LET’S TALK ABOUT CERVICAL SCREENINGS

We are here to talk about cervical screenings. If you follow us on Instagram you will know we have talked a lot about smears & cervical screening awareness. Our friend Charlie took over out stories last month, sharing her experience with ovarian cancer and it sparked a incredible conversation amongst our online community.

cervical screening

We asked on our stories if people with cervix’s would be willing to share their experiences with smears – particularly their first smear!

TRIGGER WARNINGS; SEXUAL ABUSE AND BIRTH TRAUMA.

Vikki Beddow

The only thing I did to ‘prepare’ myself for having my smear test was to have a shower before I went to the doctor so I was all clean and fresh for my nurse. I arrived for my appointment, we had a little discussion beforehand asking when I last had my test which I explained was three years ago and that I was here because I had a letter sent to me. She popped the curtain over, I removed my leggings and knickers and led on the bed with a little sheet over myself. Funnily enough we started talking about holidays and we were chatting about that throughout the entire procedure. I could feel the speculum being inserted and the brush going around as she was collecting the cells. It was not painful for me personally but, there was a little bit of discomfort for honestly 5 seconds maximum.

The fact that she was talking to me throughout the entire procedure made me feel so relaxed and comfortable and, she was super professional and made what could’ve been an anxious experience very relaxed and calm. She explained that the cells would be sent off to look for abnormal cells and that if I did have abnormal cells that I would have to go to the hospital for further testing but this did not necessarily mean that they were cancerous. I should get my results in 2-3 weeks but if I had not heard anything in a month I am to ring for my results. My experience went as well as it could’ve and I put that down to my nurse who was really lovely and made me feel relaxed and at ease throughout.

Rupali Paul

It’s funny that I have been holding off my smear tests for many years (I know it was not right). But somehow, I could not gather the courage to even book an appointment for it. Now, one would think why do you need courage to book a simple test? Well, firstly I am not only uncomfortable with showing my private part to a nurse but felt rather embarrassed. That too after knowing fully well, that it is an everyday thing for the nurses and doctors. It just so happened that I had gone to my surgery/ clinic for a doctor’s appointment for an illness & the doctor was surprised I had not taken my smear test. She explained to me the importance of the test & advised me to book an appointment asap. Thankfully, good sense prevailed and I booked my appointment for the smear test for the following day.

I was very nervous & sceptical about the test even after the doctor explained to me the whole procedure & its benefits. So, after I arrived in the clinic for my appointment, the nurse probably gauged by the look on my face that I was nervous & tried to comfort me with kind words & explaining to me that there is no need to be scared. She advised me to just relax & take a deep breath & it will be over in a jiffy. That was a good reassurance for me. The nurse then told me to get on the bed with my pants down. The nurse started the test & within 2 minutes she said we are done, pull up your pants. I was shocked! What? Done already? That was even quicker than a jiffy. During the test, I just felt a little weird tingling sensation, but no pain. I felt so guilty that all this time, I avoided this test which was not painful & took less than 2 minutes. I thanked the nurse profusely for being so kind & for giving me this wonderful and positive experience of the smear test.

Ally Roberts

Cervical screening tests are available to all women or anyone with a cervix in England from the age of 25-64. If you are pregnant, NHS guidelines state you should wait at least 12 weeks after giving birth as pregnancy can make it harder to get clear results.

Three months after I’d given birth to my little girl a letter came inviting me for my cervical screening test. Although it had already been three months it only felt like yesterday that I’d given birth in a labour that lasted three days. Twenty six hours of those I was in hospital wired up to a drip having what felt like every member of the maternity ward having a feel and poke around and what would eventually end up in a forceps delivery and needing stitches. Obviously at the time you don’t mind, you just want the baby here safe and sound and will do/accept anything to make that happen. But in truth I felt all touched out and the thought of going for an invasive examination filled me with dread.

