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!)
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:
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.