I’m gonna go straight in and say it; I had my first cervical cancer screening last week.
Smear, screening, sweep – whatever you call it, when was your last one?
(Boys, probably not the most relevant blog post for you but please send to sisters, girlfriends, colleagues!).
So rewinding a little here, having my first smear test was something I had been nervous about for a little while. I turned twenty five almost two years ago – I received the letter inviting me to attend my screening and honestly just point blank ignored it for at least a year. I started to feel guilty about not going when I saw the recent #smearforsmear campaign online backed by lots of different Instagram celebrities and influencers, so I plucked up the courage to book myself in alongside a recent routine contraceptive pill checkup. The other reason for me booking in was genuinely my other half nagging me to get it done and I cannot praise him enough for this. How many men do you know who would even broach the subject of cervical screening let alone actively ask you to go and have one! He’s a keeper what can I say!?
The date and time of my appointment rolled around and apprehensively I attended, sweating in the waiting room with a buzz of different questions rolling around in my head: What if it hurts? Was it weird to prune ‘down there’ for the occasion or is it courteous? What am I going to do if the nurse turns out to be a man, I don’t want a man doing it, how do I tell him? These and a host of other things ran through my consciousness but I stayed strong and walked into the room with the (female, phew) nurse when my name was called.
I was instantly put at ease by the kind and bubbly nature of the nurse – why was I expecting anything else, she knows as well as I do that she is about to insert something into my private parts so its all she could do to put me at ease! I feel the need to talk you through from beginning to end what happened at my appointment for one reason alone, its bloody important, so I apologise now if you think it is an overshare and just don’t read on if you’re not interested. I think it is SO crucial to speak about these things to encourage nervous millennials like myself to actually attend these appointments and hopefully reduce the risk of cervical cancer amongst women in the UK. According to an NHS survey carried out at the beginning of last year, 1 in 3 women from 25-29 skip their cervical cancer screening once receiving the invitation due to ’embarrassment’. This both baffles me and terrifies me in equal amounts – in the same NHS article about cervical cancer it says that more than 3,200 women are diagnosed in the UK each year and 900 of those die. Imagine saying to those women’s families that you didn’t attend your appointment because you were ’embarrassed’. Not a conversation you’d want to have hey?
Once I had my pill check the nurse then moved onto the smear test part of the appointment. She invited me to undress from the waist down (you would only have to remove underwear if wearing a loose skirt or dress), lay on the bed (exactly the same as getting a bikini wax) and cover my nether regions with a piece of tissue they provide you with. Whilst I was undressing she explained to me through the curtain the reason for having the test, what they were actually testing the sample for, what the results would look like and what they would mean. It’s very easy to understand and the results once they come through will be clear to read (I’m still waiting for my letter, it takes 1-2 weeks).
Once ready on the bed, the nurse asked me to bend my legs with my feet at my bum and then drop them either side as wide as possible. I still had the paper over me so this isn’t half as intrusive as it sounds and actually wasn’t embarrassing at all which I was so surprised about. The nurse had a good old laugh once clocking my Harry Potter ‘Hufflepuff’ socks which removed any last bit of nerves in the air and she began the test.
Asking me to take a sharp intake of breath she inserted the speculum which was a lot less uncomfortable than I had anticipated. She then put a long brush type device (think bottle or straw cleaner) inside the speculum and ‘swept’ it around the opening of my cervix 5 times. This absolutely did not hurt one bit and all I would say is that you could feel it happening but it wasn’t painful or really even that uncomfortable. I actually found it interesting because it enables you to know exactly where your cervix is (how far up, for want of a more graceful term), not something I’d thought much about before!
And that’s it – the nurse then removed the speculum and we were done. I was actually asked by the nurse if it was as bad as I thought it was going to be and she seemed really pleased that I had attended, something which gave me a slight sadness because it clearly isn’t the norm. She asked me to tell my friends about my experience and encourage people if I could to have their screening, so I wanted to go one better and tell you lovely lot.
I had an unexpected feeling of pride after my appointment, pride in the fact I had done something for myself and to safeguard my future health.
I cannot make you book or attend your cervical screening but I will ask that if I can be brave enough to put my experience out there for the world to read (hiya friends, family and colleagues – bet you’ll have fun looking me in the eye after this!) then please, please, please be brave enough to do this one thing for yourself. It’s 5 minutes that could save your life.
Just Hollie xox