I know the importance of going for these tests. My last routine smear resulted in me needing an colposcopy where abnormal cells had been found, a worrying and scary time but the procedure lasted less than half an hour and in a follow up test results came back as normal. Still I couldn’t book the appointment straight away. 

The letter stayed on the side niggling in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks before I plucked up the courage to book the appointment. A week later I stood in the doctors car park. I’d left Elena with my mum (she’s in our bubble), I phoned the surgery to let them know I was here as is protocol with the covid rules. The nurse came out to me. I masked up and followed her into the surgery and hand sanitizer on my way in. Once inside the nurse sat me down and explained that I’d get the results in a couple of weeks by letter. She advised that they also check for the HPV virus now at the same time as checking the cells. She explained if I’m HPV negative and the test comes back as normal I’ll be invited back in three years time as is routine. If the cells are normal but I test positive for HPV I’ll be invited back in a year’s time for another cervical screening test as HPV can increase the risk of cervical cancers but it shows no symptoms. It struck me how much the science had changed in the few years since I’d last been and the nurse said they’ve seen a huge difference in cases being caught early and dealt with in time. Once I’d agreed that they could test for HPV It was  time to strip off and lie on the bed. As I got into position I did some breathing techniques I’d practiced for labour to help me relax and stay calm. Bright lights on, the nurse masked and gloved up, I closed my eyes, concentrated on my breathing and all I felt was a sharp scratch and it was all over in a matter of minutes before I knew it I was dressed and back outside where I met my Mum and Elena.

We went for a walk in the sunshine and I’m left wondering why I felt so nervous, embarrassed and uncomfortable, when in reality it’s not that bad at all. I guess it’s natural but for these health care professionals it’s their job. They do and see this kind of thing every day. That nurse would have just got back on with her day and not given it a second thought. There have been concerns recently that the pandemic has meant that women don’t feel safe going for their appointments and are consequently missing them. I can honestly say I felt safe with the procedures that had been put in place. The hand sanitiser, wearing a mask, no one in the waiting room and the only other person I saw was the nurse who did the test and she was wearing a mask and gloves and kept her distance when she could. 

I don’t know where I’d be now if I hadn’t gone for that screening 4 years ago, the cells might have righted themselves or they could have developed into something nastier. There’s no way of knowing but I do know it wouldn’t have been worth the risk. Even in today’s environment. I know that as women and especially mothers we’re not the best at putting ourselves first, but the truth is we’re nothing without our health so please, if you’re due, book your cervical screening test.

Ria Montgomery

Before I had ever had a smear test the thought of having one made my stomach feel sick and go into knots. I guess I didn’t really understand what a smear test was and how important it was to have it done until I actually went to my first appointment.

I had my first smear at the age of 25 and I remember asking someone what it was like and what happened in order to help me prepare myself for my visit to the GP. Even though I knew what to expect I still felt nervous.

I remember being called in and my stomach had butterflies , I laid down on the bed and had to take my bottom half of clothing off and put a piece of tissue over myself letting the GP know I was ready. The GP told me to open my legs apart and try to relax and I was thinking to myself how can I relax when your doing this to me . Really?

Deep breaths in  and the doctor did my smear i remember thinking “ this isn’t as bad as I thought “  a little uncomfortable but it was done within 5 minutes time .

After it was done I got asked to slowly sit up but felt absolutely fine. All I had to do was wait for the results to come back and although that was a worry itself I knew having a smear was the best thing and now it’s a piece of cake when I have to have another.

