Don't Fear the Smear! My First Cervical Screening Blog - Sharna

Hi! My name is Sharna and I am the Communications Officer at Tomorrow's Women Wirral. I recently went for my first ever Smear test now that I've almost hit half-way-to-Fifty age and wanted to share my experience. Before we begin: for anyone that is frightened of their smear... don't be!

So back in October 2020 I received a letter from my GP to request that I book in for my first Cervical Screening, which I had been waiting for as I knew I was approaching my 25th birthday. I didn't know at the time how COVID would affect the test or whether it would even go ahead, but it did and they do! So that's the first important point: You can still get your screening during a pandemic - you will just have to wear a mask like you do going to the shops or on the bus! 

So I called the GP surgery and booked in. I was asked when I was next going to be mid cycle, and thankfully I record my cycle on a mobile app so had that to hand - but I'm sure a guess would be just as good! The second point: don't book when you are on or due to be on your period! 

November 20th came around and it was smear day. Without going into the details I'd prepared for the smear with the usual clean and shave and was getting nervous about the fact that a stranger would be looking at my...! But remember, and Point three: trust me, they've seen it all! The Doctor doesn't care for what you look like as long as it's healthy down there, so don't stress it! 

I arrived and went into the Nurses room feeling a little flustered and nervous admittedly, but weirdly excited all the same as, with a family history of cervical cancer & other cervical related health issues, I was stressing it big time! 

The Nurse was lovely and not one I had met before. Introductions were underway and she asked me some questions about my sex life, contraception, whether I experience pains and those sorts of things. She asked me if I knew what to expect and trying to stifle all of what I'd learnt from my extensive night-before Google searches, I said no and let her explain so I knew the facts. She kindly explained the full procedure which began with a simple but useful drawing of a cervix - something like this: 

  • I'd pull my pants down, or tights in this case and lie onto my back
  • She would insert a tool called a speculum into my vagina (which I should expect to be cold!) to get a good look into my cervix
  • She would scrape the cervical opening with a brush to extract a sample; a sample that would be sent off for testing for something called HPV (Human Papillomavirus) 
  • I should expect a letter in about 2 weeks time

Sounded straight forward enough and made me feel at ease that at least I knew exactly what was happening! So I did as was told and took off my tights & knickers behind a pulled curtain and got on the bed - which takes me to point four: wear something comfortable! I went for a smock dress & tights so she only saw the bits she needed to see but nothing else. I wouldn't go for an all-in-one or a jumpsuit for example; you don't want to be taking your whole kit off! 

So the next part all happened fairly quickly, literally in a matter of minutes: I was laying down and the Nurse asked me to bend my knees up and then drop them to the side. She inserted the speculum and I can say, it was definitely cold! Everyone's vaginas are different some bigger, smaller, shorter, longer and even your cervix can sit slightly to one side or another, so on this occasion my cervix was quite far up so I had to try a longer speculum as she couldn't quite see the cervical opening.

So the first one came out and the second went in and it was by no means painful but slightly uncomfortable, sort of like if you've ever put your tampon it at a skewed angle - that feeling. To assist in her getting a good view she asked me to ball up both of my fists and pop them under my bum - which apparently is a great tip for any cervical examination - following which she had a clearer view of my cervix - woohoo! 

The Nurse explained that my cervix is quite high and positioned slightly to the right but that she was "happy with it" and it looked "healthy and well" - so I'll take her word for it! 

She inserted the brush and took her sample, literally for a second or two. Point five: the brush is made of soft plastic & is very small so when I say that they scrape, don't let your imagination run wild. It should not hurt! Some people will feel it, some people won't - but regardless it should not cause a great pain down below. 

And believe it or not… that was it! All that stress and worry for nothing. All in all I was in the room for about 10 minutes, most of which was made up of chatting. 

I got myself dressed again and noticed a slight bit of blood. Point six: it is perfectly normal to experience some bleeding or spotting following your screening so don't be alarmed! Again, we are all different and some will bleed, some will not. If the bleeding is heavy and persists of course contact your GP for guidance.

The Nurse told me to expect a letter within 2 weeks with the results of my sample test and asked me if I had any more questions before I left. Point seven: ask as many questions as you want or need, that's what they are there for. No question is a stupid question; even if you are concerned about your periods, your discharge - whatever it be, use that time to ask away!

My letter came back all clear with no high-risk types of HPV detected, which was a great relief. However, if you do have these changing cells identified in your smear test your Doctor will let you know and further tests may be done. Point six: Try not to panic! These types of HPV can be treated before they develop into Cervical Cancer, but again your GP will discuss further and give you the information that you need. 

And that is that... my first smear story. Take away points: 

They do this day in, day out and have seen it all! Don't be conscious about your down below & if it helps wear something that will keep you mostly covered up

You will be made to feel very comfortable by your Medical Professional. If at any point you feel uncomfortable or need a break, or even need a smaller speculum just say! 

It should not be painful! Maybe uncomfortable at most, but not painful. If you can go for a bikini wax, you can 100% get your smear!

The Cervical Screening saves lives! It is the most effective ways to prevent cervical cancer

#Don'tFearTheSmear #SMEARFORSMEAR

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