Anyway, we had just finished having the sex in said hotel room, and there was blood everywhere. All over my vulva, my thighs, his appendage, the scratchy sheets, and then the loo roll after doing the obligatory post-sex waddle to the bathroom. I’d had pretty bog-standard periods since I was 11. I had pains, craved chocolate, and was on alert for the ‘they think it’s all over’ blob of brown gunk that catches you off guard two days after your period has you believing it’s disappeared until next month. But this was different. The blood was bright red. It felt fresh and urgent, not dark and laboured.
‘Oh baby, is it because my dick’s too big for you?’ was the question posed to me by . Not the actual Gerard Butler, but my lookalike boyfriend at the time. We had just had finished a round of the sex in a Birmingham Premier Inn/Holiday Inn/Travelodge. I honestly can’t remember which it was, maybe even an Ibis. Just go with whichever one sounds the funniest to you.
I Googled ‘bleeding after sex’, which I know is risky business, but I needed to know straight away what might be going on. To cut a fairly short story even shorter, after going to a sexual health clinic to rule out an (it’s very odd to actually want chlamydia), I had a vaginal examination at my GP surgery and was told I would be referred for a colposcopy appointment at the local hospital.
A colposcopy appointment means looking at the cervix and vagina through a magnifying lens. A biopsy was taken and two weeks later, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. That’s the abridged version of my diagnosis, please see my autobiography for the detailed account. I don’t have an autobiography by the way, I’m just trying to be light-hearted about such a heavy subject. Cancer isn’t fun, but you can still have fun AND have cancer, right?
I was 24, which meant that I hadn’t had my first cervical screening (smear) test, as they start at 25 in the UK. I hadn’t even had a pelvic examination prior to the whole cancer extravaganza. But as they say, when it rains it pours. Before all of this happened, I knew absolutely nothing about gynaecological cancers. I didn’t know there are five of them (say it with me – womb, ovarian, cervical, vaginal and vulval), and I certainly didn’t think that at 24, I would be diagnosed with one.
I hadn’t even heard of ) that’s passed on through any type of sexual contact and causes pretty much all cases of cervical cancer. In the years BC (before cancer, you’re welcome) all I knew about my vagina was that a period went out and penis went in. I had heard rumours about a cervix dilating when you have a baby, and the clitoris being more than just an on/off button stuck underneath a hairy hood, but that was about it.
I definitely didn’t know the difference between a vagina and vulva, I thought the words were interchangeable, but no! Vulva refers to the external female genitals (labia, clitoris etc.) and the vagina is the muscular tube between the vulva and cervix. An easy way to remember? Vagina is on the inside. It’s got the word ‘in’ in it. VagINa. Coming up with that phrase is probably the best thing I’ve ever done.
Apart from trying to understand what was going on and retain as much information as possible, the thought that I couldn’t get rid of, was ‘I don’t want to die’. It was like a lump of cold butter in a cake mix, (trying to appeal to all of the lockdown bakers out there) it just wouldn’t go away. Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but I simply wasn’t done with my life yet. When I was told that my cancer had been caught relatively early, I briefly felt like I’d been told I didn’t have cancer at all. I almost feel bad for talking about my experience with cancer, because despite it being horrific, I’ve gotten off lightly compared to so many others and sometimes feel guilty that I was dealt a relatively easy hand in this incredibly unfair game.
The fact that my cancer was diagnosed early, meant that it could be treated with just surgery. I say ‘just’ surgery, it was a five-hour operation called a ‘radical trachelectomy’ that removed my cervix, surrounding tissue, the upper part of my vagina and lymph nodes, but, I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which would have been so much more difficult to go through. I’m often asked what my treatment means in terms of my fertility, and I suppose that’s fair, as being a mother is a huge part of many women’s lives.
I still have my ovaries and womb, so am as ‘fertile’ as I was prior to having cancer, but I would have to have a caesarean rather than a vaginal birth (fine by me) if I did choose to have a baby and there is a much higher risk of miscarriage for people who have had this operation. I have never been sure how I feel about having children, and I’m certainly not in a position even five years later to think about starting a family. To be honest, trying to breastfeed my rescue tabby Arthur takes up enough of my time but I’m grateful that the choice to have a baby hasn’t been taken away from me completely.
is a huge and common consequence of gynae cancer treatment, and I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that once someone’s cancer has gone, the effects of their diagnosis continue to echo sometimes quietly, sometimes loudly throughout the next chapters in their story.
I started writing about what happened because whilst the stats about survival rates and forums for people with cervical cancer were out there, I just wanted to talk about what it was actually going to be like. How will I actually feel when I wake up from the operation? Will it hurt to poo? (The answer is yes by the way, it felt like my anus was being sliced open) What will sex feel like? I wrote what I wanted to read.
Writing about having cervical cancer and speaking publicly about it, I suppose in a way has made me feel like I’m taking back control of something that made me feel powerless. I’m telling my version of events and am in complete ownership of that, and also means that I can hopefully help other people.
By the way, I think it’s also absolutely fine to keep your diagnosis and cancer ‘journey’ private. In case you’re wondering why I put the ” around ‘journey’, it’s because us lot in the cancer gang roll our eyes whenever anyone asks us to talk about our ‘journey’ but also it does what it says on the tin and is often the most appropriate word to use. That or ‘experience’, which to be honest makes me think of the time I won a private tour of the Cadbury’s factory in Birmingham when I was eight. Birmingham. Again. I can’t escape, can I?
