Smear Testing: Why I Support #TheSmearCampaign

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Growing up, I only had one grandmother. My mother’s mum had died before I was born. Over the years, I learned that it was because of Cervical Cancer. She had been diagnosed when she was 30, purely by chance as she had been bleeding during her 6th pregnancy. Until that point, she had never had a smear test. Because she was pregnant, the options were limited and pregnancy hormones caused the cancer to grow faster than it usually would. 

Once my uncle was born, the doctors offered her radiotherapy treatments. They didn’t offer chemotherapy or a hysterectomy as she was only 31 and ‘too young’. They didn’t want to take away her chance of having any more children, despite the fact that she had already given birth six times before, including a set of undetected twins. This decision by her doctors would cost her her life and leave her six surviving children motherless. 

The radiotherapy didn’t work, the cancer spread and she passed away a few days before my uncle’s third birthday. He has no memories of his mother. 

When I became a mother at 17, I asked for regular smear tests. With my family history, I knew that I was at higher risk and I also knew that having a baby at a young age would increase my risk further. I was refused. After the birth of my second baby, when I was 18 and a half, I begged my doctor to give me a smear test. I was terrified of leaving my children without their mother. The GP told me that if it was his decision then he would do it, but as soon as the vial got to the lab they would throw it out as I was too young. I just had to wait. 

By the time I got a letter inviting me for my first smear test, I couldn’t hop onto the nurses bed fast enough. I don’t think they had ever seen anyone so eager to get it all out. By this point I’d had 4 children and I was desperate to do everything I could to ensure that I could see them grow up.

The smear itself was simple. A lot of people worry about it, but it really is fine. Having had five children now, I’m pretty sure that the world and his mate has had a good look at my cervix by now and the nurses are always very good at being reassuring. They really have seen it all! The process is a little uncomfortable and the nurses don’t always like it if you make lots of eye contact, but definitely nothing to be worried about. I was in and out within 5 minutes, although my top tip would be that dungarees aren’t very practical smear test fashion. 

Thankfully, my results have always been fine. I am still at a higher risk than someone who doesn’t have my family history, so I make sure that I keep an eye out for any symptoms and am always straight on the phone to book a smear test whenever I get the letter. I have also made sure to teach my daughters about the importance of smear tests and understanding their own bodies. It isn’t something that I hide, they know when I am going for one and why. They know about my grandmother and how she didn’t get to see her children grow up.

I am one of the lucky ones, but thousands of women aren’t so lucky. They are refused early testing or don’t go when they are called up. By the time they get diagnosed, it is too late. The guidelines need to change, so that women are able to be listened to when they are concerned. Doctors should be able to send tests to the lab without the fear of having them thrown out. Lives could be saved.

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