You can do the impossible because you have been through the unimaginable – Christina Rasmussen.
Today is the beginning of Cervical Cancer Week. To be honest, last year it didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t believe that it could touch me (not that it has, btw, before anyone gets worried), and I honestly didn’t really think about cervical cancers or smears like many other women in the UK and worldwide. I was too busy thinking about my city break in Prague, and what I was going to do for work, and where my life was going to lead me in 2018. Only one in four women over the age of twenty-five go to have their smear test, and this year the number is at an all-time low. Women used to go more frequently, especially after watching reality star, Jade Goody, suffer in 2009, leaving behind a life and a young family. Nowadays, women are missing their appointments because of embarrassment with 35% of people embarrassed about their body shape, 34% embarrassed about their vulva and 38% with concerns over smell. Women won’t attend if they haven’t waxed or shaved either. I am telling you now: nurses do not care. At all. The two times I’ve been, I hadn’t been waxed and I’d apologised about the state of my vagina, but guess what… she wasn’t bothered. Nurses are not looking for how smooth your vagina is, or the shape of your moo. They are looking for your cervix and if there is something a little off about that, that is when they get a little bit concerned.
My first smear test was the Monday after my ex and I broke up. I wasn’t looking forward to it and I certainly wasn’t in the right frame of mine for it. My cousin took me, reassuring me that the test itself was just a little uncomfortable and didn’t hurt at all. I thought to myself, I’ve been through worse. I’ll be fine. And I was. It was over within thirty seconds and I was on my way to work before I knew it. A week later, I received my first set of results: inconclusive. And then I forgot all about it because the letter said I had to wait a further three months to attend another screening in order to try and determine a result.
Life went on. I didn’t return in February. I didn’t phone the doctor’s until my mum had to hand me the phone in order to make that second appointment. When I finally got a date and time down (it’s so hard in my local doctor’s because it is booked up well in advance), I received a text to say my nurse was off sick. It happened with mum too. There’s nothing we could do about it, so again it was put to the back of my mind because I thought there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.
Fast-forward to September, various female members of the family and my best friend were shocked that – almost a year later – I still hadn’t returned for my smear test. So, I booked in. That appointment is when it all changed for me. I headed into the nurse’s room and got onto the bed. She asked me the usual questions: Are you on any contraception? Are you sexually active? Have you bled during sex? Any abnormal discharge? I answered no to the majority because I couldn’t think of any specific time and then thought – after being prodded by the nurse and her asking again – yep, actually, there had been some discharge, but that’s normal before and after periods. Maybe I had had more; I hadn’t noticed that much. Then, the nurse proceeded to tell me I was bleeding quite a bit, and no, I wasn’t due on my period. So, that was the start of the worry. Turns out I have an ectropion cervix, which means the soft cells that are usually inside the cervix canal are on the outside, and therefore means I am more likely to bleed. It is pretty normal. I won’t lie and say I brushed it off. I definitely didn’t and freaked out about it for about a week. Then, I found out I had streptococcus too – a type of bodily discharge – got some anti-biotics and that was that.
Now, it is January. I didn’t receive another letter from the NHS reminding me to book an appointment, but I have booked my third smear test and hopefully I will get an answer other than inconclusive. If not, the next step will be to see a gynaecologist, just to see if there is anything worth knowing about my cervix that a smear test cannot read. I’m not too worried; I’d just prefer to know rather than play the waiting game for another twelve months.
I wanted to share my experience during the #SmearForSmear week so that if anybody who reads this hasn’t gone to get their screening, books in, and to also show that if you do receive an inconclusive result, you’re not alone. Getting a smear test shouldn’t be a scary thing. Millions of women get them done every day and it is something that can prevent cancer. Yes, it may be on the bottom of your to do list, but put it to the top. It wasn’t even on my to do list for months when it should have been. I may not have had to wait for a third test (31st of this month!) to tell me if there is anything going on down there.
Have you been for your smear screening? What was your experience like? We should all be encouraging each other to go. Drag your friends and family to the doctors if you have to. It takes thirty seconds from your day.
Love, Faye xo