1 in 3 women aged 25-29 don't attend their smear test when invited
smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing.
The worst part?
The number of women attending their smear tests is dropping.
cervical cancer tests have hit a 20-year low.
The UK’s only dedicated cervical cancer charity, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, surveyed 2,017 women in a recent report and found that 50% of those avoiding their appointments blamed embarrassment over weight or body shape.
I am a young woman of 28, which means I'm in the most prevalent age-range for cervical cancer. It also means I'm old enough to know that we are rarely given an accurate representation of what a woman's body looks like, and now this perception of what is "normal" is putting women's lives at risk. There's no such thing as the perfect body or the perfect vagina. Your body is not a work in progress, it's your damn temple and you are a masterpiece just as you are. The statistics don't lie -75% of cervical cancers can be avoided simply by going along to a smear test. That seems pretty simple, but if you're anything like me the thought of dropping your knickers for a total stranger and a plastic speculum is not at the top of your bucket list. But just like blue cheese and having sex with the lights on, it's one of those things that really isn't as bad as you think it is. And to try and convince you, I've got five real life moments that are bound to leave you feeling more awkward than a simple smear test.
1. ACCIDENTALLY WATCHING A SEX SCENE WITH YOUR PARENTS
I don't care what anyone says, it's weird as f***. One minute Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogan are kissing in a club, the next minute they're ripping each other's clothes off and my mum wants to know if they're, "going to bonk now". What is the correct protocol here? Should I feign ignorance and go to my happy place whilst simply ignoring the inevitable groaning from the TV screen? Should I abandon ship completely, fake a sudden but serious case of food poisoning and prove to my mother that I am in fact as immature as she feared? Or should I turn into a blob of sarcasm and say things like, 'Well that (position) looks pretty uncomfortable, amiright?" I'm pretty sure it would be better for everyone if I just sat there, composed and adult-like as if the world isn't imploding around me, but the British in me just wants to start talking about the weather.
2. PAYING FOR STUFF WITH YOUR CREDIT CARD
I can't be the only one who does a little handbag-purse dance every time I pay for something with my debit card. You know what I'm talking about - you're at the checkout, the cashier is being overly enthusiastic about your choice of blouse, asking if you've found everything you were looking for, yada yada. You breeze through this interrogation but she hasn't even scanned the label yet. To pass the time, you dig around in your purse until you find your debit card, taking a little longer than usual and whip it out as if to say, 'ready when you are babe!'
The cashier is now folding up your blouse so you fondle some more, might as well put your purse back in your handbag. I mean it's something to do right? Then you're hovering again, card poised in your fingertips. Finally it's time to pay and you confidently put the card in the slot. You've got this. You type your pin number and wait - god forbid you take it out too early. Then it's all over and she wants to hand you your purchase, receipt in the bag. But wait! You suddenly realise, still hovering with your debit card, that you put your purse back in your handbag. Is there time to get it out again? You don't have a choice, you have to unzip your bag again, take out your purse again, put the card back inside the purse...purse back inside the bag...then hope to god you're walking away in a manner that says, 'I know how to do life don't you worry."
3. SMALL TALK WITH YOUR DENTIST
No-one likes the dentist. No-one wants the small talk. No-one enjoys lying about their alcohol intake and how often they floss. But perhaps the most awkward part of going to the dentist is when you've got a rubber glove in your mouth and you hear the words, 'So, have you got anything nice planned for today?' I've weighed all possible options here, and as far as I can tell there are two. Number 1. Answer the question as normal and clumsily wrap my tongue around a rubber glove whilst attempting to form actual words. Number 2. Nod my head and risk that long, pointy metal instrument being lodged in my throat. Since neither of those are desirable options, I mostly just move my eyeballs around, because they are the only part of my face I can move, and desperately hope the question was rhetorical.
4. NOT REMEMBERING SOMEONE'S NAME
No half-hearted trip to Sainsbury's is complete without bumping into someone you don't wanna see. You know it's a truth universally acknowledged that a hungry woman in possession of nothing but frozen peas and a tin of chickpeas, must be in want of a decent meal. And just like that you're in aisle 5 and whats-her-face is coming towards you with a beaming grin and a basket full of organic houmous.
You're thinking, 'Oh god, I've met you before and you've told me your name at least twice, and yet here we are in the rice and pasta aisle and all I wanna do is call you, 'Uncle Ben'." How many times can a girl get away with saying, 'babe' or, 'lovely' before it starts to sound like you have a brain injury? And what if someone else turns up and it's down to you to introduce them to Uncle Ben and tell them at least one interesting fact about her? Or what if Uncle Ben just has a full on identity crisis right here in front of the fusilli, grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you screaming, 'Please God! Tell me my name! Tell me who I am!"
