the Maldives which I stumbled across whilst getting my ear gnawed off by my ratty boss on that mood-crumbling conference call the other day. Hey, all's fair in love and Instagram.

But has it gone too far?

With all this primping and posing, are we only ever showing an airbrushed version of our lives, leading to anxiety and dissatisfaction as we constantly scrutinize and compare ourselves to others....and then find ourselves lacking?

There are other downsides to being so open - as the saying goes "loose lips sink ships." Security settings need to be locked down tighter than the White House to prevent your managers scrolling through pictures of you raving on a podium three hours before that crucial Monday morning meeting. Everyone's got that blabber-mouth friend-of-a-friend, and it only takes one to get your ass hauled into an HR office quicker than you can say P45.

But if you think all this over-sharing has repercussions here in the UK, spare a thought for our Chinese counterparts, where credit agencies are connected to social media usage. Get this: every citizen is given an official credit score which flashes up on their smartphones based on their Facebook activity as well as their finances. Smacks of something out of a George Orwell novel, right?
Each citizen has a score ranging from 350 to 950, influenced by what they say, read, watch - even who they're friends with on Facebook and their online activity. Now that's a melon-twister, huh?

photo credit

By 2020 it will be compulsory, with people being encouraged to conform through close monitoring of their online behaviour. Not only are they constantly reminded of their social credit score, they can easily see everyone else's too, and being friends with people with lower scores will reduce your own score, affecting all aspects of your life, not just your ability to get credit. Hobbies are monitored too, with sport references increasing your score, political opinions or playing video games reducing it.

Is your mind blown yet?


It's crazy. It's real. And according to the experts, it's coming to that smartphone in your hand very soon.

Social media just got sinister. Now where's the 'dislike' button.....?

photo credit

Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:

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