Some important post fell in the door this week that prompted me to write this post. Davey, my super postman hadn’t got an online order for me, just a plain white envelope. Ripping it open i was met with a logo i was familiar with. It was an invite…. for a smear test. Those three years have certainly flown in. I had shingles at the time of my last one so i remember it well.
No biggie though , smears are not something that bother me actually. They are not painful and are relatively quick. Dropping your nins and avoiding eye contact for those few seconds is nothing compared to the alternative. I feel that this is something that us women build up in our minds to be much bigger than it actually is. Relaxing is the key to a quick and pleasant as possible smear. The more you tense up the worse it will be. Yes, when you think about it, it is a little awkward lying up legs akimbo feeling drafty in the now exposed area. But we are all girls and it is nothing to be embarrassed or worried about. I always find myself saying ” I’m between waxes, sorry “. I’m not. Chances are i have waxed, shaved and plucked to an inch of my life but the situation forces that response from me. It is worth remembering that this Doctor or Nurse has probably seen more lady gardens then you have had hot dinners. You can be guaranteed they have seen it all and it is nothing to them. God we are right in there in the first paragraph aren’t we. Literally. In the grand scheme of things, if your test is clear , that’s you good to go for 3 more years providing you have no cause for concern.
This is one thing that can be confusing though. Our bodies are weird and wonderful. Symptoms can be hard to distinguish between at times. Long haul flights, illness, contraception and stress can all affect the frequency and consistency of your period and any pain in the region. This may make it hard to notice there is an issue. The same can be said for changes within the day to day functions of your who-ha. Take note though if something doesn’t feel right and mention it to your doctor or nurse.
It is very coincidental that smear tests have been a topic of conversation in my house in the past few weeks. My youngest sister and i were chatting and she mentioned that she wanted to book herself in for a smear privately and pay for the test. At 24, Sarah is under the age in which women in Ireland are tested. With the growing number of cases in young women, many have opted to go get tested themselves for piece of mind. Fortunately my sister is in a position that she could afford to put some money aside but this isn’t the case for everyone. This shouldn’t be a luxury that discriminates by age.
I’m no health professional or scientist but i did try educate myself about this disease. Signs, symptoms and how big of a part HPV plays in cervical cancer. The human papilloma virus is actually very common, in fact most of us will have it in our lifetime. There are over 400 strains of the virus and it can be passed through sex which is how it comes to be in the cells in a ladies cervix. Any girl or woman who is sexually active or is of child bearing age is at risk. As you may be aware the age in which girls are having sex and indeed babies has lowered. Therefore in theory so should the age in which smear tests are conducted. If you think about it for example a young girl contracts the HPV virus at 16. Shows no symptoms or signs that cause concern. By the time she is invited for a smear test at 25, that virus has had almost ten years to change the cells in her cervix to those of a cancer. In that time who knows what could happen? Someone who knows the answer to that question is a girl by the name of Kim.
Kim and i went to school together. We are the same age and from the same place making us the same statistic. Normally when you hear about these kind of stories it doesn’t seem like something that would affect you. Something so far from home that you only read about in magazines or see on TV. You have age on your side though right? Kim was just 26 when she was diagnosed with Cervical cancer in 2012.
Cervical Cancer Survivor Story
Before your diagnosis did you know much about cervical cancer?
I knew a small bit about it. I knew smear tests were important from the age of 25 but I didn’t have much in depth knowledge about it. It wasn’t something that was openly discussed among people. It was only when I started to develop symptoms that i learned more about the disease. I read everything I could online.
What went through your mind when you heard the words cervical cancer?
After having the abnormal smear, I knew something was up. When I went for a Coloscopy ( further in-depth look at the cervix) I was told that my smear test picked up high grade precancerous cells (CIN3),I had a LLETZ procedure (where they burn off abnormal cells) and a biopsy there and then. I knew leaving that room that it was more serious than we thought. I could just tell. Call it gut instinct. I was called back exactly two weeks later, my results had arrived that day and I was brought in to discuss them. It was here that I was told those 3 words nobody wants to hear ” you have cancer ” . I was only 26 after all. I remember it so clearly and my first words were ” what happens now? ” I didn’t cry, I didn’t freeze up, I just wanted to know what will happen to me. It’s a very surreal moment. I was so matter of fact about it! My mam and sister were outside, it was only then when I walked out of that room did it hit me. I had a little cry and that was the only time I cried through the whole journey.
What advice would you give to any new patients?
Everyone reacts differently. I have met women who reacted completely different to how I did. Everyones journey is personal to them. I always say to newly diagnosed women to feel how they want to feel. Scream, cry, say nothing, throw things! Do what you’ve got to do to get over the shock. Also, DO NOT GOOGLE! Will frighten the life out of you unnecessarily! Go to reputable websites, ask any questions you have to your oncologist or cancer nurse. (handy tip here is to write them all down, no question is too silly , before you meet your oncologist because I can guarantee you that your brain will go blank when you’re in there).
How has life changed for you?
My life is completely different now. Because of the cancer I had to have a radical hysterectomy ( womb, Fallopian tubes, cervix, parametrial tissue etc ) removed. Recovery was hard and I needed blood transfusions. My ovaries were initially kept to save me from menopause but they were both removed at a later date due to cysts so I am going through surgical menopause ( great fun by the way!) I’ve also developed osteo and rheumatoid arthritis and severe IBS. I’m in pain everyday and on quite a bit of medication daily. Daily things I took for granted are now a struggle but I deal with it well because I have to.
After being through all you have, What would you say to anyone who is putting off having a smear test?
Please don’t. Let my story be a harsh reminder of the realities of Cervical Cancer. A smear test takes 5 minutes. Don’t put it off because of embarrassment or that you’re too busy. Make time and remember, these nurses do hundreds of smears so there is nothing to be embarrassed about!
What kind of support is available to those suffering from cervical cancer or the effects of it?
This is something that I found a bit disappointing. There was a clear lack of information and support for this cancer when I was diagnosed. Hence why I went on to create Cervical Cancer Awareness Ireland. We have an information/ awareness page and also a private group for any woman going through abnormalities/cancer/survivors etc. It can be a great support and has helped many women and hopefully many more to come.
What is it you wish every woman knew about cervical cancer?
That it can happen at any age. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It is so important to look after your health and cervical screening is a must. Cervical Cancer has taken so much from me, please don’t let it happen to you.
I cannot thank Kim enough for sharing her story and giving a real insight into this horrible disease.Despite all she has been through this lady has turned her horrible experience into a positive by sharing this information and educating others. Since her recovery, Kim has returned to college and is studying for a degree while raising two beautiful boys. She is an aspiration and a great role model for all women. Her story both highlights the disease at a young age but also the lasting affects beyond remission. A story of strength , courage and determination. If you take one thing from this post, please see that smear tests are vital and really not that bad. Those few uncomfortable seconds could save your life.
You can find Kim’s Awareness page and Support Group both linked here. Do not hesitate to like or join and get involved in the conversation of spreading both awareness and support. If in doubt you can always check when your smear is due at : www.cervicalcheck.ie.
Spread awareness using #ShareTheWisdom #smearforsmear