Happy Sunday, loves!
As you may have guessed by the title, today’s post is very personal but also very important. If you’re due a smear test, or you are expecting to get a letter through the door any day now to book your first appointment, DON’T WORRY! Are you feeling a little apprehensive? Nervous about a nurse having a good ol’ nosy at your downstairs? Well, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re one of the elite who don’t care about this kind of thing and just get on with it like the adult you are, I salute you! You may get a good laugh at my expense in this post, though.
A smear test (also known as a cervical screening test) is designed to check for abnormalities to cells on your cervix. It does NOT test for cancer, although the test is able to prevent cancer in patients as any abnormalities found can be treated, therefore preventing possible cancer in the future.
I received my letter to book my smear test around six months before my 25th birthday. It was the end of November/beginning of December when I opened my letter, and after telling Matt how nervous I was at the thought of it, I put the letter in a drawer, mentally putting off booking my appointment until after Christmas. I was very nervous and worried about the concept of a smear test, and even more about waiting for the results afterwards. January rolled around and to be honest, I was still putting off booking my appointment. The #10yearchallenge trended for a few weeks in January, and apart from cringeworthy throwbacks, something I seen all over social media was photographs of Jade Goody, who sadly passed away from cervical cancer aged 27, ten years ago. Her story was being re-discussed, and an encouragement on ladies attending their smear test was brought up again.
I’m sure Jade Goody’s name will be familiar to everyone based in the UK, as there have been so many campaigns to lower the age for smear tests after her incredibly sad and untimely death. Currently in the UK, smear tests are free for all women from six months before their 25th birthday, and recurring tests (if all is well) are carried out every three years, until the age of 49, when it changes to every five years. These test times can vary based on your results, and we’re very well looked after by our NHS. That being said, it’s currently thought that at least one in three women do not attend appointments for their smear test, often due to embarrassment of the test. As the testing process is so frequent, it’s going to be a regular part of any woman’s life, and it’s 100% for our benefit. As I mentioned above, I was very nervous at the thought of the test process and I see why people are put off, although after having my test I really feel there’s no need to be! It is completely normal to feel nervous and apprehensive about something you’ve never done before, but a simple test that takes less than five minutes could literally save your life. And it’s free, us Brits love a bargain or freebie, right?
So, after seeing all of the #10yearchallenge posts (which were to raise awareness, and for me it clearly worked) I knew I had to book my appointment. The night before I booked it, Matt and I were lying in bed talking before we fell asleep, and he told me he’d also seen the #10yearchallenge posts, and thought it was really important I booked in soon. I relayed how terrified I was, and after talking out my concerns with him I felt so much better. The next morning, I plucked up all of the courage I could muster to book my appointment and was told I couldn’t as I wasn’t yet 25. What? I explained that I’d received a letter to arrange my appointment, but was told by the receptionist that as I wasn’t yet 25 she couldn’t book me in. I reluctantly booked just a pill check (as I wanted to do both appointments at the same time) and hung up the phone.
I was at work when this happened, so after relaying the story to my co-workers and having a quick read of the NHS website, I knew what I’d been told was incorrect and that I should be able to have my test any time from six months before I turned 25. I called back and was told that actually yes, I could book my smear test and that I’d been given incorrect information. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but as I was already so nervous to book my test I could have trusted her word and put it off for a further four months. This could have been the difference, literally between life and death, if something is found to be wrong. It makes me terrified to think that if someone else was told this, they would have accepted it to be true and potentially not booked their smear test. Please note, I do not blame the receptionist for this! I just think more training should be provided to anyone giving any kind of medical advice on behalf of the NHS.
Less than a week before my scheduled appointment, my test was put back a further week and a half, with little explanation. This really didn’t help my anxiety and worry over the upcoming test, as it meant the time between booking my appointment and the day of my appointment was just over three weeks. Matt had promised we could get a Chinese takeaway that night (on a Wednesday! Takeaways for us are strictly reserved for weekends only LOL) so I had something to look forward to afterwards, the cutie. A few days before, I tried to read every source of information I could find for background on what to do and expect, and I talked through my concerns and worries with Matt, my mam and my co-workers. Nothing’s off limits with the girls you work with, right?!
My test was booked for 9am, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit I spent the whole night before mulling over it, and not sleeping very well. I woke up a few times during the night and was so jealous Matt was sleeping like a baby snuggled into me! When it was finally time to get up, Matt was so good to me, he knew I was super nervous so was making me laugh all morning and trying to help me relax. I got ready – spending a little extra time doing my makeup because that always makes you feel better, right? – kissed Matt goodbye (doing my best Ross I’m fine impression) and drove to the surgery.
