Around a year ago, I received a letter that I paid minimal attention to and quickly put into the recycling bin. That letter was an invitation to my first smear test, something I have put off for the last 12 months for multiple reasons that make little sense to anyone, including myself.
After all my fertility investigations and two subsequent rounds of IVF, you’d think that hopping on a nurses bed and somewhat dropping my knickers would be something I was fairly used to, and you would be right, however when it came to the smear test I just felt differently. I don’t know whether it was a fear of the unknown, whether I was scared of the potential results, scared it might hurt, or if it was just sheer ignorance; ignorance and the feeling of “it won’t happen to me”, whatever it was, I should have gone a lot sooner.
In the UK, women are invited for a smear test 6 months before their 25th birthday. Everyone with a cervix between the age of 25 and 64 are supposed to go for regular screening, and they receive letters in the post to invite them to do so. The screening takes place every 3 years between the ages of 25 and 49, and every 5 years from the age of 50 until you are 65.
A cervical screening – or a smear test, if you prefer – checks how healthy your cervix is. Your cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina. Quite often, there is a misconception that the cervical screening is a test for cancer. In fact, the cervical screening is a method to prevent cancer. During the appointment, your nurse will use an instrument called a speculum to open your vagina, so they are able to see your cervix. They then use a little brush – a bit like a softer toothbrush – to take a sample of cells from your cervix which are then sent off to a laboratory to be tested. The sample is checked for specific types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells in your cervix, known as high risk HPV. If anything abnormal is found, it means that these cells can be treated before they have the chance to develop into cervical cancer.
It has shocked me to learn that cervical screening attendance is at the lowest it has been in England for 21 years. In Scotland and Wales, it is at a 10 year low. There are a lot of different reasons as to why people don’t feel they can attend, however in 2018 Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that 1 in 3 women don’t attend their smear tests because of embarrassment. Further research has found that other reasons for non-attendance are being ‘too busy’, fear of what the test will find, concerns about a male carrying out screening, or feeling like their sexual behaviours meant it was irrelevant (e.g. only having sex with women).
Due to the current pandemic (when will it end!?), I wasn’t entirely sure whether I’d be able to make an appointment or not. I rang my doctor’s surgery and the receptionist told me that they were only booking smear tests for women whose last tests came back as abnormal, however as it was my first test, she would check with the nurse. The next day she was back on the phone and I had my test booked in. I felt nervous, and I can’t even really tell you why. When I was a teenager, my Mum had an abnormal test result and had to have some cells removed and I think there was a slight worry I would be in the same boat. I had also had the HPV injection when I was about 13/14 years old and so part of me felt like I was therefore somehow immune (not the case girls).
When I arrived, my nurse was in full PPE. Before my smear, I had been advised by a few friends and you lovely lot on Instagram to wear a skirt, however in true Amber style I didn’t think about practicality; I rocked up in joggers and a crop top.
My nurse was absolutely lovely. Her name was Callie and before the procedure she talked me through what she would be doing. She asked me some generic questions, whether I could be pregnant, whether I was sexually active and whether I was using any form of protection. Callie told me to prop myself up onto the bed and provided me with a paper blanket to cover myself with.
Before I knew it, it was over.
So many people had told me it was uncomfortable, that it feels like a strange scratch, but if truth be told I barely felt a thing. I have a very low pain threshold (ask my husband – he is a hairdresser and in 8 years, not once have I not said “ouch” whilst he’s either been washing or brushing my hair!), and so I expected it to be at least a little bit uncomfortable. I honestly thought it was completely and utterly fine, painless, and I’d go as far as to say not even the slightest bit uncomfortable. It was odd, and that was all.
Within 20 seconds, Callie said “there we are, all done”, and I am not joking when I say I sat up, looked her dead in the eye and said, “is that it?”. I had all this pent-up anxiety about my smear test, and it was over before I even had chance to awkwardly ask how her day had been.
I put my clothes back on behind the curtain and wandered back around where Callie explained that I would receive my results in about two weeks, I would receive a letter but she also receives a letter and so if there was anything abnormal she would give me a call. She also explained that if it did show anything abnormal, not to panic and it still doesn’t mean I have cancer.
That, my friends, was it.
That was my smear test. Done and dusted, in and out within 10 minutes.
I felt completely normal; I got home, made a cup of tea, ate a sandwich and cracked on with my day. Back to work and as though nothing had happened.
I can honestly say I will never miss a test again. I really felt like it was a complete non-event, and totally underwhelmed with the entire experience as if truth be told, I’d built it up to be this big, major happening when really, if I’d have made a tea before I left it would have still been hot when I got home.
A cervical screening could quite literally save your life, please make sure you book them.
I will leave the link below to two really good resources for you to get some more information:
And finally, my YouTube video where I talk to you about the entire process is here.
Make sure you’re following me on Instagram; I will let you all know my results when I have them!
Keep the conversation flowing – it may just remind someone to book theirs, and potentially save their lives.
Love, Amber xxx