I had always wanted to do stand-up comedy, and surviving cancer was the catalyst for finally getting around to it. I wanted to put myself out there, and did so quite literally. In the form of a massive poster of my vulva. Strangely, I wasn’t nervous when I first showed it on stage (the poster that is), and I think that’s because by this point, so many strangers, or should I say medical professionals, had seen my vulva. And I’m able to write this today because they saw my vulva, examined my vagina, removed my cervix.
It saved my life, so I really had nothing to lose by showing an audience (including my dad) a blown-up photograph of my genitals. Who cares? It’s just a part of the body, and the point is to try and normalise it so that people hopefully feel a bit more comfortable with seeing the gynae anatomy and talking about gynae health.
Whilst I’m not nervous to show my vulva, I am nervous that the audience like me. I want them to think I’m the cool girl who talks about her lack of cervix but is also great to have a bag of wine with. I knew that if I was going to talk and joke about having gynae cancer on stage, I needed to be totally comfortable with myself and the story. Cancer and gynae ‘stuff’ can be two quite uncomfortable subject matters, so if I’m not totally at ease, then it’s really not fair on the audience. A bit of discomfort in the room? Sure. But I don’t want them to spend time during my set worrying if I’m ok or feeling bad for me. I want to entertain first and inform second.
I truly believe comedy is an ideal vehicle for talking about difficult subject matters. Turning something dark into something fun and accessible doesn’t devalue the story, it makes it accessible and memorable. I want to be completely honest on stage, and not shy away from the comedy that inevitably comes from a tragedy. This year I was supposed to be taking ‘Pussy’, my first hour of stand-up to the Edinburgh Fringe, which has obviously been cancelled. 2020 felt like the right time to do this as I have just turned 30 and celebrated being five years cancer-free. But, there’s always next year.
All I want to do is help people and make them laugh. That sounds very wholesome doesn’t it? More like ‘holesome’! Am I right?! When someone comes up to me after a gig, or sends me a message, and says that they have had a similar experience and it’s really helped to laugh about it, or that they booked their cervical screening test after seeing my set, it is the absolute best feeling in the world. Hands/knickers down. I know I should be able to power through and not need validation, but I’m OK with acknowledging that I do seek approval.
My whole life is about vaginas and vulvas (and cervixes, wombs and ovaries). I work for skincare product a celebrity is raving out.
Many of us will notice the second we put on a bit of weight, or know that we are going to get a fresh spot on our chin before it’s even had the chance to surface. We know that our skin behaves differently throughout the month, but wouldn’t it be brilliant if we were as in tune with our discharge and bleeding patterns?
Let’s try and be as aware of the skin on our vulva as the skin on our face. Treating what’s between our legs and in our pelvis with as much care as the rest of our bodies is really, really important. It’s often a case of out of sight out of mind. And do you know what? Most people reading this won’t ever have a potential symptom, let alone an actual gynae cancer diagnosis, but I would be doing a disservice to my fellow pussy cats (it’s a new name I’m trying out, don’t judge) if I didn’t write this and implore you to care for the lips on your vulva as much as the ones on your face.
Times are really strange and difficult at the moment (I refuse to use the word ‘unprecedented’). The cervical screening programme has been suspended in Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland due to Covid-19, and most GP clinics in England are also not able to offer a cervical screening service at the moment.
This is understandably causing huge anxiety for people who have had their screening appointments cancelled, were about to call and book themselves in or are overdue an appointment. Whilst experts have deemed it safe to delay screening for several months, I doubt this is going to make people feel better.
Knowing that there is a screening test out there that can prevent cervical cancer, and being unable to access that test is scary and there’s no point trying to say otherwise. However, we need to remember that it isn’t a cancer test, it’s a test designed to detect high-risk HPV and then any abnormal cervical cells that could develop into cancer in the future. It typically takes years for HPV to develop into abnormal cells (if at all) and for those abnormalities if they don’t return to normal on their own (which they often do), to turn into an early cervical cancer.
Now is the time to read up on the symptoms of cervical cancer (bleeding after sex being one of the main signs) and the other four gynaecological cancers. If you do think there is something to worry about, your GP is there for you. They do have face-to-face appointments, but these are limited for everyone’s safety. If your GP decides after your phone consultation that they need to see you, they will see you. Think of it as just a step between what would normally happen.
Hospital referrals are still happening as they were pre-coronavirus, but unless the referral is urgent, for example a suspected cancer, people will be asked to wait until the Covid situation becomes clearer and more manageable. The takeaway from this I suppose is that your GP will still refer you to the gynae department if you have suspected gynae cancer symptoms. The number of people reporting symptoms has plummeted, so we know that people are deciding against contacting their GP with a health concern, or perhaps life has become too stressful that they aren’t noticing the potential warning signs.
If you’re hesitant to contact your GP, why not get in touch with Tracie and I atand have a chat with us first? Ask Eve didn’t exist when I was ill, and now I so desperately want to provide support to people who are feeling scared and need answers to questions about their gynae health.
Get Bleeding Checked
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is one of the main signs of three of the five gynae cancers (womb, cervical and vaginal) and less commonly ovarian cancer. If you bleed from your vagina in between periods, after sex or after the menopause, please seek medical advice.
Get to Know Your Body
Know what’s normal for you. What your normal bleeding pattern is like (if you are still having periods). Know what your vulva and vagina feel like. Look at your vulva in the mirror, don’t ignore persistent bloating or a change in bowel habits and report any changes to your doctor.
Buy a Get Lippy partner product such as the limited-edition tins throughout May, and at least 10% will be donated to The Eve Appeal, visit to see all the products.