Monday 24 April 2017

Cervical Smears, Abnormal Results and a Colposcopy

Cervical Smears, Abnormal Results and a Colposcopy

I have been meaning to sit down and write this post for months, but there is always something that comes along and gets in the way of what I want and need to say. So now with Leo back at school, I thought I would sit down with a cup of coffee, and bring this here blog up to speed with my YouTube channel (It would mean so much if you could hit the subscribe button while you're over there!)

A few months ago I posted two very personal videos to my channel (I will add them both into this post in case you want to see what I said). The videos followed me as I prepared to go along to my GP for my very first Smear Test, which for those of you who don't know, is a test that helps detect abnormal cells on the cervix. 

I am going to go into as much detail as I can in this post, because when I found myself taking to Google, I always found myself on websites relating to the dreaded 'C' word, and I want to offer my personal experience here, and try to help anyone who is currently worrying about an abnormal smear test result.

Women in the UK are invited for a Smear test from the age of 25 years old, and being 27 I was a few years late in booking up and going along. It was something that I admittedly put off and off, it never seemed to be an urgent task for me to comply with, because let's face it... Who wants to go along and expose themselves in such a vulnerable way to a complete stranger?

Even though I had been in hospital to have a baby, a Smear test seemed to be so much more violating. I know that might sound crazy, but my birth with Leo was so straightforward and simple, with very little to no medical intervention. I was checked once when I arrived into hospital, and it was discovered that I was already 9.5CM dilated, and after that I was shown to my birthing pool, and they just let me float around telling me 'if you feel like you need to push, then push'. And that my friends, really was it. I didn't need stitches or any follow ups, so I walked away with a beautiful baby, and a rather fantastic birth experience!

What prompted me to book my Smear Test in all of those years later, was the fact that I had been experiencing some unusual bleeding over the course of a few months. I guess you could say I just had a gut feeling, and with that feeling firmly in place, I called up my local surgery and they got me booked in back in December 2016.

The appointment took place the very next day and by Christmas Eve I had recieved my results letter. The letter confirmed an abnormal Smear Test result, it said that I had borderline changes and HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) that can cause abnormal tissue growth and cause cervical changes, which can sometimes lead to cervical cancer.

Girls aged 12-13 are offered a vaccination against HPV to help protect them against types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. Women aged 25-64 are offered cervical screening to check for abnormal cells in the cervix, and as the vaccinations against HPV were introduced in more recent years, I fall into the category of having the screenings to check for the virus. 

