The Smear Campaign

Posted On: 03/05/2015

By: Raechel Travis

There are many age related ‘firsts’ in every person’s life: your first kiss in your teens, your first time driving a car after 17, your first legal drink at 18, and for women your first smear test at 25. While nowhere near as glamorous as your time flashing your ID in town or driving in the sun in your new car it’s a ‘first’ nonetheless but one that people sometimes overlook; with tragic consequences. 

The ‘dreaded smear’ as my friend and I have come to label it (or Cervical Screening test as they are now known) - is a test to identify abnormal cells in a woman’s cervix. Early identification means any abnormalities can be treated early, if left untreated they could lead to cancer. Around your 25th birthday (or six months before in my case) you’ll receive a letter from your local GP advising you to book in for your first smear test. 

The only knowledge of the smear test was from my friend who told me she was receiving regular reminder letters to tell her to go which she kept ignoring as the thought terrified her. ‘Must be proper bad’ I thought, so quickly hid my letter away and buried my head in the sand once it was received. 

Six months passed and I received another letter telling me to book in. Deciding to form my own opinion on whether I should go, I did a quick Google to see what the crack was. Now I’m the type of medical wuss who can’t even watch Holby City without feeling queasy, so after a few minutes reading into the (very minor) procedure I was white with fear and quickly shoved the letter into a drawer again.

A few months later and still living in denial that this was a test I should undertake, I was reading the news online and happened across a story of a mother of two aged 28 who had recently been diagnosed with cervical cancer. The poor woman had been given months to live and the story was detailing her and her husband's recent wedding and the provisions she is making for his and their children’s future without her.

At the end of the article there was a note from the woman’s doctor which said she would have had a high chance of survival if the cancer had been caught early. The illness was only picked up after it had already taken hold and it was too late. In other words, if she had gone to have her smear test, there’s a strong chance this could have been identified and treated.

The article really struck a chord with me - and I decided to revisit the smear research. The NHS has reported although the number of women invited to be tested has remained relatively constant, the number of completed tests has reduced. Early detection of abnormal cells through a smear test can prevent 75% of cancers developing. 

With these figures in mind I decided to man up and get my appointment booked. After being petrified for days before of what would happen, my 15 minutes in my doctor’s office was no where near the horror story I had painted. I had to take off my jeans while the doctor used a small brush to briefly ‘sweep around’ my cervix. I won’t lie, it wasn’t pleasant but over before I knew it and I was on my way. No wailing from me, no blood, no last rites from a priest like I had envisioned. Just a quick ‘pop in and pop out’.

Now I await my test results which is a bit nerve wracking but I’m happy I’ve done all I can on my part to take control and responsibility of my own health. Moral of the story - it’s really not that bad, 10 minutes of being uncomfortable and mildly embarrassed could save your life.

Sassy Bird says: Regardless of what your views are on Jade Goody, you can't deny that we were all shell shocked when she passed away aged aged just 27 after being diagnosed with cervical cancer - who knows if she could have been saved had this been caught earlier. This isn't some far off disease that old people get, it can affect any of us at any time - it was only last year that a 19 year old model, Sophie Jones, from The Wirral, died from cervical cancer - she was too young to be invited for a smear. Her mother is now pushing for the age to be lowered and rightly so.

Yesterday came the shocking news that Rio Ferdinand's wife had passed away after a battle with breast cancer aged just 34 - young deaths from this non discriminatory disease have unfortunately never been so relevant.

Do yourself a favour, check your breasts regularly and go and book in for that cervical screening test. Right now.

XOXO

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