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Still a teen when smear test came up abnormal.

Singer-songwriter Sandi Thom, 34, shot to fame in 2006 with a number one single, I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair). She has since recorded five albums, and after a stint in LA, Scottish-born Sandi now lives in Essex with husband Matt Benson. The couple are expecting their first child in the spring. Here Sandi reveals how a cervical cancer scare made her very aware of her health.

"When I was 18 I got a place to study at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. I grew up in Aberdeenshire with my elder brother and mum, and was mad keen on music. We were a close unit after my dad left us when I was quite small.

Like a normal teenager I dated and had boyfriends. I'm not sure why, but my mum decided I should have a smear test while still in my teens - they don't usually test you until 20 in Scotland.

I can't remember having any symptoms, but Mum had always been hypervigilant about the family's health after my cousin Paula died of leukaemia at a young age.

After my first or second smear test by the family doctor in Inverbervie, Aberdeen, results showed I had abnormal cells on my cervix, and I needed further tests to check whether they were pre-cancerous.

I remember thinking: "S***, this is serious", but being a busy student at university I tried to put it out of my mind until I went home to have treatment.

HIT Sandi shot to fame in 2006 It was the autumn of 2000 when I went to my local hospital for a procedure called a colposcopy - where the cervix is examined more closely under a magnifying glass.

The doctors then decided the cells should be removed by laser therapy.

I chose to have treatment in Scotland so I could be close to my family.

I had to have a local anaesthetic and then a laser was used to burn away the dodgy cells.

I remember holding the nurse's hand while it was being done, and crying. I was conscious throughout and could sort of feel what was going on, although it wasn't painful. It is certainly not anything I would wish upon anyone else.

I had to take it easy for a week until things healed up. So I then returned to Liverpool and threw myself back into student life. I had to go for two threemonthly check-ups, then a six-month check, then annual checks.

Since then I've had regular smear checks. Even when I lived in the States I kept up this routine - I just feel it is better to be safe than sorry.

After I left university I got a publishing deal and then moved to London, working on my own music.

My health has always been pretty good.

However, my mum has had a few issues with skin cancer and had some moles taken off her back. Because of that I decided to stay out of the sun and stop my student habit of going to a tanning shop for a session on a sunbed.

When I was at uni it was just the thing we all did. I remember thinking it was quite unnatural at the time, and now I wouldn't dream of ever using one. When Matt and I went on our honeymoon to Hawaii earlier this year, I sat in the shade.

I've just spent five years living in LA, where again I kept out of the sun as much as I could. I do burn easily and have fair skin, so it just isn't worth it for me.

Now I'm pregnant with my first child, my mum's still keeping an eye on me. Luckily I didn't have any real nausea or sickness, but I did feel very tired in the early weeks. I was actually writing and recording at the time and I remember having to stop work for a nap in the afternoon. That's all worn off now and everything is going to plan.

There is a bit of deep vein thrombosis in the family so my mum told me to talk to my doctor about it.

Travelling from LA to the UK means long-haul flights. So I give myself an injection of a drug called Fragmin four hours before a long-haul flight and 24 hours afterwards too, just to prevent any blood clots forming.

I'm really looking forward to being a mum. If I have a girl I will be taking her for the cervical cancer vaccine when it is appropriate to do so. Things have changed with cervical cancer treatments - it is pretty encouraging.

I remember when Jade Goody developed cervical cancer and I know how lucky I have been and how important it is for young women below the age of 25 to have access to smear tests.

In Scotland, women from the age of 20 can have them, but in England, the youngest age for a routine smear test is 25. However, Scotland is about to change its age guidelines to 25 too.

I'm also very pro the new self-help tests that people can do at home instead of going for a smear test. An awful lot of women do miss their smear tests so anything that's going to help them look after their health is a good thing.

The new tests check for the presence of the human papilloma virus, which - if you have it - can mean you are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer. So it is a good idea.

I'll keep working on my new album launch in spring 2016, as well as performing. Hopefully I'll be able to balance my guitar over my growing bump in the next few months!

When it comes to the birth, I'll take it as it comes. I'll try my best to avoid drugs, but if I'm in lots of pain I won't say no.

With regards to my health, I will always be grateful that my mum pushed me to get myself checked out when I was a teenager. If she hadn't, well who knows what would have happened?

ASTOLD TO ROZ LEWIS

Sandi Thom is performing at The Jazz Cafe in Camden Town, North London, on November 17. For tickets visit thejazzcafelondon.com.

Sandi's new single, Earthquake, is out on November 27. Her album, Weapons of Past Destruction, is due to be released early next year.

ME & MY BODY: SANDI THOM

CERVICAL CANCER PREVENTION

Dr Jana Witt, health information officer at Cancer Research UK (cancerresearchuk.org), says: "A woman's risk of cervical cancer depends on several factors, but by far the greatest risk is infection with the human papilloma virus.

"Cervical screening - a smear test - can help prevent cancer by identifying abnormal cells in the cervix.

"No matter what your age, and even if you have been for cervical screening or had the HPV vaccination, it's vital to see your doctor if you notice any bleeding between periods, during or after sex or after the menopause. Also, tell a doctor about vaginal pain or a change in vaginal discharge.

"If a smear test picks up small changes in the cells on the cervix, these abnormal changes - called dyskaryosis - act as an early warning signal that cervical cancer might develop.

"The next step is a colposcopy, a simple procedure where a medic uses a magnifying glass to examine closely the cervix. If abnormal cells are identified, a biopsy is taken. Cells may then be removed.

"If a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, she can usually be treated with surgery, radiotherapy or a combination of these."

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HIT Sandi shot to fame in 2006

EXPECTING Sandi and husband Matt
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 3, 2015
Words:1283
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