Changes in the cells of the cervix are often caused by the human papilloma virus, and there are more than 100 different types of HPV to keep things interesting! Some types are high risk and some types are low risk. 
The cell sample that is taken during a cervical screening will be tested to see if there are any abnormalities. If a screening test shows low-grade or borderline cell abnormalities, the sample is then usually automatically tested for HPV. 
Test results can vary from:
- Normal - This means no abnormal cells have been found and you won't need to be seen until your next Smear Test (usually every 3 years).
- Inadequate - You may have to repeat the test as the sample initially taken could not be read properly. This could be because not enough cells were taken.
- Abnormal - If you have an abnormal Smear Test Result you could be told that you have: 
- Borderline or low-grade changes (called dyskaryosis) - If your result is low grade, it means that although there is change going on and some abnormal cell changes, they are very close to being normal and they may disappear on their own without treatment. 
- Moderate or severe (high-grade) dyskaryosis - If your result is high grade dyskaryosis, then your sample won't be tested for HPV and you will be automatically offered a colposcopy (where they have a closer look at your cervix and the cell changes that are going on). 
CIN (Cervical Intra-epithelial Neoplasia)
Sometimes the results will come back talking about CIN, but as with all official letters, these things can be very confusing and if you're like me, you will have to take to Google to find out what it all means. I spent a lot of time researching what the result terminology meant before I got my letter back, so I will break it all down for you below (as chances are you have landed here, if you are going through something similar).
CIN is divided into different grades, this describes how far the abnormal cells have gone into the surface layer of the cervix. The cell changes can be classed as CIN1, 2 or 3. 
This classification indicates how much of the cervix has been affected by abnormal cells. Essentially  the higher the number, the more of the cervix has been affected, and the more likely it is that treatment will be needed to remove the cells. 
CIN1This means that there are mild changes; affecting only one-third of the thickness of the surface layer of the cervix. These changes are not cancer, and in most cases do not progress into cancer in the future. Usually these cell changes will most likely go back to normal without treatment, but a repeat Smear Test is needed to check that the cells have gone usually within 12 months. 
CIN2 Indicates moderate changes; affecting two-thirds of the thickness of the surface layer of the cervix. This is a little bit of a grey area, because they do not want to over treat you if you do not need it. They might want to see you again in a few months time for a Colposcopy to see if the changes are retreating or becoming more apparent. 
CIN3 – Indicates more severe changes, although this is not to be confused for cancer; It means that the cells are affecting the full thickness of the surface layer of the cervix, and this is where treatment will be essential. 
As HPV was found in my sample along with borderline changes, I was referred to the clinical investigations unit at my local hospital for a Colposcopy. 
A Colposcopy is where they take a closer look at your cervix, so they can get a better idea of what is going on. The procedure does sound daunting but I have to say that it wasn't a bad experience at all. 
I was taken into a room to discuss my case with the lady who was going to be conducting my colposcopy, and she was amazing. She took the time to walk me through what was going to happen, and answer all of my questions. I was then lead into another room where there were two nurses, who would assist with the procedure. 
I was offered a wrap around to help preserve some of my modesty through the appointment, and then I lay down on a bed with my legs on rests so that they could get to business. There is a television screen that shows your cervix (hey my cervix has now been on TV!) and I got to watch the entire procedure, which was rather amazing in all honesty. 
They put some lotions and potions on the cervix so that the abnormal cells are highlighted. I could see white patches on the top and bottom of my cervix. The colposcopist told me that she thought that the bottom changes were nothing to worry about, but she thought that the top changes which were a little more substantial could be CIN 2 or CIN 3.
I recorded the entire audio of my appointment, so if you are due to go for one and are worrying about the procedure... Give this a watch and I guarantee that your mind will relax, The ladies made me feel immediately at ease, we made jokes and it was over in no time at all.
Don't forget to subscribe if you enjoyed!
Biopsies were taken and sent away to be tested. Within a few weeks I had a letter back from the hospital with very good news. The cervical changes that had been found were CIN1, this meant that I didn't need any treatment at all at this stage, and I now need to wait for a second Colposcopy letter, which will be for January 2018. Hopefully at this appointment the cells will have reverted to normal, if they haven't then I may require treatment.
For now though my mind is at ease and I am really impressed with just how amazing this whole experience has been. 
If you are due a Smear Test, or you have been putting it off like I did, please, please, please go and book it. It could save your life.

Blogging is how I make a living

Being self employed and working from my home over the last few years has shown me how incredibly valuable it is to have a space dedicated to work. Somewhere I can sit down with a computer (especially since I upgraded my laptop to a full size desktop spec!) and have everything I need within easy reach.

I have spent so much time putting my little home office together, especially the fun bits like adding in some character and really being able to make the space I sit and blog, an enjoyable place to be.

When I started thinking about what I wanted in my little work bubble, I just had to include an A4 light box on my wall here because I like to leave myself encouraging messages, right now 'Get Stuff Done' seems to be the motto I need in order to get actually get stuff done...Well that and a rather strong cup of coffe... or Two... if I do so much as glance up, there I am telling myself to stop checking my Instagram and carry on writing!

Of course as much fun as it has been to focus on the arty side of having a dedicated office space, I have also had to think realistically, as there is so much one does need when they work from home. I have purchased a lot of nice office supplies from Engelbert Strauss, it's amazing how much ink a blogger can get through!

When people ask me what I do, and I tell them that I'm a 'blogger' I have gotten some rather funny looks, because even in 2017 the word 'blog' or 'blogger' is still a relatively new concept. I have explained what I do so many times that it just rings out of my mouth before I have given them the title some days, but more often than not I would say that I run a website and write the content that I feature on said website. It definitely seems to make my life easier, as everyone knows what a website is!

That being said though, the next question on everyone's lips is... 'but how do you make money out of a blog!?' And again this can sometimes be quite tricky to explain to someone who didn't even know what a blog was 5 minutes ago!

Blogging has been a real eye opener for me, a hobby that has somehow over time evolved into what it is today. Sometimes I have to punch myself and take a step back from this online space that I have built from the ground up. To think that up until just under 3 years ago, only close family and friends even knew about my online persona and I kept the secret for many, many years.

When I got made redundant back in 2014, that was when the cat started to escape the bag that it has been guarded in for all that time. More people were naturally finding out, and as the time passed by, I started to feel more confident about what I had built.

