Let's talk smear tests (1/2)

This week it’s National Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. At the age of 25 women in the UK are offered a smear test which tests for signs of HPV and cervical cancer.

This NHS scheme is crucial in spotting cervical cancer early and preventing the disease from developing, ensuring many more women can live a long and healthy life. However, smear tests do get a bad rap. Many women worry if it will be uncomfortable or even painful. To debunk your smear fears we asked a few women from the BeYou community who have had their smear test and what it was actually like.

Kat - BeYou Brand Manager

"I actually felt almost silly for working myself up so much when this seemed as normal as brushing your teeth or washing your face to the nurse."

Moving cities, and therefore doctors, around the time of my 25th birthday, meant that I was able to dodge my first smear test until a few years later. That might sound awful when so many women are campaigning for the age of the first test to be lowered, but I was terrified of the whole process and continually tried to push it to the back of my mind whenever it was mentioned. Luckily, I have a group of friends who, when I admitted I had been avoiding it, were horrified, and all but forced me to make an appointment.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what scared me the most. Obviously, the idea of being up close and personal with a complete stranger didn’t fill me with joy, but the prospect of finding out something, in fact, was wrong, after leaving it so long, incited feelings of dread. Maybe it was better not to know if there was a problem?

Either way, I set off to my appointment and was greeted by a lovely nurse who, as I nervously jabbered away to her, reassured me she’d seen it all before. That sounds like a cliche, but as she talked me through the process, it was clear that this was as routine as any other appointment for her. I actually felt almost silly for working myself up so much when this seemed as normal as brushing your teeth or washing your face to the nurse.

Everyone’s experiences of the actual process itself are different, but for me, it was fine - so much so, it’s hard to even remember the specifics now, a couple of years later. Rather than painful, the overriding feeling was that the speculum was very cold, which made it a little uncomfortable but not too unpleasant. The nurse chatted away throughout which put me at ease - I think having such a great nurse really helped my experience.

After it was over, a couple of minutes later, I headed into work for the day. Yes, it felt slightly odd - less uncomfortable, and more a lasting cold sensation - but this soon went away and I got on with my day as normal.

My issue was, being a worrier, I obviously spent the next couple of weeks in turmoil about what the results may be, cursing myself for leaving it so long. Thankfully, however, though there were a few abnormalities, the letter which arrived summarised that there was no immediate cause of concern.

I know it can be incredibly nerve-wracking but if there is anyone reading this who is putting off going for their test due to nerves, I would urge you to please bite the bullet and book your test. Yes, it is scary, and it may even be painful or uncomfortable, but waiting for your results knowing you have put it off for a few years is awful, and ultimately no amount of nerves is worth risking your life for.

Shelly - BeYou Ambassador

"I can't thank the nurses and staff of the NHS enough, for making my experiences with cervical screenings so easy"

My first smear test was not the first vaginal exam I ever had, so I had some experience going in. Seeing as the age for a first 25, and I had already had a coil fitted age 23. I have to admit, I was still anxious though. It was new, and I didn't really know what to expect. You can read everything, but you never know how it's really going to feel for yourself. At the same time, I was really grateful to have my appointment and be able to know if I was healthy or not. It was the era of Jade Goody and many other high-profile cases of cervical cancer, so a smear test seemed really important.

Going in, the nurse was great. She knew this was my first test and ran through everything. She explained she knew it was scary, that so many women skipped or didn't come for their first exam. In the end, we talked for longer than the physical exam. It was so fast and she explained what was happening the whole time. The exam itself was uncomfortable, and I can't pretend it wasn't. The worst part for me, the speculum (the apparatus that holds your vagina walls open) I'm not a fan. But it was done so fast that I didn't have time to really panic.

I have found the staff of nurses over the years so helpful and sweet. So when it came around for my last smear test, (now my 3rd) I wasn't phased at all. Going in again the nurse was great and we had a little laugh about the thought that. All smear tests should be done in a spa, with light ambient noise and a complimentary face mask, as a relaxing experience, not a scary GP office.

This latest test was a little different as she was now testing for HPV (the pre-cancer test) to catch it earlier. I was talked through the procedure once again, saying there's nothing to fret about. Even if it came back with HPV (which is quite common) it doesn't mean I will get cancer.

Unfortunately, I did get a positive result to HPV, and I'll admit it was very scary. All the things raced through my mind. I was booked straight back in for another smear and further biopsy. The care I was given throughout the exams was outstanding. The test was a few months later, the nurses were once again, kind and professional. Taking their time to keep me calm and reassured. We joked about the sparkly boots I had worn to the test and rainbow knee-high socks to cheer myself up. This is exam was a lot more extensive and a biopsy was taken. Again very uncomfortable but not as bad as I had built it up in my head.

I was very lucky, and my results were okay. I now have HPV and as a result, more regular smear tests just in case. But I am so glad I went for that test. It's a weight off the mind to know everything is okay. And a privilege to have the NHS who take care of you for free. Smear tests and screenings are so important. There is so much fear and myths encased around them. I was never taught about them in school and I really wish I had been. If you're told at a young age that it's not scary, It would help a great deal. I can't thank the nurses and staff of the NHS enough, for making my experiences with cervical screenings so easy.

We hope you enjoyed hearing about Kat’s & Shelly’s smear test experiences. You can read part 2 here. You may be due to have your first cervical screening and you may be feeling nervous. That’s okay. So many women dread their first smear test so you aren’t alone. It does NOT mean you shouldn’t go. According to Cancer Research UK 63% of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer will survive and 99.8% of all cases of cervical cancer are preventable. If more women attend their smear test, more women can live happy and healthy lives for as long as possible. If you would like more information about the NHS Cervical Screening Programme you can visit their page here.

Comment below and tell us what your first smear test was like. Share this blog on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to spread the word and encourage others to go for their smear test.

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