Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Tears, Smears and My First All Clear

1 in 4 women do not attend their smear test, and until January of this year, I was the 1. 

Although Cervical Cancer Awareness Week is long gone, I felt I still wanted to get my 2 cents in, because after having a minor scare, I cannot stress just how important it is to get your smear. 

Because I live in Scotland, and because of the year I was born, I was invited for my first smear at age 20. Back then, I was living in Aberdeen and not registered to a doctor so decided to "hold off" on getting tested until I moved back home the following year. That year came and went, and although it was in the back of my mind, I still didn't bother booking my smear. I'd convinced myself that my risk was so low, and that because England didn't start testing until age 25, that I'd just wait until I was 25 too. A few more years couldn't hurt...especially if other countries weren't testing women until they were older - I mean, Scotland was in the minority here!

Ignorance was bliss in my case, and I went another 3 Januaries scrolling past the Smear for Smear campaigns plastered over social media - politely ignoring the brave women who shared their cervical cancer stories and blocked out anything that was a reminder that I was yet to book my smear test.

If I'm being honest with myself, I was scared. I was scared it would hurt, I was scared the nurse would find something sinister upon just looking and I was generally just scared of the unknown. Plus, the thought of getting my bare naked hoo-ha out in front of a stranger, for her then to have a good rummage around, wasn't too appealing either!

My blissful ignorance continued until January of this year when completely out of the blue I developed what I soon discovered, thanks to Dr Google, was a symptom of cervical cancer. And not just a symptom of cervical cancer, the main symptom of cervical cancer. I panicked - frantically googling to try and calm my mind, but this only made it worse. I came across countless stories of girls my age being diagnosed with cervical cancer, many of whom had been turned away after asking for a smear test because they were told they were too young and their risk was too low - and by the time their cancer was diagnosed, it was too late.

Being anxious didn't help my situation. I had already given myself the diagnosis and decided my fate. Although it seems so irrational and strange to those who don't suffer from anxiety issues, to me it was extremely real, my brain had convinced me I had cancer and as such, I was already making plans to shave my head pre chemo, and googling "how to freeze your eggs" due to my impending lack of fertility. This is a small insight in to how my anxiety and OCD works - I become obsessed with an idea and cannot escape my own devilish mind. 

The one thing that stuck out to me whilst in my heightened state of panic was just how STUPID I'd been to skip out on my smears. God forbid if I did have cancer, if I'd gone for my smear when I was first invited, they would have caught the cells before they became cancerous and got rid of them! I was so ANGRY at myself for taking for granted something designed to save my life. Something that was free, accessible, quick and something I'd so ignorantly pushed aside.

Out of sheer terror, the next morning I phoned my doctor and booked my smear (I was still eligible to get mine early because of the year I was born) and luckily they could fit me in two days later. Because I was terrified, I took my mum with me, which FYI is totally fine to do if you're a first timer - you can have someone else in the room to hold your hand if it helps. I barely got in the door before I broke down in tears - bawling to the nurse that I thought I had cancer and that I was so scared of what was going to happen during the smear. Thankfully, my nurse was absolutely amazing! She assured me that she had swabbed other women with my symptom before, most of whom turned out to be absolutely fine. And as for the actual smear...a little uncomfortable, PAINLESS (I pinky swear), and so bloody quick! Seriously, I couldn't believe how fast the whole thing was over and done with. I wiped my tears, apologised to the nurse for being a hot mess and off we went!

The worst part of the whole thing was the 4 week wait for my results, as you can probably imagine - my brain was in overdrive and my anxiety was yet again at a peak. 4 weeks on the dot later, a letter addressed to me branded with the NHS logo was wedged through my letterbox. I cannot tell you how nervous I was opening that letter - I could barely rip the envelope open for my shaking hands. The words on the page were all a blur as I frantically searched for phrases relating to abnormal cells and further testing however much to my surprise, those words were nowhere to be found. Everything had come back normal and they didn't want to see me for another three years. I cried the whole afternoon. I was so overwhelmed with emotion - mainly relief, but also angry I'd let myself get into this state.

Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones, and as for my symptom, it seems to have subsided, but is definitely something I need to keep an eye on. That being said, cervical cancer does not mess about. Around 60% of women who require follow up tests  after receiving abnormal results will also need treatment to remove cancerous / pre-cancerous cells. 60%. I've got friends who have had pre cancerous cells lasered off, and friends like myself who have never been for a smear. If you are reading this and are due your smear, PLEASE book it! I am the biggest wuss and have the lowest pain threshold, but I promise - it was uncomfortable at worst. Period pain, getting my ears pierced and burning myself with the straighteners were all miles more painful than my smear - three things I'm sure most other women my age have gone through and dealt with. Please don't play chicken with cancer, a few moments of discomfort is better than a cervical cancer diagnosis. 

If I've convinced at least one woman to book her smear after reading this, I've done my job.

Until next time,

S.B x

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