Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Are you steering clear of the smear???

post-it to-do list
Are you a smear test virgin??                           

Well that was me about a year ago, but then I just got the job done and over with a few months back, which I will tell you about in this post.

The eligible age was raised from 20 to 25 in 2003 and I heard recently that a lot of tests that were done under the age of 25 were discarded and would not be tested by labs due to them being under the age of 25. This was due to an overwhelming response, especially following the Big Brother star Jade Goody's battle.

I personally think the age should have remained at 20 years old, especially when you read the likes of this,

'Research does show that the contraceptive pill increases the risk of developing cervical cancer. But it is important to remember that this increase in risk is small. And if you have regular cervical screening, cervical cancer can be prevented.'
Cancer Research UK

Women as young as 15 are using the contraceptive pill and so for this reason I think the age should be left at 20 for cervical screening.

I was reading Company magazine and saw some interesting stats as to why people avoid smears, made me laugh actually,

  • 28% would refuse a smear if a man was performing it, although some found it a more comfortable experience. 
  • 1 in 10 were worried the tester would think they were hairy or their vagina looks weird.
  • 1 in 5 would like smears combined with STI testing.
  • 8% were scared they would smell down there.
It is easy for me to look at this list now and giggle, but it is the reality of the inner torments out there right now. 

My own nerves were just basically rooted in the whole idea of spreading my legs for a stranger. These are just some of the things I tutored my inner voice to tell me any time I got anxious:
  • I know I will be more comfortable with a woman doing it and I will not hesitate to ask for what I want, no matter how awkward. It is my procedure and I will make myself as comfortable as I can.
  • These people have seen it all before so the whole spreading the legs thing would be just another day in the life for her, it's not like your doing it un-announced to a stranger.
  • It is a medical environment and millions of other women are going through the same thing at that exact moment too.
  • I'm doing something good for my health and it could save me.
The bottom line is and what made me just make an appointment it is the fact that it can save your life and there had been so much talk and speculation surrounding the issue that I just felt better to know where I am at, so at least when I continue to hear about it, I can say ok well Im done and dusted for another 3 years.

'Cervical screening can help to pick up changes in the cells of your cervix that could lead to cervical cancer in the future. 
Cervical screening can help to prevent around 75 out of every 100 cervical cancers from developing.
Cervical screening is the best way to detect the changes that lead to cervical cancer. Almost half of the women who develop cervical cancer in the UK have never had a cervical screening test.'
Bupa, UK

Well let me tell you about my actual experience and all my pre-conceptions.
First of all I had looked up some videos on youtube about a year previously just to get an idea of what I was dealing with.  This is what started my anxieties because the video that I watched was performed by a man, there were big hefty stirrups to place your feet in and it was a stainless steel vaginal speculum like this one,
stainless steel vaginal speculum
Google Image from titusthedog.blogspot.com

Hehe it looks like a dolphin's open mouth!   My first thoughts about this when I saw it in the video were, oh my goodness, that looks cold and uncomfortable.   
I had always heard people say that the whole procedure is a little uncomfortable and maybe a little painful.  I was thinking, I don't understand how it can be painful, but most would say that if you are very tense then it will inevitably be a bit more uncomfortable.

Once I had booked my appointment, I felt better and somehow less nervous just because I had got the ball rolling so I figured I might as well just go in and get it done without another thought on it.  Because it is always the thinking beforehand that makes everything worse.  
But for me once I was standing in that room, I thought to myself in a few minutes I will be walking out and the whole thing will be done.

I was a bit shifty in the waiting room beforehand and I just wanted to get in there to stop my head racing.  Then once my name was called, I just stood up tall, like I had not a care in my mind and I just walked towards the room.    

I met with the young nurse and I told her that I was a little nervous as this was my first smear test.  And she said there is nothing to worry about as they do and she explained the procedure to me.

I was happy to see that it was a disposable plastic speculum like this one,
plastic vaginal speculum
Google image from gpsurgicalservices.com
Now this looks so much less threatening than the other chrome one above.

Once the utensil was shown to me and the procedure explained, the nurse did not waste any time and said to just undress from waist down-   I had leggings and a denim skirt on- I just placed my clothes on a chair beside the bed.
I was instructed to lie up on the bed- which was just like a regular therapy table, with no stirrups.   I was given a large sheet of tissue to place across my pelvis just so I did not feel totally exposed.

Then before I knew it the procedure had started and the nurse was inserting the speculum and I thought to myself, well here I am, I am doing it, what the hell was all the over thinking and putting it off about.  
The nurse told me to place my hands under my bum so I was at a better angle.  Once the speculum was in, she opened it a little and angled it and took a swab from my uterus, which I didnt even notice because I was waiting to feel something, but then she said, it's all done now.

I just felt so relieved and kept saying to myself, its all done now, I can put my pants back on and off I go. 
Once I was all dressed again, I was given a sheet explaining what is to happen next and that a letter would be sent to me in about 2 weeks stating whether it was a normal, abnormal or inadequate ( not enough cells available in the swab to test or a complication with the lab procedure)
Thankfully mine was normal.
You can read about cervical screening in more detail here.

Some general tips before attending your smear exam are,
  1.  Book the appointment for at least 10 days AFTER your period for a clear and accurate test.
  2. Avoid sex in the 48 hours before your smear.
  3. Avoid vaginal douching. The vagina cleans itself and does not need internal cleaning.  Have a nice relaxing shower before you go for your smear test so you feel clean and refreshed and you have no worries or concerns.  Have some wipes in your bag to refresh beforehand if it eases your mind.
  4. Avoid having a bath or swimming 48 hours beforehand
  5. Avoid using vaginal products like deodorants, sprays or powders or any spermicides, tampons or lubrication 48 hours beforehand.
  6. Wearing a loose skirt or dress might be a good option so it is just a matter of slipping off and on your knickers.  (I had knickers, leggings and a denim skirt on too so I had to take both off, not that it is a huge deal and my mind definitely was not on what I was wearing, but just next time I will consider wearing a loose skirt or dress for extra convenience.)
  7. Relax, have a herbal tea or something, just breath and stand tall, feel mature, organised and productive.
Ok guys, no more waiting, off you go and book your appointment tomorrow.  Even if you are under 25 and are concerned, go along and get some advice and information about whether they will test you or not.

Best of luck everyone, feel free to comment about your own experiences/ concerns.

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