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Suck it up, spread ’em, get it done!

Suck it up, spread ’em, get it done!

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The vast majority of women hate it to the extent that 1 in 5 of us ignore the dreaded letter that arrives like clockwork once every three years (or once every 5 years if you're over 50). You start to forget about the letter which is now at the bottom of a very large pile of other correspondence you’re choosing to overlook until, lo and behold, you receive a reminder. Then another and another after that. It seems the NHS would like you to take their invitation to participate in a potentially life-saving procedure seriously.

I’m sure by now you’re aware to which procedure I’m referring. Chances are the instrument of torture pictured above already gave the game away. The first time I went for a smear test I am ashamed to say that I was not entirely sure what it involved (it was the year 2000 and Google had yet to take over the world). I mean, I knew that something was going to be happening south of the border but as the nurse picked up a rather large and ominous looking plastic object which she then proceeded to smear in a jelly like substance I asked incredulously and wide-eyed: “Where are you putting that??”  She did not deign to respond.

What followed were a few moments of discomfort as the speculum found its not so ready and willing target, a slight scraping sensation as the swab was taken and some small chit chat between myself and the lady who was routinely rooting around my privates. I certainly wouldn’t describe the experience as a pleasant one but I came through it mentally and physically unscathed and much better informed.

Ok, I admit that the dimensions of my comfort zone (no, that’s not a euphemism) are significantly larger than that of the average person. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I felt embarrassed! (Ooooh, the dog dropping incident! Another story for another time but I can tell you that I was positively mortified and even Craigy Boy, used to my embarrassing antics, hung his head in shame). When I was about to have my appendix taken out, for example, the doc came in and informed me with a grave look on his face and in a whisper that I would have to undergo a rectal exam before surgery. No prob Doc, I told him. You just stick that finger wherever it needs to go! He laughed uncomfortably before snapping on some latex gloves.

My most recent smear test was Friday morning and it was that which prompted me to write on this intimate yet vitalIy important topic. I zipped in, greeted the lovely Juliet who regularly pokes and prods me (she did my injections for my trip to Costa Rica last year) pulled my pants down, went all spread eagle and let Juliet do her thing…  

Bob’s your uncle and Fanny’s your aunt!

(that phrase was begging to be used here). It was all over in a KY jelly jiffy. (I’m on a roll!)

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More often than not it’s the anticipation of the procedure that causes feelings of dread and anxiety rather than the actual procedure itself, kind of like going to the dentist. Oh how I agonise over treatment for fillings and the requisite injection in the mouth and it is never, ever as awful as I think it’s going to be. Not even close.

I feel that I must stress at this point that I do realise that for some women, particularly those who have been the victims of sexual abuse, that cervical screening is nothing short of traumatic and can also prove to be incredibly painful. While I do not suffer anxiety when faced with a smear test I have had my own anxious battles to contend with (you can read about them HERE and HERE) and as such can wholeheartedly empathise with the feelings of dread that threaten to overtake your entire being. I hope that you are able to receive the help and support that you need and deserve.

Some women have chosen to opt out of the screening program altogether, arguing that cervical cancer is uncommon and that smear tests are unreliable and produce too many false positives which may lead to unnecessary and invasive biopsies. I respect the right of all women to choose what they do with their very own bodies and would never judge nor condemn. My own personal feeling, however, is that while the risk may be low it’s a risk nonetheless and you simply cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to your health, a sentiment echoed by this woman who wrote the following on a health forum:

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I cannot tell you what to do my female Warriors of the World and I would never dare to try - it’s simply not my place. But what I would like to do, and I hope you don’t mind, is to encourage us all to respond to the dreaded letter as soon as it drops through the letterbox. Pick up the phone, make that all important appointment, ask your partner or a close friend to accompany you if it makes you feel more comfortable and keeps anxiety at bay. In short, do whatever if takes. You are precious to your friends and your family and you are precious to me. So be safe, be happy but above all be healthy.

Ginger Warrior, over and out.

 

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18 Comments

  1. …and you went there! Bloody brilliant.
    Yep, its awkward and thankfully we only have to do it every two years.
    Kudos to someone for talking about it because there is no damn good reason why it should be taboo!

