2018 – #YearOfTheSmear
Happy New Year! We want to start 2018 with an important piece about a very important issue that’s close to our hearts. We’re launching our very own campaign; #YearOfTheSmear, as we want to encourage all of you to make a resolution and attend your cervical screening appointments.
January 22 – 28 is Cervical Screening Awareness Week. Yes, this is an embarrassing topic, and yes it can be slightly uncomfortable, but it’s also an all-important test that can discover and prevent cancer, and it’s much easier than childbirth. Lying on that bed for a few minutes at our local surgery or clinic could save your life, so please ensure that your smear test is on the top of your new year’s resolution list for 2018. Join our #YearOfTheSmear campaign and help us encourage more women in Wales and beyond to attend their appointments from now on.
Why? Because according to Cervical Screening Wales’s latest statistical report, in 2016 – 2017, 236,000 women in Wales between 25 – 64 years old were invited for cervical screening, but only 177,000 of these booked and attended their appointments, which means that 59,000 women in Wales were not tested. The majority of these women are our age, between the ages of 25 and 49. Many of these are probably Mums. Are you one of these?
These statistics are scary, and what’s more, following a telephone conversation with Cervical Screening Wales, Mam Cymru learnt that the figures show a regular decline in the number of women attending their appointments in Wales every quarter. Why is this? Why are we deciding not to attend an appointment that can help to prevent cancer? A quick appointment that could save our lives?
I was about 20 years old, and I was dreading my first smear test. Friends and relatives had told me that it was uncomfortable, and I felt so embarrassed, especially as I live in rural mid Wales and my parents were friends with most of the staff in the surgery! Cringe! Despite this, I always knew how important it was, and that it could prevent cancer, so I thought of Wales and just got on with it!
The results arrived by post, a little sooner than expected, and I was confident that everything would be fine as I’d never experienced any funny feelings or symptoms in that department. Unfortunately, the results told a different and unexpected story, they had found some abnormal cells and I was sent to the colposcopy clinic for further tests. I was advised to have a biopsy to remove some of the cells immediately. I was scared, it was painful, but the colposcopist told me they had to remove the abnormalities as they were graded as a level 3, which was severe and likely to be cancerous.
My treatment was done under general anaesthetic, it took less than half an hour. At the end of it, I cried and felt so relieved when the specialist said they had managed to remove the whole affected area. I didn’t realise beforehand that this treatment could affect my chances of conceiving later on in life, but the reality was that I had to have the treatment, as it was so severe, and I may not have had a ‘later life’ if it wasn’t done.
Following this, I was monitored on an annual basis for several years. I was one of the lucky ones, and even though it took some time, I was able to conceive a child and become a Mam. I thank my lucky stars and am so glad I went for that appointment.
My experience has always inspired me to encourage others to go for their tests. My Uni friends had no choice! I forced them to go, I even made appointments for them and drove them there! I even sat with them through the ‘ordeal’ and was happy to learn that none of them had any abnormalities, and that it actually wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be!
Thankfully, I’ve had the all clear, which means I only have to attend my tests once every three years now, which is ‘the norm’. Following my treatment, I do have a small scar that makes the tests a bit more uncomfortable, but it’s nothing compared to what could have been if I hadn’t attended that appointment.
My last test took place last year, and I had to take my four -year – old daughter with me as I had no one to look after her. I imagined her staying by my side, but she insisted on going down to the ‘business end’ as she loves playing doctors at home! I was worried it would scar her for life, but she was fascinated, and asked so many questions! When it’s time for her to go, I’ll be making the call and marching her down to the surgery too. It’s one of the most important things we can do as women and Mums, so please make sure you go, and force your friends and family to go too – it’s really a call that could save your life, I’m proof of that.
I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to say, but thankfully my story is somewhat less dramatic than Heulwen’s!
As an American, and at least when I was growing up being a girl, and reaching puberty meant one thing- a visit to the Gynaecologist. Whether you wanted to, or needed to, off you were packed alongside your mother, just to make sure all was well. This was something that was to be repeated yearly, at least for me. Not because there were any issues, but just because it was how my Dr.rolled. It was to coin a phrase ‘a fact of life’ that myself and my friends had to endure. Did I mention that my Dr was also one of my best friend’s dad? We lived in a small town and looking back on it, when she had a gathering at her house once we were all teenagers it was really rather weird. I don’t guess we saw it like that.
Fast forward to me expecting my first son, he was born in the States so I had all of my prenatal care there which meant, yes you guessed it- an internal at every appointment. Oh, the joy.
I tell you these things as way of a bit of history to my relaxed feeling towards having a ‘smear’ test (what a god-awful term, maybe change it to make it sound a bit less horrid?? I know they call it Cervical Screening technically, but that too is a bit cold and clinical). I now live in another small town, but here in Wales everyone knows everyone, and this includes of course the nurse, who has the privilege of carrying out these exams on each and every one of the fair ladies in the local. On each of my tests- every three years, on the dot- I hop on the table, ankles together, scoot my feet to my bum and just relax whilst we talk of local deaths, marriages and christenings, and then it’s done. I leave knowing that the NHS is there looking after me, where let’s be honest, it’s pretty hard for me to look after myself.
It is a bit of an inconvenience, and yes it can be uncomfortable or embarrassing but, it is definitely better than the alternative. As you are reading this, I’m going to make a few assumptions, you are a woman, and you are a mother. What would you say to your daughter? Wouldn’t you want her to be as safe as possible? Well apply some of that love and care to yourself, you deserve it.
If you haven’t had an exam in over three years, or are putting off booking your latest we both can’t urge you enough to do it, and do it now. If you can’t face it alone, call a friend, tell your nurse or doctor or tell your Mom. A few minutes inconvenience could save your life.
PLEASE LADIES MAKE THIS YEAR THE #YearOfTheSmear – If you’re due, do yourself a favour and book it..NOW! If not, share this campaign and article and encourage your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues to do it.
For more information about Cervical Screening in Wales, please visit www.cervicalscreening.wales
By Heulwen Davies and Ashleigh Edwards, Mam Cymru.
*Copyright Mam Cymru.