Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs every January and this year it takes place between the 22nd and the 28th of January. Here at SCPN we’re taking part in the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust #smearforsmear campaign, and we will also be sharing a series of blog posts on highlighting the importance of smear tests in preventing cervical cancer. First up is an account by one of our scpn members experience, as she recalls going for her smear test.
“On having a recall after a cervical smear”
I’m trying to actually remember getting the letter for my first smear. I remember the period because I was doing my undergraduate degree then and I incorporated the issue into one of my projects. But I don’t really remember how I felt. I do remember going for the test and thinking it wasn’t that bad just a bit uncomfortable. I started to ask my fellow students if they’d been for their smears and the answer was mostly no with comments like
“Gross” “Scary” and “ I won’t need it-I don’t sleep around”
I was at art school and we had a brief from Royal Society of the Arts to use design methods to enhance the patient experience. I was studying textile design and one of my classmates happened to have been a nurse in her previous life. We chatted loads about the issue, the procedure and the experience, screening campaigns, invitation and stigma. I interviewed a bunch of women my age and asked them what was putting them off. I had all sorts of responses and I actually think the more we chatted about it the more likely they were to pick up the phone and make the appointment.
But, it seemed that hundreds of women (just like me) could be getting checked, for free, really early, but we are “grossed out” by the thought of it. By the time you’re 20 you might have left home, live with friends and your mum isn’t there to ask. How are you supposed to know the importance of screening, or that it’s actually not scary at all? Should we all be told by posters? Where do you put the poster? In the student union. Not what you want on a night out is it?
Fast forward I’m 26, I’ve just started a new job in in East London. First couple of weeks and I’m just getting to know who is who, everyone seems quite smiley but hard working and we haven’t yet had a social event. It’s the Tuesday afternoon lull and I’m scrolling instagram when a text pops up.
REMINDER: YOUR APPOINTMENT AT THE COLPOSCOPY UNIT IN DUNDEE THIS FRIDAY.
The sweat starts…I Look around and hope no one will know that I’m having having a massive freak out. Stay calm. Reread. C-o-l-p-o-s-c-o-p-y. Google reading makes me feel squeamish. I call the number and the nurse on the other end tells me if i can make the appointment on friday it would be better than waiting, but not to worry if I can’t make it, we can postpone. Some of my previous smears have come back with unclear results and they want to have a further investigation. I make the appointment (in Dundee!) on Friday morning and slip back through the door to my desk. I had a bunch of plans this weekend so thats a bummer and …. I’m TERRIFIED. The thought that there could be something wrong with me that I don’t know, and can’t see and can’t DO ANYTHING ABOUT takes over my mind.
A cup of tea later I take the studio manager aside to check if its alright to have time off work on Friday for a hospital appointment. Thank goodness the studio manager is a woman with two kids – bound to understand. Only when she said that I would need to take that time off as annual leave did the tears start. A conversation later and eventually it was agreed it could be counted as sick leave. But it got me thinking, what if you have to go for screening ? It going to be during office hours isnt it? Should you just take the time off as holiday and say nothing? Or have you used up all your annual leave and then you just don’t go?
So I cancelled all my weekend plans and start the journey North but not before trying to call my sister, friends and family – but no one picks up – everyone’s at work aren’t they! Finally Kate picks up, but she can’t understand a word I’m saying cos i’m blubbering and my nose is running and I can’t put my words in order. I’m so angry that something so far out of my control is causing a disruption in my life. It is removing me from one city to another. Its taking me out of my new job, it’s removing me from my friends this weekend. How unfair! The excitement I normally have heading back to Scotland shrouded by absolute FEAR of what they might find. When I get home I find mum’s away so it’s just me and dad. And that’s just not the conversation you want to have with dad, even if you are a (sort of) grown up.
I head into the hospital. Something horrific about sitting in the waiting room looking around. A lovely nurse collects me and I am instantly relaxed by her Dundee accent. Like your friend’s mum at the weekend. She explains what’s going to happen. The procedure is over in seconds and it wasn’t sore or scary. I felt in very safe hands and everything was explained so well. I left the hospital empowered that I’ve done something for my future today.
The results were clear and when my friend was invited for a colposcopy a few months later I was able to share my experience, not just of the 5 minutes in hospital but of the sweating in the office, the fear in the station and the great awkwardness with dad. I definitely think screening should be something mentioned by employers so you feel you can go do it even if it means missing work. I received my invite for colposcopy by text message- the letters had gone to my old address. I think receiving a text was particularly shocking but then I guess it was the only way they might have got in touch since I’d changed addresses. I’m sure my experience was enhanced by the lovely Dundee nurses, but I have since registered with a GP in London and will always look out for future results.