I guess looking back, the main reason I didn't ever say anything was because I liked having the freedom to write about what I wanted. If I wanted to speak anonymously about my then day job without any social repercussions (not that I would ever go into details of who, what, when, where, because there has to be some form a line that I wouldn't cross! I definitely didn't want to end up in the company search terms on Google if you get my drift!), but it allowed me to speak freely about my personal experiences, and that meant that I could be as honest as nature intended.

To this day I still swear by honesty, because honestly is the only way that I intend to write. Whether it's about my personal life, Leo or a review that I am writing for a company, whatever I say reflects on me. Self integrity is key when you are in a position that might encourage someone to purchase the product off the back of something that you have written about an item or product. I want my readers to be able to trust what I say, if I loved something then I will tell you, and I will equally tell you if there was something that I didn't like, because at the end of the day your experience reflects on me.

Being a blogger that works from home is an incredible privilege, but it is also work. At times hard work. If you have a deadline to meet, a video to record, edit, publish, photos to take, photos to edit, a feature to write, check and compile with the rest of the content that you have created, and then throw in having the kids out of school, you will soon see just how much time and just how much effort is poured into a blog.

I have been lucky enough to work with some incredible brands over the years, I have been sent products that in some instances I could only have ever dreamed of owning. I have attended some fantastic events, met celebrities and had a taste of how the other half lived, but none of this stuff has just been handed to me. I have had to work for it, produce content and socially share my personal thoughts and opinions, but it's easy to look in from the outside and not see just how much work goes into it.

I say this because people see these at times extravagant parcels being delivered, they comment on how amazing it is that I get 'sent so much free stuff', and there was one instance where my income was referred to as 'free money'. YES. FREE MONEY! Of course I couldn't let that one slide, so I turned the situation around. I said that so basically he went to work and they gave him free money for sitting in an office all day. Just because I don't go out to work, I am still putting in time and the content I create, is how I make money. It's no different to a self employed stone mason, or builder, or window cleaner, hair dresser or anyone who makes a living working for themselves.

There are times that I really do have to bite my tongue, I do get that people don't understand the concept, and at times it can all seem quite elaborate to the outsider peering in, but what they don't see are the late nights spent putting it all together before it even goes live.

Hitting the publish button is the final stage, when the content and the pieces of the jigsaw have all been pieced together.

Well... until the social media promotion begins.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Entertaining the kids for less this Easter Holiday

Entertaining the kids for less this Easter Holiday

April has arrived and this week is half term. I am so pleased to have Leo at home for the next fortnight, so as I write this it is just coming up 10pm. As anyone with children will know, when the holiday's swing around and you work from home, you just know that you will be pulling a late shift once the little one's are tucked up in bed for the evening, and that right there is precisely why I absolutely love being my own boss.

Although it is only Monday, it seems that this week is turning into a little bit of a practical one. Today we spent some time doing some gardening, back in August we moved into a new build and the lawn has been laid somewhat atrociously, so Leo and I spent the day digging up the completely bald stretch of lawn at the rear of the garden, and turned it into a flower bed. 

Wish list
Tomorrow I want to get some things done in the house, and that list alone is as long as my arm. Can you believe that 8 months on, I am still not completely moved in? 

I know, that fact alone is pretty abysmal, but it is not through lack of trying. There is always something more demanding and pressing on the horizon. For instance, I really want to have some roof windows installed, Solstro has some good roof windows deals.  But this month I have a car MOT that I just know is going to fail... and then 2 months later my rather impressive car tax just shy of £300 will swing around demanding a pretty penny.

Because the next few months are financially pretty tough, I have been thinking up ways that I can keep Leo entertained without spending money that I don't have right now (and maybe get that roof window). 

A few weeks back we collected up some stones while we were out walking the puppy, and today we sat down at the kitchen table and painted them all kind's of weird and fantastic shades. Leo seemed to really enjoy this, and for the price of some paint and paint brushes, we definitely didn't break the bank.

If all else fails, bake a cake! Relinquish the parental controls and hand your little one the mixing bowl and the spoon. In fact go as far to let them crack the eggs and make their own creation. Today Leo made his own version of a chocolate cake, and instead of cocoa with used Galaxy Hot Chocolate Powder, you can get them at any supermarket. The next baked good on our list are easter nests and of course rice crispy cakes.

Dog Walks (Easter Egg Hunts)

This is an essential for us, because if we skip this we have one excited Dalmatian on our hands, and if you have seen the size of Lux recently... You will see how this could be problematic! Of course getting Leo to consent to these essential exercise regimes while he isn't at school can be pretty tricky. Walking is not Leo's favorite pass time, and he let's you know about this. So we are filling this next fortnight up with plenty of Easter Egg hunts! 