The GP surgery was pretty much empty due to having an early appointment, and I was called in before my appointment time. This turned out to be the biggest shock of the day, I didn’t know that ever happened! After a very awkward moment of trying to find the examination room I was supposed to be in, the nurse welcomed me in, called me ‘lovey’ and I instantly felt ten times more comfortable. We chatted a little about the day – very little traffic, lovely sunny morning after it rained through the night. You know, the typical British conversations you have with a stranger. We quickly ran through my pill check and sorted out my repeat prescription for another year, then it was time to have my smear test. I’d already told the nurse I was very nervous and hadn’t slept well, and whilst explaining the method and purpose of the test she was so kind and calm. She had a great way of being informative and reassuring at the same time. All practice nurses I’ve met have been this way, and it’s truly a testament to how good they are at their jobs.
I was asked to step behind the curtain and remove my clothes from the waist down (I wish I’d thought about this earlier and wore a skirt or dress, but I digress) and sit on the bed. All I could think about was how my downstairs looked at this point, my focus wasn’t even on the test! I was given a sheet of paper to cover what dignity I had left, and instructed to lay back, putting the soles of my feet together and my knees out wide. And to relax. Turns out, it’s not the most relaxing environment or position infront of a stranger, and as much as I was trying to pretend I was mid-yoga session, my knees were firmly locked. The nurse was chatting throughout this whole time and without even realising I’d totally relaxed. She told me the speculum* was in place and now she was going to take the sample of cells from my cervix. She inserted a small brush to take the sample, and warned me there may be mild discomfort caused by this. Personally, I barely felt anything, just a slight twinge for literally a second or two. She then told me the test was over and I could get re-dressed, just like that!
*a plastic tool inserted into the vagina to open the area and provide easy access for the test
From taking my clothes off to putting them back on was less than five minutes. That’s less than five minutes of feeling slightly awkward and uncomfortable, that could save my life! The actual test process was, I guess, less than two minutes. The nurse told me the letter with the results would be sent out in two to three weeks, and that everything looked healthy from what she could see. That made me feel so reassured, and also pretty damn stupid that I’d been so unnecessarily worried for months. I texted my boyfriend and my mam with an update (and to tell them I didn’t cry LOL) then went to work as normal to get on with my day, eagerly waiting for Matt to finish work and bring home the Chinese takeaway I’d been promised! Spoiler: it was delicious.
My smear test was carried out almost a week ago, so I’m currently waiting for a letter to see if everything is okay or if further testing is required. Further testing does not necessarily mean something is wrong; sometimes results are inconclusive, and a second round of testing may be required to rule out potential abnormalities. Other outcomes could be that low grade or high grade abnormal changes are detected, or HPV is found, therefore further testing may be needed. A colposcopy is the next round of testing, if a second smear isn’t required, then further information can be given based on those results. I’m not as worried about the results as I expected to be, and it’s not really crossed my mind too much post-test. One thing I have thought about a lot is how I’m incredibly grateful to live in the UK where the testing process is free, and encouraged, and that this simple procedure saves so many lives every year.
DO book your test as soon as possible. It could literally save your life.
DO talk about how you’re feeling with your partner, family and/or close friends. Whoever you feel most comfortable with is the person(s) you should go to. Also, tell your nurse any concerns/worries on the day.
DO your own research. Being prepared is the best advice for any situation, and knowing what to expect takes the worry out of the situation, even if that’s just a little.
DO plan something for afterwards to look forward to, even if it sounds a little daft. Takeaway and snuggles all night with your boyfriend highly recommended.
DON’T stress about your upcoming test, try to think about it as little as possible.
DON’T worry about the nurse seeing your hoo-haa. She’s seen hundreds, if not thousands, and I guarantee she couldn’t care less what yours looks like.
DON’T back out of your test then re-book for a later date. I had a wobble a few days before and almost did this, but it would have made re-booking even harder.
DON’T tense up during your test. As hard as it is to chill out, try to forget what’s going on down there and let yourself relax.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you found this post helpful, and that it provided a little bit of a relief (and maybe a laugh at my expense). Please, please, please book your smear tests in girls, and encourage your family members, friends and co-workers to do the same. If they’re feeling a little worried, you can always direct them to this post!