To the left, to the left, everything you own in the box to the left.
Queen Bey once sang these immortal words and I have found that my life, a lot of things lean to the left. My left foot is larger than my right, my political persuasion is most certainly left wing and my cervix, naturally, curves to the left.
That’s right folks, strap yourself in for another anatomy themed blog post from yours truly; this week we are talking about female bits, cervices and smear tests. What fun!
So let’s get serious for a moment.
This week, 21st– 27th of January, is Cervical Cancer Awareness Week and the brilliant charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust are running their #SmearforSmear campaign. The charity work tirelessly to raise awareness about how women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer. Over 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK, yet it is one of the only cancers that can be prevented. Cervical screening, a smear test, checks for cell changes (abnormalities) on your cervix caused by a virus called HPV.
Smear tests are, first and foremost, a way the check the health of your cervix.
Smears are also the best protection against the potential of HPV, followed by the HPV vaccine offered in schools.
Yet cervical screening uptake is at an all time low with one in four women not booking a potentially life-saving test.
I was absolutely shocked to read this statistic.
I’m old enough now to fall into the category of women who had their first smear test, at the age of only 21. #21SmearCrew- can I really make this a thing?!
They have now moved the age limit so women aged 25-49 are invited every three years and women aged 50-64 are invited every five years to come in for a smear.
I remember my first smear, as if it were yesterday. I was in my third year at university, it was February and I was really bloody nervous. And that is completely OK. It is a bit of a surreal thought, isn’t it, a nurse looking between your legs and taking a some cells from your cervix.
I was anxious; what pants should I be wearing? Will it hurt? What if someone judges my vagina!?
All of these concerns and worries were completely unfounded.
The nurse was lovely, it was a little uncomfy for a maximum of 30 seconds and then it was done. And when she asked if I was feeling OK before kicking off down there, and I explained I was a bit nervous, she firmly told me not to worry because she had literally seen it all before.
It didn’t matter what colour my knickers were, whether I’d forgotten to shave my bikini line or the fact that I had to take my trousers off and open my legs for a nurse (don’t worry, you get given some super fashionable blue paper to cover yourself so you aren’t lying there starkers!)
The whole process took under two minutes and yes, it will feel a little strange but I cannot stress how so darn important it is that you attend your regular smear test.
This was smear test experience number one. I’ve had numerous other examinations and tests since that date and I am now so accustomed to having the remove under garments in front of medical professionals, any embarrassment or anxiousness I may have once had goes away as fast as you can say ‘PANTS OFF!’. A few moments of feeling a bit odd can truly make a life-changing difference.
A particularly memorable encounter for me was during a standard STI test- again it is super important you regularly go along to these too!- and I was chatting away to the nurse when she promptly remarked ‘Has anyone ever told you your cervix swerves to the left?’ to which I retorted, ‘Ooo, that’s handy, just like my political persuasion!’.
Not only do I never forget which way to vote in an election, it also means that whenever I need to have a smear or anything similar in the lady garden region, I can tell someone.
Doctors and nurses are incredible human beings and knowing such information makes their job a little easier and also makes the whole thing less potentially stressful for you. If you also know some cool information about how your cervix likes to do things, please don’t be embarrassed in sharing this; it’ll make everything so much more comfortable at future appointments.
I really love that I have a swervy, far- left cervix. We all come in different shapes and sizes and there is no standard one size fits all.
There’s a lot of things that can be done in your appointment so you feel 100% at ease; speculums come in different shapes and sizes to suit your needs, you can bring a friend to your appointment, ask all the questions you want to know and remember you can say stop in your appointment at at time because it is just that, your appointment.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s latest research found that
women didn’t go to their smear test because they were worried about making a
fuss (27%), feared being judged (18%) or thought their concerns are too silly
or small (16%) meaning women may instead be avoiding a potentially life-saving
No worry is ever silly or small, there is no judgement whatsoever and there is no such thing as making a fuss when it comes to your health. Please remember medical practitioners just want to offer the best test possible to as many women as possible.
I think back to little 21 year old Rebecca who was feeling nervous, anxious and embarrassed in that doctor’s waiting room and, if I could, I would give her a hug, tell her not to worry and remind her that she is a goddess. The next five minutes will be unusual but are super important and I would firmly inform her that she can handle anything life throws at her.
My next smear isn’t due until I’m 28, so just under three years to go. When my letter arrives, my Socialist, swervy cervix and I (I call her Babs, after Barbara Castle, of course) will get ourselves down to the doctors, go in to the appointment and get checked out.
Please, please, please don’t let fear stop you from booking your test.
Take a deep breath, ask any questions about anything you are unsure on, share any concerns you have and in a matter of moments, you’ll be done. YOU. GOT. THIS. GIRL.
For more information on Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s smear test awareness campaign #SmearForSmear, please visit www.jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear