My Personal Experiences with having Smear Tests, in support of the #SmearForSmear Campaign.
And Living with Endometriosis, my Diagnosis and Treatment with Facts.
As a woman, I feel very strongly about the facts that have come to light in the UK news recently, and that is only 3 in 4 women of Smear Testing age are attending their tests! If you are in that percentage who have been putting it off, for whatever reason it might be, I need you to consider what I’m going to talk about today.
I am here to give you my opinions and to talk about a member of my family who is currently and bravely fighting Cervical Cancer after a diagnosis from a routine smear. Not only is she an inspiration to us as friends and family but she is raising awareness and keeping a diary of her treatment between receiving her chemotherapy sessions.
In this blog post I will be talking about my smear test experiences, and later on my diagnosis of Endometriosis and what it is like to live with. How this disease has some similar symptoms to Cervical Cancer and how having my routine smear helped me realise I needed to get more help with my issues when my tests came back normal.
I will be including some Smear and Cervical Cancer statistics throughout my post. But first I encourage you all to read my two accounts, and to consider booking or attending that test. Because do you know what? It might just save your life.
My First Smear Test
When I had my first smear test aged 25 I remember feeling rather anxious. The main reason for this anxiety was due to what pain it might cause me. I had always suffered with painful periods and other nasty issues, and I was undergoing a series of tests at the time of this first smear. My doctor was trying to determine why I was having so much pain in my abdomen. Despite this pain it was so important that I had this first routine smear to rule out anything like cervical or ovarian cancer. There are several conditions in women that share symptoms, and it is imperative that Doctors find out the root cause and distinguish what the problem might be.
The smear test itself was simple, after removing your clothes from the waist down you lay on the bed, place your feet flat together and bend your knees off to the sides. You place a sheet over your modesty and you await the nurse. My nurse was lovely and put me at ease. She was aware of my anxiety because I made it clear when I walked in – honesty is the best policy with nurses!
I first asked her to talk me through what she was doing so I could prepare myself. Trying to relax and not tense is the most difficult part. A speculum needs to be inserted into the vagina and then a light is shone on you so the nurse can see enough to take the sample. However I became rather tense and found the speculum made me very uncomfortable. The nurse could see I was distressed and she changed the size and tried again, this one was better but still hurt me.
The sample taking itself is like a quick scratch, and the nurse will let you know when they are about to do it. The cells are gathered on the implement and placed into a tube for testing. The speculum is then slowly removed and you are left alone for a moment to get dressed.
After the smear some people have 24 to 48 hours where they feel a little sore, and I did spot a little blood afterwards but nothing that a basic panty liner wouldn’t catch. Overall I was glad that I had gotten the experience over with. And less than two weeks later I received a letter in the post that told me my cells had come back as normal and I would be scheduled another routine smear in approximately three years time.
After seven trips in and out of hospital and several failed doctor tests, I found out almost two years after this smear that the reason the insertion of a speculum hurt me so much (and the reason for my other symptoms too) was because I was suffering with stage 3 Endometriosis. I was only 27. This had spread throughout my pelvis including on to my bladder and bowel and compromising my left ovary, it had grown to Stage 4 before I had surgery to remove it in 2016.
Endometriosis is an incurable condition where the cells and tissue that normally covers and grows inside the uterus grows outside of it. This often happens on the Ovaries, the Fallopian tubes, and other surrounding tissues. This can include the bowel, the bladder and other organs found inside the female pelvis. In much rarer cases it may also occur in other parts of the body such as the lungs and the brain. Once removed Endometriosis gradually grows back when hormones are present in the woman’s system, sometimes effecting the same areas as it had done before.
Endometriosis is not detectable on a Smear or a Scan, and is only diagnosed by exploratory Laparoscopy surgery. Endometriosis shares lots of Symptoms with other abdomen related problems, including some cancers. So having a routine smear test can tell you if you have any abnormal cells that need to be looked at in more detail. I cannot stress how important this test is, and if you are worried there is something wrong you must go to your doctor. I will include some more facts later in the post.
