Don’t Fear The Smear

When I received my letter from the NHS telling me to arrange my first smear test, I handled it like any sensible, responsible adult would: I let out a slightly panicked wail, crumpled the information leaflet into a ball, told myself “I’m sure it’s no big deal if I don’t get one”, and swiftly forgot about it until the second (and third…) letter dropped through my letterbox. “Your cervical screening test is now overdue”, I was forcefully reminded, but I’d heard the horror stories and I wasn’t ready to submit myself to that kind of suffering –someone between my knees, staring right into the eye of the storm? “Scraping” cells off the walls of my cervix? Sorry, but no one was getting to rummage around my vagina with their weird medieval tools and contraptions; not today.

Smear tests are every vagina owner’s reminder that they are now a grown-up with a grown-up vagina, and that they are now responsible for making sure that vagina stays healthy and cancer free. When I was younger and my mum received her reminders to go for one, the look on her face alone told me that this was not something I should look forward to. When I googled “does a smear test hurt?” and “what does a smear test involve?” I was met with countless Mumsnet threads about how utterly horrible and embarrassing and painful the tests could be, confirming any fears I had had about them up until that point. So when I found out that women outside of Scotland aren’t invited to get their smear test until they’re 25, as opposed to 20 in Scotland, I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to go for one – surely I was too young to get cervical cancer anyway?

However, when I was reminded once again that I was overdue, this time by the receptionist at my doctor’s surgery rather than by an anonymous letter, my inability to say no to people got me into yet another undesirable situation, and I found myself arranging one for the following week. In the days leading up to the appointment, I dug out an old information leaflet that hadn’t found it’s way to the bin and started doing some homework. After a bit of reading, I was more reassured regarding the value of a smear test – around 5,000 lives are saved every year thanks to cervical screening – but I still wasn’t convinced that it was going to be The Worst Experience Of My Life So Far. Yes, it may save my life – but at what cost?!

On the day of the appointment, I was primarily occupied with coming up with a believable excuse I could tell my nurse that would get me out of the whole ordeal. Maybe I could tell her there was a small family of gnomes living in my womb who didn’t want to be disturbed. Or that I was the woman that the film Teeth was based on. Or that my vagina had literally fallen off. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to come up with anything even remotely believable, and so come 3pm, I was sat in the nurse’s room, being asked to whip my jeans off.

And then, about two very anti-climatic minutes later, it was done. No pain, no embarrassment, and no memories I’d have to repress at a later date. In fact, I left wanting to tell every vagina owner I knew just how un-horrible the whole experience actually was.

Yes, you might find the whole experience of getting your bits out for a doctor slightly uncomfortable or embarrassing, but fannies and willies are a GPs bread and butter – they’ll have seen hundreds, and aren’t likely to be phased by yours (unless you do actually have a family of gnomes living down there). The process itself isn’t meant to be uncomfortable either. If you’re anxious or tense you might experience some discomfort, but from my own experience, it really wasn’t painful or sore in the slightest. If you are nervous though, speak to your GP or nurse about it before they get in and about your bits – you can even request a female nurse or GP when arranging the appointment. They’ll understand and will do their best to calm your nerves, to ensure the process is as comfortable as possible for you.

If, like I was, you’re having doubts about arranging your smear test, then believe me when I say it’s nowhere near as bad as you’ve been told it is, or have built it up to be in your head. Cervical screenings can save your life, so it’s important not to let horror stories or misconceptions stop us from taking responsibility for our health. Be nice to your vagina, and make sure to get screened regularly.

[Hannah Burke – @hannahcburke_]

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