At approximately 24 and a half years old, I received the letter in the post that I had been dreading, ever since I knew what a smear test was. The fact that the letter used words like “invited” didn’t make it any more cutesy or appealing. The fact of the matter was, I was at the age where a doctor needed me to spread my legs on a table and look into my fanny. There’s no beating around the bush (pun intended) and no sugar coating it really. It was time for my very first smear test.
I used to suffer with terrible health anxiety, so 6 years ago when I attended my first smear test, the anxiety was pretty overwhelming at times. I’ve since been for a colposcopy appointment and my second smear test and my nerves have calmed right down about it – I also don’t suffer with an anxiety disorder anymore so that helps!
But what I’m getting at is real and intense fear and anxiety around cervical screenings isn’t something to laugh or joke about. It can literally cause people not to attend their life-saving appointments and that’s the exact opposite of what we want. So if you’re about to attend a screening and your nerves are through the roof, know that it’s normal and your feelings are valid.
For more information of the importance of smear tests, check out Jo’s Trust Cervical Cancer Charity.
My personal experience of my first smear test
Okay, so let’s skim past the boring stuff. I booked my appointment easily over the phone with the family planning doctor in my surgery. But you can see your nurse for your test, too. I told the receptionist I was scared so she wrote on my notes, “might not be brave enough to get it done today“. Which was actually very helpful.
I got to the doctors and despite being almost 25 at the time, my mum came with me. Made sure I had my Bach’s Rescue Remedy Spray (the herbal remedy I was using for anxiety at the time before I started Citalopram) and a cold bottle of water with me to calm me down, too. I wore a skirt as that makes the process a lot quicker and easier.
I was called into the room and first of all, my doctor looked so much like a slightly older version of Sarah Millican and was so bloody lovely that I think that’s what calmed my nerves so much. I found that I was actually more nervous about the whole thing in the morning – my appointment was at 5 – than I was siting in the waiting room. Strange.
So I finally got over how much I wanted to shout “Dairy Millican!” at her and she asked me if I was still on the pill, which I am and then demonstrated what the brush was going to do (a soft and gentle twirl around the base of the cervix) and showed me the brush itself. She let me feel it and honestly, it’s the softest plastic ever. And small. So any fears of a huge, metal scalpel about to claw away at my insides were gone.
She asked if I had any questions and I mentioned I was worried about the speculum hurting and if she was able to use a smaller one (they have smaller ones on hand – make sure you ask if you feel this would benefit you!) and she told me she always uses the small one anyway. Which was a relief.
She then let me get myself undressed and told me I could leave my skirt on and get comfy on the table. At this point she came back into the little side room armed with the speculum and I actually said, “is that it?!” The smaller one was a lot smaller than I expected so that put me right at ease. She covered it in a water based lubricant to make the entry a little easier.
At this point she asks me what I do so I start rambling on until I realise she’s down at my bits putting the speculum in. It felt like a bit of a struggle at first – understandably because I’m not going to be naturally lubricated up and ready for action at a smear test but in it went. It was uncomfortable – especially being opened. But once it was actually open and staying open, it was fine. I just acclimatized to the uncomfortableness.
The worst part for me was the brush. It didn’t hurt at all; it wasn’t really even uncomfortable. I could barely feel it but it made me cringe. It was a weird, cringy feeling. She said I may feel some period type cramps when the brushing was being done but honestly, I didn’t notice any through my gritted teeth.
However the “brushing” literally lasted 7 seconds then the brush was out, the speculum was out (came out a lot easier than it went in lemme tell you) and she said it was done.
She let me get myself dressed and finished off the appointment telling me I’ll get results in the post and that I’m free to leave. She also gave me another 6 months prescription if my pill whilst I was there. I was pleasantly surprised that I got no after effects and I came out the doctors completely elated and proud of myself for getting it done.
Quick tips for anyone attending their first smear test:
- You can take someone in with you, if it will make you feel better
- Wear a skirt – even if it’s cold out. It makes access so much easier.
- You CAN ask for a smaller speculum. They do provide them!
- Do not research and read horror stories before hand. They don’t help and they’re irrelevant. This is your experience.
- Tell your doctor/nurse if you’re nervous. Even tell the receptionist over the phone and like with me, they may be able to make a note on your file so the doctor/nurse is prepared for the fact that you’ll be nervous before you even get there.
- Have a little downstairs wash before you go, just for common decency. But you don’t have to shave or be worried about what it looks like down there. Your doctor will have seen it all before.
- Bleeding or stomach cramps after the test is completely normal! Don’t freak out if you get either/or.
- Remember that the test is NOT looking for cancer!
- Consider it a form of self care; like getting your hair or nails done. It’s an important thing you should do to take care of yourself; your future self might thank you for it. Plus… it’s free! Take advantage of that privilege that some people do not have.
How was your first cervical screening? Did it go smoothly? Any memorable moments or stories? Let me know in the comments!
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