ANONYMOUS – TRIGGER WARNING SEXUAL ABUSE

Unfortunately one of my best friends suffered the loss of a cousin through cervical cancer, who was only aged 26, she was repeatedly denied testing as she was considered too young at the time despite having symptoms from age 21, by the time she was tested it was found that the cancer was too advanced and they were unable to treat. With this in my mind I will always attend and fully advocate that anyone should go as it really can save lives!!! However I still find every smear test emotionally and physically difficult. I was sexually abused as a child and because of this I find the idea of someone I am not personally, completely comfortable with ‘going down there’ quite distressing and can get very tense, to the point my leg and vaginal muscles are virtually fully locked, which definitely doesn’t make it the easiest process for insertion, regardless of how many times the Dr’s tell you to relax.
My first smear test I remember going in following all the instructions to get undressed and lie down on the bed. I literally couldn’t stop shaking and I grabbed hold of the paper towel sheet so hard I tore it apart as tears rolled down my cheeks. I can’t honestly remember much of what the Dr said and I hadn’t explained my past to them but i remember them being very kind, fully explaining everything and being very gentle and reassuring, before i knew it the whole thing was over and I had barely felt a thing, although for me the point of the brush going around is a little uncomfortable and the experience itself is a little daunting as my reactions to these situations can differ, but I’ve learnt not to bear myself up about my feelings towards something I have no real control over. I have now had 3 smear tests and all the health professionals have always been very kind, considerate and patient, so I can only hope this is the same for other women. It is definitely not my favourite outing and i have my 4th one due this week which I am still a little nervous about but i am forever aware of how important these tests are perhaps even more so now that I have a child to consider.

Hannah Gamble

I always knew my first smear test would come back showing something, don’t ask me how I knew, I just always had that gut feeling. After giving birth to my son, I waited three months to book my smear test, previous to having my son I would have been pretty nervous about the whole stripping off process; but after giving birth the thought of another stranger seeing my bits didn’t phase me. I arrived at the GP surgery and the Nurse made me feel at ease immediately, she explained the whole process and made sure that I felt comfortable before we started, she asked me to lay on the bed and asked me to raise my pelvis by sitting on my hands. After she finished, she explained that I would wait around a week or two to receive my results. That was the part that made me nervous, what would come back?
After a week, I received a phone call from the Doctor who informed me that my smear test showed abnormal cells. My heart absolutely broke; I had just given birth to my beautiful son and I was now being told I had abnormal cells. My mind automatically jumped to the worst-case scenario; would I be around to see my son grow? I waited for my appointment to go to the hospital for a Colposcopy; I was frightened, I cried in the waiting room and I cried when the Nurse came and got me from the waiting room. Luckily, the Nurses were so compassionate, they asked me why I was so emotional, all I could say was “I’ve just had a baby, what are you going to find?” They tried to distract me by asking me questions about him, which instantly made me feel calmer. I managed to get changed into the hospital gown and sat on this huge chair. I laid there tense, whilst they carried out the colposcopy. I could see everything as it was on the screen next to me, I saw the abnormal cells they were talking about. During the colposcopy, they dab a liquid on your cervix which highlights abnormal cells, I remember the sting from the liquid and the fierce red that appeared on the screen.
The nurse explained to me that she would take a biopsy, this would tell them what the abnormal cells were and what the plan would be going forward. I expected the biopsy to be painful, from what I recall it wasn’t too bad. I got dressed and the Nurse spoke to me about her findings, she said “they are likely to be CIN1” I remember thinking “what the hell is that?” She explained “CIN1 is where the cells are unlikely to be cancerous.” After another week, the results came back, exactly what she had said, CIN1 with a yearly repeat of a smear test at the hospital instead of a GP surgery. A year quickly passed, and I returned for my repeat smear test, they carried out the colposcopy and my results came back that the cells had disappeared which was extremely good news, and I was discharged back to the GPs. That reminds me, I better book in my next smear test; hopefully you have too!

