Revere the smear

August 23, 2018

This has nothing to do with smears, I just like alpacas.

I’m going to tell you the story of my first ever smear test.

Spoiler: it was fine. 

SCIENCE TIME: A smear test is when a nurse opens your vagina with a metal thing, then puts a big cotton bud up there and wipes it on your cervix to collect cells, then sends those cells off to be tested for cervical cancer (or anything that could turn into cervical cancer).

I’m sure that’s how science describes a smear test.

In the UK, (cis)women get a letter from the NHS six months before they turn 25 asking them to go for their smear test. 

You don’t have to wait until you’re 25, you can make an appointment as soon as you get the letter. I don’t turn 25 until 9th September (that’s soon, write it down) but had my smear test on 23rd July. 

I’m pretty open. And by ‘pretty’ I mean ‘very’. I have no filter. Within weeks of being my new job, I was texting colleagues about good poos I’d had, embarrassing sex stories, and dramatic period leakages. I care very little, my body is a body like everyone else’s. Fuck it.

Therefore, I wasn’t bothered about my smear test. I couldn’t wait, in fact. I was excited to experience what all the fuss was about…

…I also knew I could write about it and we all know I love the attention, so. Hello and welcome to 1000 words on my cervix. 

When I was 20, I had two fibroadenomas (benign tumours) removed from my left tit. I have a cracking scar and no you can’t see it, unless you’re my boyfriend, nan, or Charlotte from work. I was used to flopping my boobs out a lot. 

Last year, I had a skin tag on my bumhole. I had to go to the doctors (half an hour walk away, in the summer, up a hill, so my arse was sweaty) and ask my adorable, tiny, new, cardigan-wearing GP to stick her finger up my bum to check I didn’t have piles. I survived. She left soon after. True story.

I was on for a hat-trick. The triple whammy. Tits, arse, and fanny. Tick tick tick. Triple threat. Good things comes in threes. Third time lucky… you get the gist. 

I was nervous, though. I can’t lie. I mean… what if:

- I weed a bit on the nurse’s hand?
- tensed up and trapped her finger up my fanny?
- tensed up and the speculum collapsed ON the nurse’s finger and subsequently broke it?
- I fanny farted?
- the nurse got lost up my massive vagina and turned into a Borrower who used my cervix for a pillow and I have to start putting broccoli and chicken up there to keep her fed?

WHAT IF?

To ease my completely legitimate fears, I did what any normal person would do: I started Instagram storying the whole experience despite the fact I’d never ‘vlog-style’ Instastoried before. 

I spoke about what I was doing and what I’d done to prepare (showered and drunk water and made sure my comfy big knickers were washed and got all the farts out my system) and how I was feeling. Because only 1 in 3 (cis)women aged 25-29 in the UK actually go for the smear test.

1 in 3. 33%. That’s awful, isn’t it? Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust did a survey last year and these were the main (horrifying) findings:

- 61% of women aged 25-35 didn’t know that they’re the highest-risk group for cervical cancer
- 37% didn’t think that smear tests actually reduced your risk of getting cervical cancer
- 24% thought they weren’t at risk because they’re healthy fuckers
- 17% knew smears were important but didn’t really know why 
- 11% didn’t think you needed smears if you’d had the HPV vaccine

These stats suggest that lack of education is the reason people with wonderful, talented vaginas don’t go for their smear tests, but here are some other reason that came out of the survey and what I say in response to them:

- 35% are too embarrassed about their body shape (nurses don’t care and you’re fit as fuck)
- 34% don’t know if their vulva looks weird (it’s a fucking vulva of course it looks weird but it’s normal)
- 38% are worried that their vagina smells (you’d know if it smells and just have a shower [DO NOT put shower gel or deodorant or anything on it for the love of healthy vaginas])
- 31% won’t go if they haven’t shaved their pubes (nurses couldn’t give a fuck, your pubes are natural, you’ll only get a shaving rash, STOP MESSING WITH YOUR VAGINA TO PLEASE OTHER PEOPLE, YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO SEDUCE THE NURSE)
- 35% won’t take time off work for their smear test (you’ll be taking a lot more time off if you’re dead [ok that’s harsh, taking time off work can be hard, but see if you can work from home or ask your GP to help you find a location out-of-hours… or just pull a sickie)
- 16% won’t miss the gym to go (excuse me)
- 26% said it’s too hard to make an appointment (waiting lists are shit but the waiting list for death will fast track you whenever it likes)
- 20% would rather not know if something was wrong (…this I can kinda understand but these smears will detect abnormal cells before they’re even cancerous so you can nip it in the bud)
- 30% didn’t know where to get one (your GP, google the number, I'm not doing it for you)

Now, back to it being all about me.

