Don't Be Afraid of Smear Tests | The Column
Ladies, go and get your smear.
No, it’s not fun, but honestly, it could stop a nasty surprise further down the line. About 1 in 20 women will get an abnormal result from their smear. But, just because you have an abnormal smear, doesn’t mean you have cancer. It doesn’t even mean you will get cancer.
1/1000 women with an abnormal result will need immediate treatment, but that is the whole point of smears; prevention is better than cure.
The first time I received an abnormal smear, I was a mess. I thought it was the end of the world.
I went along for the smear, it was done within minutes, and I didn’t think anything of it. Until my results letter arrived.
It was heavy, when it shouldn’t have been. Before I even opened it I knew something wasn’t right. At 25, you don’t expect to read the words ‘abnormal cells’ and ‘risk of cancer’ in relation to yourself.
The only experience I could relate this to was the year before, when I had a lump in my breast. The lump turned out to be nothing, but this smear result was different.
For one thing, at least I could feel the lump in my breast to know something was off. But with an abnormal smear, it meant something was wrong on the inside. If I hadn’t gone for the smear, there would have been no way to know that something wasn’t right.
I was called up for a colposcopy (not to be confused with a colonoscopy), which is a more invasive smear test but with a camera. It’s uncomfortable and awkward, but it had to be done. I had to wait 2 months for the colposcopy after the smear result, so I spent two months stressing. Two months of sleepless nights because I just kept thinking the worst. I was a bit of a mess.
It was my first smear, how was I supposed to know?
The day of my colposcopy arrived, and I was very jittery. I’d done all my reading, and fully expecting to have some minor surgery. I had no way of knowing until I got there, so in my typical catastrophizing way, I was scared. I was scared of what they would find, and of my future fertility.
All was well. I had some minor cell changes, but they were not cancer. I almost cried with relief. Two months of agonising, and to be told that the changes would likely heal in a year or so, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders.
I’ve had to go for a second colposcopy because the next smear came back abnormal, but this time, there were no cell changes. My cervix had healed, and again, the weight lifted.
What I’ve learned from this experience:
When you’re called up, go and get your smear. Even if you find it worrying, go and get it. Prevention is better than cure.
You will be okay. It doesn’t hurt much, just a bit of discomfort. It is worth it for peace of mind.
A healthy life will heal you much quicker, should you have an abnormal result too.
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