The following blog post has been written by Jenny Drew.
Best way to start this smear test blog? Who am I?
Well, I’m a 38-year-old, tall, fat woman, who currently lives in Leeds and comes from Scotland. I’m no-one special really, I’m just me, just like you, and you, and yup, even you!
The one thing that makes me the same as over 50% of the people on this planet is that I was born with a vagina. Yup, I said it. Vagina. Let’s kick this off by admitting that that’s what we’ve got. It’s not: a nunny, or a floof, or a flower, or a va-jay-jay, or a punani, or our lady garden, or any of those other words we seem to have developed because we’re too embarrassed to give it the proper medical name. There are labia minora and majora, the clitoris, the vagina, the urethra, the anus, and the cervix which is located up inside the vagina.
Why am I telling you this and possibly making you a little red faced and squirmy on your chair? Well, I’m wanting to talk to you about smear tests (cervical screening) and my experiences of them. I personally believe that a lot of people don’t go for their regular checks because it’s a hugely personal and potentially embarrassing situation – and the embarrassment comes from all sorts of different angles. So I thought I’d start with the first, which I personally believe is that people are too embarrassed to talk about what’s between their legs, and have come up with all sorts of names for everything, rather than calling it what it really is.
So folks, why don’t we start by taking back the word vagina and realising that it’s not a gross or dirty word to use, but is in fact natural, and normal, and something that over 50% of people were born with.
Now, believe you me, I wasn’t of that opinion when I was younger! There’s no chance I’d even think of sitting down and writing something about a vagina and smear tests. I used to get those letters through the post, read them, and immediately bin them – because there was absolutely no way I was going to lie there in front of a stranger, with my legs spread as they looked up inside of me, inserted things into me, and did who knows what else. Oh, and don’t forget the pain – I’d heard it hurt too.
So no chance! After all, as I already mentioned, I’m fat so my vagina probably looked fat too. Because I’m fat, I sweat more than other might, which meant it probably smelt weird right? And the hair! What is the fashion for hair down there these days? Because who has time to keep up with all of the trends, and then spend the time actually shaving and sculpting it to look ‘right’? What if something doesn’t look normal and I don’t look like everyone else and I just didn’t know? What if the results come back as there being a problem? Surely ignorance is bliss? And then there’s that pain again right?
Now, I’m hoping a few of you are finding the corners of your lips are rising into a smile, or nodding along? I know I’m not the only one who has thought these things right? And I’m definitely not the only one who has allowed all of these thoughts, and more, put them off going for the smear test.
However, something changed for me. I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and one of the side effects I have from it means that I never started my periods. So after my 31st birthday when I started bleeding for prolonged periods of time, I knew there was something wrong. At the time though, I was going through treatment for advanced thyroid cancer, so each time I mentioned it to the doctors – both GP and specialists – I was waved off and told that it was normal, and women’s periods do change.
No-one seemed to listen to me that change is one thing, starting after never being was a whole other thing! I finally put my foot down and threw a bit of a strop, demanding to see someone after I had started bleeding in the March, and we were now in the August – non-stop.
This meant it was time to put on (well, take off) the big girl knickers, lie back, and let whoever needed to, examine me. And you know what? It was nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be! I made sure that the smear test appointment was in the morning as it meant I could be freshly showered and then straight there with minimal time for sweating. I did absolutely nothing with the hair on either my legs or the vaginal area because no-one has time for that, and the itching when it grows back, ooo no thank you!
There were absolutely no comments about how I looked, or how fat anything may or may not have been. The doctors and nurses were all very kind and considerate, and made sure that at all times I was as comfortable and relaxed as I could be, and if at any point I asked them to pause or stop something, they did immediately.
This big scary thing that I had built up in my mind was nowhere near as big or as scary as I had thought it was going to be. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t fun or appealing, and isn’t something I’d want to do once a week. But once every 3 years is a doddle, because for a while there I was having examinations and procedures done once every month!
So my advice is to take a deep breath and make that call to book the appointment. It might seem like a big scary monster in your head, but after you’ve done it you’ll realise it wasn’t so bad after all. And the best bit? It might actually save your life – it did mine.
Special thanks to our first guest blogger Jenny Drew.
The content of this blog has been written by Jenny Drew and is representative of their views not the views of Leeds Cancer Awareness. If you would like to reproduce any aspect of this blog please seek the permission of the blog author.
To find out about signs and symptoms of cancer and about the available NHS cancer screening services visit Leeds Cancer.