As I realised the contents of the envelope I was holding, I thought a sarcastic little “happy birthday” to myself. Yes, I’d become that age where cervical screening was now a part of my life and the beautiful folks at the NHS had wasted no time in getting my letter out to me. I’d actually received all of the information about cervical screening in July 2013 and, I’m ashamed to say, didn’t actually attend my appointment until July 2014. I did the usual trick of shoving the letter (and the numerous subsequent reminders) at the back of my drawer and repeatedly ignored the ‘make a smear test appointment’ item on my to-do list.
I think this was probably through a mixture of laziness and fear. Going through the faff of making an appointment for something that doesn’t require immediate medical attention seems like a hassle and, of course, nobody is clamouring to experience their first ever cervical screening. So I eventually got around to it twelve months later. Now, I’m not usually in the habit of sharing the social engagements of my vagina however, since it’s World Cancer Day, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my experience of the dreaded smear test…
The first, and most important, thing to note is that I was completely mistaken in feeling scared about the smear test because it was one of the easiest and least scary procedures I’ve ever experienced. I’d been given a pamphlet explaining the whole process and was informed that I would also be part of a trial test for HPV, but I still felt a little nervous when I got to the waiting room. A lovely nurse called my name and I followed her through to what I expected would be a room full of frightening looking instruments that were going to be coming too close to an area I’d rather keep safe. I’d heard people make a huge deal of how unpleasant the whole thing is so I was fully channelling the image of a ramshackle garage with various saws and heavy artillery nailed up on the wall.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised. The nurse sat me down in a comfortable medical room and did a quick run-through of what to expect as it was my first time. I hopped up on the bed and my nether region was suddenly under a huge spotlight as if it was the star in a Broadway production. Dropping my knees to the side, the nurse explained what she was doing next and that the speculum might be a bit cold. I was imagining one of those old, humongous metal speculums that you see in torture movies but it was actually just a little pink, plastic one which was much more reassuring. Then she carried out the swab with what looked like a slightly oversized cotton bud and that was that! The whole thing last no more than five minutes, including my getting undressed and redressed.
For me, the most uncomfortable part was the nakedness and having somebody purposely peering about down there because it just felt completely unnatural. However, I just tried to remind myself that the nurse had seen thousands of ladies and it’s probably not even noteworthy to her. Yes, having your bits and bobs held open by a speculum is an odd feeling and you do feel the little brush of the cotton bud but I didn’t experience pain or discomfort at any time. It’s obviously a generally uncomfortable situation but I couldn’t be further away from having had a traumatic experience. In fact, the nurse said I’d done so well that I could “come again anytime”. I politely declined.
There is so much fear around cervical screening and there are so many horror stories out there that I think it’s time we started telling each other about our positive experiences. Medical staff know that women get nervous about cervical screening so they’re generally absolutely lovely about it and completely reassuring. For me, the actual experience of my first smear was easy, quick, and painless and I think that’s all anybody wants to know. I don’t have to go back for another one now for a couple of years but when it rolls around again, I definitely won’t be worried.
So, if you’ve got a crumpled letter at the back of your cupboard asking that you book a screening appointment, go and do it NOW. Today is World Cancer Day so what better time to take charge and make sure you’re tested?! Don’t post a photograph of yourself on Instagram with lipstick across your face because that isn’t going to help protect you from cancer. I mean literally go and get the letter RIGHT NOW, take it to work or school with you and ring the phone number at the first opportunity you get. We’re so lucky in this country to have an NHS that not only offers this service for free, but offers free advice and sends an automatic letter out when you’re eligible to be screened. Cervical screening is simply not the frightening experience everybody makes out and a tiny bit of embarrassment and nervousness for five minutes is well worth it if you can help protect yourself from cancer. So, ladies, please make your appointments, share your positive stories and let’s get women everywhere feeling confident about cervical screening.
Have you had your smear test? How did you find it? Share your experiences below and maybe we can de-bunk some myths!
Inspiration for this post was taken from the awesome Becky, whose story I read last week. Becky inspired me to share my own story and hopefully this post will help somebody else do the same!
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