I don’t comment on here very often any more, but I simply could not read your post and not try and help. Ok, look, I was in the same situation as you are - and I mean the SAME situation (you see, you’re already braver than I am - you just came out and said it!) - and because of that, I was far more terrified about the procedure than about the possibility of having cancer. And I’d been getting symptoms of cervical cancer for a year, so I knew there was something wrong, but still didn’t want the procedure, which I think shows just how terrifying this kind of examination is when you’ve previously experienced sexual violence. I really want you to know that I COMPLETELY understand how you feel. You are not alone.
First of all, there are some things you need to know, and I want you to keep reading these back to yourself because they are important:
- You are NOT being a baby. You have been through a terrifying trauma and with that in mind, there is no reason why this kind of medical procedure wouldn’t be a triggering situation for you.
- You are brave. You have come onto this forum and just plainly said what has happened to you and what you’re frightened of. That’s brave. You’ve also managed to continue with your smear tests, despite your fear, which shows how brave you are and how much you want to look after yourself.
- The hospital DO have time to deal with someone ‘like you’ and if they give the impression that they don’t, then shame on them and they should be pulled up on it. I promise you that you will not be the first person they have had in that room in your situation and you are worth their time and effort.
- It’s not a question of “I should know better” or you making a fool of yourself - there is nothing you could do in there that would constitute you making a fool of yourself. I repeat: you’ve been through a terrifying trauma and it’s obvious that something like this would trigger it. Try and be kind and compassionate with yourself - I promise you that you’re worth it and that you deserve that kindness.
Ok, the procedure itself: there is no question that I found the colposcopy an ordeal and I don’t think there would be any point in trying to sugarcoat that for you. But here are some things that helped me and that I hope will help you:
- You are in control of the situation. YOU. No one else. Not a nurse, not the doctor, not anyone else. Just you. It is YOUR body and you get to say what does or does not happen to it. The fact that this is a medical procedure does not change that. Try and keep this in mind at all times.
- Talk to the team about your fears before the colposcopy. Generally, when you go into the room, they just have a little chat with you first. Take this opportunity to just be completely upfront with them. You don’t have to go into detail with them if you don’t want to, but a few well chosen words will make it obvious what you’re talking about - these are intelligent people. I was pretty blunt with my gynaecologist and said something like “Right, I need to talk to you. I have previously experienced an extremely traumatic situation which makes this procedure very frightening for me and I am far more anxious about the procedure itself than I am about the results. This is not the normal anxiety associated with this procedure - this is actual terror because of what I’ve previously been through.” I was very lucky because my gynaecologist was very understanding. He clearly told me that if I needed him to stop, all I needed to do was say so, and he’d stop. I did need to do this two or three times and he did stop when I said I needed him to. At one point he stopped for quite a few minutes and we had a chat about children’s picture books (I’ve previously done some illustration), which really helped because I could confirm in my mind that he was not the enemy. Also, I should tell you - once I was in the colposcopy chair I was shaking and it took me about ten minutes to actually be able to open my legs. This is fine though - don’t feel pressured to just get on with it, that won’t help you in the long run; do things at YOUR pace. Take the time that you need.
- There are usually quite a few people in a colposcopy room (the consultant, a few nurses, sometimes a medical student) so I made it clear that I was not there for other people to learn - let them learn on someone who’s got less to deal with - my gynaecologist was the only one ‘down there’.
- I can see from your post that the idea of watching the procedure on the TV filled you with horror, but I have to say that I did this and found it really helpful. This was a control thing. I could see what he was doing, therefore I knew he was doing exactly what he said he was doing and nothing else. Everyone is different though, so if you don’t think this would help you, don’t do it.
- I took my husband with me. He is the person I trust most in the world and someone who I know would fight my corner if I’m not able to. He literally held my hand throughout the whole procedure and at the several points when I thought I was either going to have a panic attack or dissociate, I looked at him and he just very gently told me that I was completely safe. He did this over and over again and it really helped. I don’t know if you’ve got a partner, but I think it’s essential that you take someone with you that you trust, and it needs to be someone who is not intimidated by either medical procedures or authority and who will say what needs to be said if you get into a place emotionally where you’re not able to. Explain the situation to them, tell them in advance what YOU want to happen in the room and make sure they know that you are happy for them to speak up.
Finally, I think the thing that helped get me to the hospital more than anything else was bloody-mindedness. Here’s how I looked at it: “Yes, this is a terrifying situation for me, and we know why that is. But this procedure - as terrifying as it is - is not about humiliating or hurting me; it’s about protecting me and looking after me and keeping me healthy, even if it doesn’t feel like that. I have been hurt enough - I am not going to let THAT PERSON/PEOPLE stop me from looking after myself - I will NOT hide from the world and I will NOT let them have power over me anymore. F*** them and f*** their sick and sadistic ways. This is MY body and I’m looking after it.” Now, that doesn’t mean the colposcopy was any easier - it was really very very hard - but I did it, and I am glad I did it. I thought I wouldn’t be able to manage it, but I did it and I did it despite what has happened to me before, and I promise you that you can too - you ARE brave enough and you ARE strong enough and you are NOT alone.
With much love,
ps: If you haven’t been in touch with them already, it might be worth giving Rape Crisis a call: http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/
pps: If you think it would help, phone the hospital and ask if you can have a female gynaecologist.