I got to the doctor’s early (obv) and my nurse was late, so I sat for half an hour, sweating away in 30C heat and needing a nervous poo. 

When I was finally called in, the nurse asked some standard questions of whether I was on contraception, was I sexually active, blah blah blah, and mentioned it was my first cervical smear test, to which I replied, “mhmMMMHHMMMhmmhm,” and she said, “You’ll be fine,” and I nodded furiously. 

She asked me to whip my shorts and knickers off, lie down on the bed, and put the big sheet of paper over my lower half. She pulled the curtain screen around while I did this. God forbid she knew how I undress. She should see me take my knickers off under my swimming costume. Skilled.

I lied down on the bed and thought of England (*winces, bites fist* too soon, Jordan Pickford, too soon). The nurse sat at the end of the bed and asked me to put my knees up and apart. I went for the ‘feet together and legs apart like a frog’ method - someone on Twitter told me that was best and  who am I to not take advice from Twitter. 

I relaxed as much as I could without letting any wee out and breathed deeply. I felt some metal go into the entrance of my fanny, and heard the nurse wind up what I assumed was the speculum (I never saw any ‘tools’ that she used, so who knows what she was shoving up there tbh), like winding up a toy car for a toddler. It didn’t hurt at all. I heard it more than I felt it. Vaginas are stretchy. 

The nurse asked if I wanted her to test me for STIs while she was down there - like a free MOT - but I said no because I’ve been in a long-term relationship for five years and we were both tested when we joined our doctor’s last year and she said ok fine and this is just some unnecessary detail for full disclosure, ok.

Then, she put the long swab thing in and I felt her touch my cervix. That was a bit weird. She brushed it for a couple of seconds then pulled it back out. The speculum was wound down and my vagina was mine again. 

It took minutes, if that. 

The best way I can describe the feeling of the actual smearing of my cervix, is that it felt like when you put your finger in your belly button (if you have an innie), push down a bit, then scratch it. So it feels like someone is scratching you from the inside. It feels odd but not unpleasant. 

The nurse left me to get dressed (behind the screen, obviously), told me to expect a text/letter in two weeks’ time, and sent me on my way.

I went to work and felt fine. I went to the toilet a few hours later and there was a little bit of blood - like the beginning/end of a period - which is normal, but nothing hurt. It was like nothing had happened. It was honestly the most easy, quick, and painless process. 

I got my letter through and my sample was clear (hooray, but don’t panic if yours isn’t - it’s common to find abnormal cells and they’ll do further testing to ditch the fuckers) and I’ll go back in the three years’ time. 

Boom.

I know I’ve joked around a bit/been a little harsh with my answers to the reasons why people don’t go for their smears, but I do understand (some) reasons. Especially extra reasons, like experiencing past trauma. Believe me, I get that one. The last thing you might want is for a stranger to faff about with your fanny, even if only for a few minutes. All I can say to that, obviously very generally, is 1) take someone trusted with you, and 2) it can be one of the empowering and self-controlling things you can do for your body and mind. I felt amazing when I walked out, in all honesty. It felt ace and I felt privileged to be able to have a cervical smear test under the NHS. We are a lucky country.

Ok, I’m done talking about my vagina. For now. Please now go and book your smear test if you’re due one, whether you’re 25 or 55. Ask any questions you have to your nurse (or Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust!) [or me!!!]) whether you think it’s stupid or not, take a pal with you if needed, and just get that shit done. It’s worth it. 

See you in three years.

(1,718 words, impressive)

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1 comments

  1. Laughed my whole way through this post, you are brilliant.

    Smears are not easy for me, but asking for the smaller speculum has made a big difference. When I was younger, I managed to put one off for ten years and "paid" with some polyps I had to have removed. I've never missed it again, it's too important.

    Lis / last year's girl x

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