Easter chocolates aren't expensive, and it means that we can do a fair few laps while Leo busily hunts out the chocolate treats!

Go on a Bike Ride

Whether it's a bike ride, out and about on a scooter or watching the kids tear it up in their electric car. Step outside and enjoy this beautiful weather we have been gifted, it's free and if you throw in a picnic, you have the absolute perfect afternoon planned.

A few other inexpensive ideas are:

- Put on a DVD and have a movie night at home

- Play a board game

- Have a family game of Mario Kart on the Wii U

- Let your 5 year old teach you to play Minecraft.... BEWARE: This will take ALL day!

- If all else fails.... Go to the park.

The holiday's don't have to cost an arm and a leg, it really is about planning. We might only be a day into the half term break, but so far we have already started to paint the many stones we brought home with us, attempted to fly a kite on our dog walk (note the 'attempted'), watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and cooked up a rather scrummy cake.

What are you plans for the half term holiday?

The Top 5 Historic Sites to Visit in Rhodes Town

Rhodes Town

Greece has always been a magical part of the world for me, it's beautiful climate and stunning beaches really do make it a prominent destination when I think of places that I would like to visit. Then of course there is the magical Medieval Old Town with all of it's colorful and visual shops.

Staying in Rhodes Town provides a superb location in terms of accessibility to the many Greek Tavernas and tantalizing restaurants that are stones throw away from many of the hotels and villas.

Rhodes has so much history to offer, and I love to immerse myself in the culture of a county when I visit. It allows you to experience and revel in an entirely different way of life, and as I a parent, I like to showcase this to Leo, and this is precisely why I believe that the judge who over ruled term time holidays in recent weeks, was wrong. Children learn so, so much when they travel and are allowed to absorb lessons that quite simply cannot be taught in school.

 We were looking at Rodos as one of our potential holiday destinations for 2017, before we decided on Crete. While we were doing our research we started looking at the attractions we would like to visit if we committed to the destination, and although we won't be able to do it this year, we do intend to visit in the next couple of years, and these were are Top 10 Historic Sites to Visit in Rhodes Town:

1. - Palace of Grand Master of Knights

Palace of Grand Master of Knights

The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, also known as the Kastello, is a medieval castle in the city of Rhodes. It is one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Greece. The site was previously a citadel of the Knights Hospitaller that functioned as a palace, headquarters and fortress.

2. - Ancient Olympic Stadium 

Ancient Olympic Stadium

The stadium at the archaeological site of Olympia, is located to the east of the sanctuary of Zeus. It was the location of many of the sporting events at the Ancient Olympic Games. It was a holy place for the ancient Greeks as back in the day, this is where the sporting events that were dedicated to Zeus were once held.

3. - Fort of Saint Nicholas 

Fort of Saint Nicholas

The fortifications of the town of Rhodes are shaped like a crescent around the medieval town and consist mainly in a modern fortification composed of a huge wall made of an embankment encased in stone, equipped with scarp, bastions, moat, counterscarp and glacis. The portion of fortifications facing the harbour is instead composed of a crenellated wall. On the moles towers and defensive forts can be found.

4. - The Temple of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus

The Temple of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus

The temple of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus is located on the Northern edge of the Acropolis. It is orientated E-W and was a Doric peripteral Temple made of poros.

There are Four oversized column drums and still parts of a capital and architrave that can still be seen on the site, they are an indication of its original monumental character.

This was where the Rhodians kept the texts of their treaties with other states.

5. Archaeological Museum of Rhodes 

Archaeological Museum of Rhodes

A number of the most significant archaeological findings of the islands of Dodecanese are found in the Archaeological museum of Rhodes, which was constructed to be used as the Main Hospital of the city during the Knights’ era (15th century). The second hospital used by the Knights, now houses the library of the Archaeological Institute.

Friday 7 April 2017

Sticks and Stones

Dalmatian and child

This morning as I walked Leo into the school playground, he stayed that little bit closer to my side. He saw the other children playing a game of chase, but he stayed at my heel, staring out over the playground glassy eyed as he watched his classmates running around. 

I got down to his level, I asked him what was wrong, why didn't he want to go and play with the other children? He told me that one of the boys doesn't like him, and he never lets him play. Right then and there, this broke me. This one child in particular seems to pick Leo up and drop him just as quick, on the days that the child in question has been nice to Leo, his smile couldn't be any bigger, but the majority of the time, Leo is singled out by this one particular little boy.