  2. Excellent blog! I obviously don’t relish having a smear test done but like Jomichelle, after having had a cone biopsy to remove pre-cancerous cells, I’ve had so many smears in follow-up appointments, that it doesn’t really faze me anymore. I would definitely encourage every woman to keep that appointment! xxx

  3. Very good blog GW. When I turned 25, I was the sent a letter for my first smear. To my horror I had abnormal cells and after a biopsy, had Lletz procedure to remove CIN 3 cells (last stage – pre-cancerous). Just like the message above said, I was a ticking time – bomb. I could have been a weeks to months off having cancer, but thankfully it was treated quickly and more importantly in time. There will be a lot of women out there, who have been through the same ordeal as me or perhaps a stage before or worse. Naturally questions run through your head such as: ‘Will I ever be able to have children?’ I’m not ashamed to say that I was scared, but thankfully after many years later and check ups, I’m 100% healthy and hopefully will go onto having children soon. A friend of mine who turned 25 after me, again had abnormal smear, only she was told she had early stage of cancer and needed treatment. I strongly recommend to all women to keep having your check done every 3 or 5 years!!

  4. Great post gw. Don’t think a piece on smear tests would make me giggle but it did, whilst reminding me of the reason we get them and how important they are. Great stuff. X

  5. I had mine last week too, after putting it off and shoving the letters further in the letter rack. For me it not really the test itself have ever unpleasant it may feel it is the wait for the results that send me into a cold sweat!

    Always been clear and since moving area this time instead of the usual 6 weeks wait for results they said in less than a week.

    Indeed they came back normal (thankfully!) and I was so glad to have got back updated with this test and now will make sure I go every three years….yeah you would be surprised how far down a letter can go!

  6. I understand people are scared/nervous/anxious. Particularly the first time when you’ve no idea what it’s about but it’s just one of those things we need to get on with. I’m a wimp and I’m not saying it doesn’t phase me but I won’t ever let fear stop me whatever it is. Yes cervical cancer may be rare. But I know of two cases of young women who had it. It’s rare but not impossible. The nhs don’t routinely test for many things so if they’re offering it take them up on it!

  7. I had an abnormal smear aged 21 whilst at college, came back from a year abroad to find a letter languishing in a pigeon hole. Had a colposcopy and loop incision and after several years of annual check ups reverted back to the normal schedule. Three children later and I am now in my mid forties and cannot understand why nowadays the smears start so late. It would have been too late for me…
    Thanks GW for broaching the subject full on.

    • The Ginger Warrior

      Agreed Liz, they start way too late. People are petitioning for the law to change so we shall see what happens…

  8. This one is really interesting. I am too young to qualify for the smear test screening in the UK and it drives me nuts. I really want to see the age lowered as I believe that it is a vitally important test that can save lives. What is more concerning is that I am also not in the age bracket that was offered the HPV vaccination. I have been to my doctors over and over, asking for the test and they have refused. But without a vaccination and the smear test, there will be thousands of women my age who are slipping through a very dangerous net due to their age. I believe that we should follow in Scotland’s hearty footsteps and be given smear tests between the ages of 20 -60 every 3 years. If you pick this subject up again Ginger Warrior it would be good to hear your views on the subject of lowering the age limit. Also I would like to point you in the direction of Sophie Jones, the young teenager who was refused a smear test and died of Cervical Cancer at the tender age of 19.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/03/19/sophie-jones-teenager-dies-cervical-cancer-too-young-smear-test-pictures-_n_4993410.html

  9. Great of you to cover this in your blog, GW! I started going for mine every 3 years when I was 20. Let’s face it, it’s one of these things that lots of women dread but I think of it as a necessary evil. The year before last I’d had abnormal bleeding so went for a smear. The first result showed small changes, 6 months later I’d returned to normal (whatever that is haha!) so when I went for another 6 months later I’d expected the result to be normal again. It turned out things had swiftly progressed to CIN3 so I had to go through a procedure to have the pre-cancerous cells removed. That wasn’t pleasant either but at the end of the day I’d do it all again if I had to to save my life.

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