Amy Williams

I had my first smear at 18. They were trialling it on younger women in Wales and I fell into that bracket. I think they’ve since moved the age back up. The letter came through the door and I was so nervous, I talked about it with my mum and although usage tried to put my mind at ease I could tell it wasn’t going to be pleasant. It was summer so I wore a dress (I felt like it would save some of my dignity as I could cover up a bit more whilst it was going on). I nervously waited to be called in and I don’t think I hid my nerves very well – palms sweating, shaking, tears looming – the lot! The nurse was so lovely and talked to me the whole time she did her best to relax me. The more tense you are the harder the process is for the nurse. It was all over quicker than I thought but that didn’t take away the feeling of being poked and prodded, I had some bleeding too which didn’t help how I felt about it. I’ve had 2 smears since (I’m almost 28 so due another this year) and still dread going down. It’s still uncomfortable and there’s always some bleeding but I just remind myself to relax and focus on something else. Whether that’s talking to the nurse or counting bricks on the wall and try to ignore what’s going on. It’s so important to go to the appointment no matter how nervous you are – I treat myself to a cake and hot chocolate after it and that helps me.

Rebecca Smith

I was late to have my first smear test. I put it off as I was worried and embarrassed. Thankfully my mum pushed me into making the appointment. It’s a good job I did! My first smear and it was abnormal. I had various levels of cells which needed removing. I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that appointment.

Darshana Dave

They say that if you’ve given birth, having a smear test should be nothing. I don’t know if I agree but then my pain threshold is so low even after have two beautiful babies! I would say it is uncomfortable and I find it slightly painful too. It feels longer than it actually is but the good thing is that it’s every three years and once you’ve done it, it’s done. A very important check for all women. And the experience is different for everyone!

Laura Winship

I was 22 when after having a check up after the birth of my twins they found an ‘abnormality’ therefore I was sent for a smear test. The smear test itself was over within 3/4 minutes, no pain and just the feeling of the tool used. I wouldn’t have any negative comments towards the actual procedure and if I listened to girls’ fears and let them in my head there would be a chance I would have not gone and who knows I may have had a different ending to my story. 

I received a letter telling me I had a positive HPV test which is a virus that most people have without releasing however sometimes it has long lasting effects. For me this was the case, I then spent the next few months having biopsies and a procedure called a LEEP procedure. 

I have regular check ups and smears I never second guess them anymore because this one smear potentially saved my life. I would have never been able to carry my third child and I’m thankful everyday.

cervical screening

We hope you enjoyed reading a variety of cervical screening experiences! If you are due for your first smear, we are sending you lots of love as we know how daunting it can seem!

 

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. March 19, 2021 / 9:58 am

    This post is so so important, thank you for putting it together and giving me the opportunity to read do many women’s different experiences. I’m due for my smear test when I turn 25 (in June) and I’m going to book it in asap. I’m a little nervous but this post has given me some assurance x

  2. March 19, 2021 / 10:20 am

    Such an important thing to talk about 💜
    I have had treatment like some of these women and to think the smear test could have saved my life is a scary thing – a smear test itself is nothing to fear!

  3. March 19, 2021 / 10:34 am

    EXCELLENT POST!!! This should be printed and shared in schools to high school girls. It is so great to read this post from so many different points of view, it really lifts your own experiences and makes it seem normal.
    It’s not something scary, it should be spoken about openly!

    Rosie

  4. March 19, 2021 / 10:44 am

    Thank you for sharing all these experiences! There is still so much fear and stigma around it. I actually have to book my first one soon and reading about it truly helps!

  5. March 19, 2021 / 11:34 am

    I am 18 and I haven’t had my smear test yet. I have heard a lot about the importance of smear tests and I am thinking about having one as soon as possible. I enjoyed reading different people’s smear test experience and with all I have heard about the importance of smear tests, I would definitely recommend them to any woman out there!

  6. March 19, 2021 / 11:53 am

    Great post and thank you for sharing all these stories! Hearing that someone who was only 26 died because she was denied a screening when she had symptoms breaks my heart.

    I attended my first screening basically the day before I turned 25. I had HPV abnormal cells and had to go for a colposcopy which thankfully was clear. I had my second smear last year and I still have HPV so I have to go back for more regular smears to keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t turn into anything.

    But I’d be quite happy to have a smear test every year for the rest of my life if it stopped anything developing. I’ve only ever had good experiences and I’m so thankful for it but these tests literally save lives!

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