This legit happened to me at my wedding (minus the shaking and yelling) and let me tell you, I'd show a nurse my vagina any day of the week instead of reliving that social tragedy.
5. WALKING AT THE SAME SPEED AND IN THE SAME DIRECTION AS SOMEONE ELSE
There you are, minding your own business, just trying to walk to the station, and out steps a guy from nowhere, obviously going the same way. You've already missed the window of opportunity for a quick head bob to acknowledge each other, so now you're stuck walking side by side until one of you makes a move. You are literally going at the same pace and there's less than a foot between you so now it looks like you're out on a walk together and people are going to think you're a couple. Any minute now someone is gonna have to speak. You can't slow down and drop backwards because he's familiar with your walking pace now and he'll know what you're doing. Plus, you don't wanna hurt his feelings! Suddenly he looks over and smiles. He's feeling as awkward as you. Good. Maybe he'll speed up. Oh f*** it you're going to have to turn off at the next opportunity and pretend you're going another way.
Last week was Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and we saw women take part in Jo's Trust #smearforsmear campaign, sharing their best lipstick smears to raise awareness and encourage woman not to put off their smear tests any longer. I know this post is a bit of fun (and a few days late!), but this is an important topic, and one we shouldn't be afraid to talk about. My smear test wasn't painful or uncomfortable. It took about 45 seconds and the nurse was a total dreamboat.
It is terrifying that in 2018, we as women are avoiding this life-saving test because we're worried about the look of our bodies. I wanted to write this post to do my part in raising awareness as well as prove to myself that I'm confident with the way I look, stretch marks and cellulite and untamed eyebrows included.
If you're one of the women avoiding her smear test because of fear or embarrassment, please reconsider. You are f*****g gorgeous and your body is exactly the way it should be. A smear test could save your life, so don't let any misguided perception of beauty stop you from living your life.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU GO FOR YOUR SMEAR TEST
The whole thing takes about five minutes.
After you're called into the appointment, your doctor or nurse will remind you that this is not a test for cancer, it's a test to check the general health of your cervix.
You'll be asked to undress from the waist down, and you'll usually have privacy to do this.
This is the part where you'll hop around with your knickers scrunched up in your hand wondering where to put them. Anywhere will do! Mine usually end up on the floor, wrapped up inside my jeans. Literally no-one in the world cares where you put your knickers.
Once you're undressed, you'll be asked to lie down, put your feet close to your bottom and then let your legs fall open. This is gonna feel super weird, but the doc's seen like ten thousand vaginas in her lifetime so whatever it looks like down there she ain't gonna care!
The doc will then take a plastic tool called a speculum and insert it into your vagina. It's very gentle and doesn't hurt in the slightest.
If you can relax your hips at this point, it will be a total breeze, but even if you can't it won't be a problem - I was super tense during my first appointment and it was totally fine.
The speculum gently holds the walls of the vagina open so that a small sample of cells can be taken from the cervix.
The sample is taken using a tiny brush that goes in through the speculum.
This process is so quick and you will NOT feel it.
The doc/nurse will say, 'Okay I'm going to take the sample now!' and it'll be over before you know it's started.
The person who came up with the clever idea to use the term, 'scrape' for a smear test was obviously a man, because it feels NOTHING like a scrape.
I didn't even feel it.
Your cell sample will be sent off straight away and you'll get the results within two weeks.
Remember that abnormal results are actually quite common, so even if you're asked to pop along for more tests it doesn't mean you have cancer.
Try to relax whilst waiting for your results! I know this is hard for those who suffer from health-related anxiety, but try to take extra care of yourself whilst you are waiting for the letter.
WHAT IF I GET AN ABNORMAL RESULT?
An abnormal test result after a smear test is actually pretty common. It just means there's been some changes in the cells covering the neck of your womb (cervix). This is not cancer. Cell changes can be caused by all sorts of things - including infections and even some medicines. An abnormal result just means you need some more tests. If your cell changes are on the 'mild' scale then the abnormalities will usually go back to normal on their own. If they are classed as 'severe' changes, you will need to have a colonoscopy to establish what's going on. It's important to remember that most women with an abnormal result have early changes in their cells and do not have cancer. For more information on cervical screening results please take a look at the Macmillan website - it's where I did most of the research for this post. It also offers fantastic support and resources for those with cancer and for those who know someone with cancer.