It was just earlier this week that Leo came home from school and asked me about his freckles. He has a beautiful array of freckles all over his nose and just under his eyes. Just like myself and his Dad. He asked me why this child didn't like them, and went on to explain that he wasn't allowed to play the game, because of his freckles. I sat Leo down and told him just how beautiful his freckles were, and that only really beautiful people are bestowed with them, and this seemed to put a smile back on his face.

Leo finds school hard, just like I told you here. I would hate to think that he was struggling with the social aspects of school as well. He always seems to have friends and plenty of people to play with, and I am told that he is always active at playtime. What I don't want is any child to start knocking his confidence, I don't want anyone to make Leo feel inferior and to make him doubt himself.

I am always looking for new ways in which I can help Leo in all walks of his life, whether it's encouraging him to give new things a try, or helping him unlock his mind, and open himself up to new challenges that might present themselves, and I know that I am incredibly lucky to have such a kind and caring individual in my care.

Since we moved out over last Summer, I have been sourcing many at home teaching aids so that I can help Leo catch up and become more confident in his studies, and therefore more confident at school with his peers. We got some early years books for Leo to work through at home, and I even made sure that Leo's new high rise bed had a desk, so that we can sit down and work through everything together. 


While I was sourcing ideas for Leo's room, I came across Teacher Boards which had an incredible selection of products right up our street. What I have been thinking about doing is getting my hands on some Ideapaint, which is essentially paint for your walls, that turns the finished creation into a dry wipe whiteboard!

We currently have a small art easel that has a white board and a chalkboard, but how much more amazing would it be to have a much larger space to practice Leo's letters and numbers, and start putting memory to the test with simple spellings!

I love hearing that people can see change in Leo this year, that they can see he is making progress, but as important as education is, I care less about how Leo performs against other children, and more about how kind and considerate he is about other peoples, and other children's feelings. 

Leo is the kind of kid who will think about how words and actions make somebody else feel, and he has often come home and told me about how certain children have said things to other's that has made them feel sad, and he knows that things like that shouldn't happen. He knows right from wrong.

I hope that Leo realises that he is an incredible little human, and I hope that he doesn't let silly little boys dull his sparkle. 

Thursday 6 April 2017

Blogging for a Living - Invoices


When I started blogging back in 2011, I quite honestly never expected it to take off the way that it did. I wrote like no one was watching, and that was because for a time...There really wasn't anyone reading! Somewhere in the last 6 years that has changed somewhat, there are times that I quite honestly gasp when I see how many people have logged on, and have been reading about my family and in more recent years, my health and fitness goals.

Regular readers will know that in the Summer of 2015, my blog went from being a hobby that I spent my evenings and spare time working on, to actually becoming my job. Was that my intention all those years ago? No way. I was just as shocked as you were when this became the reality of my little space on the world wide web.

As with any small business (because that's what this is, my own little independent business!), I need to make sure that I am keeping a record of what I earnt and when I earned it. I also need to make sure that I keep a record of who has paid and when they paid. Sometimes it feels like I can spend far to much time chasing payments that are owed to me, and as this is now my only income, it can sometimes be disheartening when a company allocates work, you complete it and then they go off the grid with £££ owed. 

I have bills to pay just like everyone else, so when a company does not stick to the payment terms that were laid out, it can understandably make my life that little bit more difficult. Direct Debits do not wait until the money is there, and it can make an already stressful situation, that little bit more...well stressful. 

I have recently been looking into options that can help me get a faster turn around on payments that are owed to me, because I genuinely feel that small businesses like myself need to be vigilant and have measures in place that can enable us to keep our income regularly circulating and of course help us keep our heads above water.

My top tips in order to keep your blog ship above water are as follows:

- Create a monthly spreadsheet with what you need to earn in order to pay your bills and live your life.

- Set weekly £££ targets and tick them off as you achieve them.

- Create a database of contacts (Companies that you have worked with in the past) and keep in touch with them, as more often than not, they have future work available for you.

- Agree on a price and a deadline for the work that you are going to carry out for the company.

- Make sure you stick to your agreed time frame to get the post together.

- Create an invoice. I usually use PayPal so that I can keep up to date on who has paid. Once a payment comes through I tick it off on my monthly spreadsheet. Another good system is Market Invoice which aids you in turning your invoices around.

It is incredibly important to keep track of all your payments, not just so you can chase them up when delays and the unforeseen happens, but because if you are self employed like I am, then you need to complete your tax return annually. This is something that I will be doing at some point this month, so I want to make sure that I have closed all of my accounts from the last financial year.