Lab Tour

I was incredibly privileged to have a tour of cytology and histology lab today. I’m not really sure what you call it. I thought it was called pathology, and bits of it are..but it seems that all the terms have specific meanings. In lay man’s terms the place where they look at bits of you to decide what’s wrong!!

It was not what I was expecting. Here’s the danger of stereotypes again! It was not rows of white coated folk looking into microscopes. Yes there was some of that but lots of other things too.

The smear samples come in predominately from GP’s but also from Colposcopy clinics. There is a machine (That apparently costs over £200k) that takes the lids off the samples that have been loaded into it, pushes the liquid through a sieve so fine that it traps samples of the cells from your cervix. The machine then goes on to create a glass slide of the sample from the glass sieve. The cells being dyed to show up better under the microscope. This then has to be looked at by a human!

I looked through the microscope at a slide with normal results, one with moderate abnormalities, one with high grade abnormalities and one with high grade abnormalities and suspected malignancy. The abnormality can be seen in the nucleus of the cell. Abnormal cells having a much bigger nucleus and are shaped differently from a normal cell. I saw samples of CGIN. Also a really good explanation of the transformation zone. It was also explained to me how someone can have a clear smear but have cancer. Sometimes the cancerous cells (tumour) can grow into the skin and healthy cells cover it up. As the smear only brushes the cells off the surface of the cervix the abnormal cancer cells are not sampled.

What shocked me was how long it takes to look at each sample. He said 5 minutes for one that is clearly normal, 20 minutes to 30 minutes for one that is ‘interesting’. I thought it would be much quicker than this.

One’s that are considered abnormal are then asked to attend colposcopy clinic.

While we all clearly believe our result is the most important result in the world it is amazing to see the sheer amount of samples they are dealing with.

Biopsies come in from all over the hospital. They arrive in reception and are ‘booked in’ and sent to the relevant department…different samples require different techniques to get the sample in a state that it can be examined under the microscope. It is not just a case of the pathologist tipiing your sample out, sticking it under the microscope and saying clear or unclear.

I was shown some biopsy samples from different bits of bodies. These are soaked in all sorts of chemicals to prepare them. The main process is to remove water from them, This takes at least 24 hours. They are then placed into a block of wax. The wax is then ‘cut’. I saw a sample being sliced into wafer thin slices to then be put onto slides ready for the pathologists to look at. The person cutting the slide is skilled in knowing exactly which part of the sample will show the best ‘picture’. The examples I saw had several slides made for one biopsy sample.

Some samples coming into the lab are much are much bigger…..whole organs. The lady showing me around explained how problematic samples containing bone or cartilage are as it is incredibly hard to cut through thin enough for the microscopes. There is a machine that they have just acquired that has made this job incredibly quicker and therefore allowing patients to get their results quicker too. Obviously if a whole organ comes in it has to be cut up to be processed. I saw some interesting things in that department!! These have to be cut in a certain way and are then processed in a similar manner. The wax blocks are bigger, The almost look like a fossil. A sample of tissue suspended in wax. I also saw a cancerous tumour. I had been asked before I went if I would be ok seeing these things and was asked again if I was ok with it. I found it truly fascinating. The names on all the samples were covered up for confidentiality but I wished everyone ‘Good Luck Mate’ as I went round!

A fascinating tour, and really interesting to see what has happened to my various and numerous samples over the years. A great insight to what is actually happening while we are ‘waiting for results’.





Busy Busy Busy

I’ve been busy with lots of fundraising/awareness stuff of late.

Following my post ‘What does a cancer patient look like?’ Jo’s asked me to write a guest blog on the same theme. The slightly different version of my post can be found here.

After I had spoken on the radio I got in touch with the South West Screening Manager who was also interviewed for the show. She invited me to share my story at some training sessions.These are taking place in April. I have also been invited to visit the laboratory where smear samples and biopsies are tested. I’m very excited about this.

Last Friday I did a double stint at my local Morrisons collecting for Marie Curie in my big daffodil hat . I collected £124.04 with another collection taking place this Friday. It’s  an easy and rewarding thing to do for such a worthwhile charity. Try it.

My local town is hosting it’s very first Relay for Life. I have joined the committee and am getting stuck in to various tasks to help the event be the best it can be. Hoping to go into local schools to give cancer awareness and prevention lessons. Committee members are invited to visit and see with their own eyes research taking place. So I’m off to another laboratory to see research first hand. Always loved science!

Hospital visits have thankfully been very absent from the calendar. Bladder and psyche are being monitored still, but generally pretty good physically and mentally.

Given up smoking (again) Never give up giving up!








What does a cancer patient look like?

One of the first  things  I remember  my Macmillan nurse saying to me was. ‘It will be hard because you won’t look ill. You won’t look like everyone’s idea of a cancer patient; bald,thin,sick bowl in hand’

That appearance is the characature of the cancer patient. Google ‘what does a cancer patient look like’ and you will see image after image of bald women. It’s similar to the ‘mental patient’ Halloween costume a major supermarket had to pull from their shelves a couple of years ago.  Stereotypes are never good.

Cancer is not one beast. It’s over 200 creatures who each require different treatment, different medicines with different side effects.

It is rare for a cervical cancer patient to lose their hair. Surgery is often used with no need for radiotherapy or chemo.  If chemo is needed the chemo drug most commonly used to treat cervical cancer does not cause hair loss. Just as cancer has many varieties so does chemo.

Cervical cancer hits you on the inside. And it hits hard. Loss of fertility, continence, sexual functioning. All very common side effects of treatment. Not spoken about, not seen, but there, affecting your life permanently. Because none of these are on the outside it’s very easy for people to say, think and believe ‘You look so well’

The reason I write this is because a new campaign  has been launched to get women to attend their smears. The poster features that stereotypical cancer patient, bald and gaunt.  The image  of a cancer patient that very,very few cervical cancer patients will ever look like.

I hope it does its job of shocking women to take action. But I hope it is followed by a campaign highlighting that with cervical cancer losing your hair is the very least of your worries.

Here’s a picture of me, 3 weeks after my first major op. What you can’t see is the 12 inch scar across my belly. The catheter  bag attached to my thigh. You can’t see the fact that I could still hardly walk. You can’t see that I’ve lost any chance of having another child.

So please don’t fall for the stereotypical cancer patient.  Especially when it doesn’t fit.











Radio Interview.


Take bets on how many times I say ‘absolutely’ and ‘erm’ before you listen.

Really good coverage from Radio Somerset, with interview with NHSEngland as well.

25% of Somerset 25-29 year olds are not going for screening. This tallies with the fact that precancerous changes take approximately 10 years to turn to cancer and 40 is the peak age for diagnosis.

Caught at a precancerous stage the treatment is relatively minor, and cancer can be prevented.

As I say in the interview, I really do not know the answer to how we can  increase the number of women attending cervical screening other than talking about it.

So please talk. Tell others about what I’ve been through, ask your friends and family if they are up to date, offer to go with someone who is scared and save them a lot of heartache.

Link to interview here. My bit is around the 2hour 5 mark.



Well it is Panto season after all.

Well tra la la la and fiddle de dee

Fairy Godmother here with a message for thee.

When your letter arrives don’t throw it away!

Make my wish true and do as I say.

Book that appointment, I know it’s not fun

But five minutes later the job will be done.

Don’t put it off. I know it’s a bore

Like doing the ironing or mopping the floor

But those five minutes could save you strife

Heavens to Betsy it could save your LIFE

So grant me this wish, make it come true

Go for your smear test and tell your friends too.