My Second Smear Test
My second smear was taken only eight weeks after I had had my Endometriosis surgery. The experience was much better the second time around, and I was less anxious of course because I knew what was going to happen. However I was still apprehensive that I would encounter the same pain as the first time. Although having the speculum inserted was still an uncomfortable process for me, the nurse managed to perform the test as quickly as possible, now knowing about my condition.
Once again the test results came in two weeks and I was very relieved to have a negative result and all my cells were fine. After having surgery only a few weeks prior to this smear, the result was something that I was a little more concerned about this time around. Lucky for me it was clear of anything sinister, and I knew I would just have the Endo to deal with. I was still coming to terms with my recent surgery, however I still kept my appointment for my smear because of how important it is.
After all that I went through, I know that I am truly one of the lucky ones, and for something that makes you uncomfortable for just a minute, it is more than worth it to perhaps save your life. One of the reasons I personally found the smear uncomfortable was purely down to having Endometriosis, and I will talk more about that in a moment.
Now For Some Facts
• Cervical Cancer is the most common type of Cancer in Women under 35.
• 1 in 4 women do not attend their routine Smear Test.
• 75% of Cervical Cancers can be prevented through regular screening tests.
• Symptoms of Cervical Cancer Include; Pain During Sex, Lower Back Pain and Irregular Bleeding (During or After Sex and In between Periods). However sometimes there are no symptoms and some people are symptom less when they get diagnosed.
• 9 out of 10 People who have a Smear, have Normal Test Results back.
• A Smear Test takes minutes to complete, and early diagnosis of Abnormal Cells could Save Your Life.
• The UK age for Smear Tests is currently 25, but if you are worried about any symptoms you may be having then please talk to your Doctor.
• There is currently no cure for Endometriosis.
• Symptoms of Endo include; Pain during Sex, Pain with the Bowel and Bladder, Bleeding between Periods, Constant Fatigue, Unexplained bouts of Extreme Pain, Unexplained Infertility, Painful and Heavy Periods and Lower Back Pain.
• 1 in 10 Women in the United Kingdom have Endometriosis.
• Infertility is a main concern for the women who have it.
• 80% of Endo sufferers frequently miss work due to the pain and other symptoms.
• It takes on Average 7.5 years to get a Diagnosis in the UK.
• 43% of women were wrongly told that the symptoms would go if they got Pregnant.
• Only 20% of the general public have heard about Endometriosis and most are women.
• Many young women are told they simply have a low pain threshold and that some symptoms are made worse by their own minds. 33% were told it was all in their head and just a case of “Bad Periods”.
• Endo is the 2nd most COMMON Gynecological Condition in the UK.
• The only Official Diagnosis is Laparoscopy and the only Treatment is Surgery.
Living with Endo
I heard a saying once that really stuck with me, it was this. “Pain is Inevitable but Suffering is Optional”. This really hit home for me, after I had struggled for almost fifteen years being told by doctor after doctor that I just had painful periods and a low pain threshold. It wasn’t until my husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for a considerable time that my GP began to run more tests. It still took two years for me to be believed by someone, and that was actually a cancer doctor at my local hospital. He listened to me and my list of symptoms, and said he would take me in for an exploratory laparoscopy before passing me on to the relevant department. It turned out that I was right all along, it was Endometriosis. The one reason I had concluded this was the fertility issues I had been having, the fact that other tests such as my smears had come back normal, and the other reason was because Endo already ran in my family.
I wouldn’t wish the Endo pain on my worst enemy. It is exhausting for day to day activities and causing fatigue, but on your period it’s 10 times worse. I have had to stay at home for days, vomiting because of severe pain and shaking from the shock it puts my body through. There have been times where I have been doubled over screaming, times where I have crawled to my bathroom, and times where I couldn’t even comprehend the pain that was happening. It has also caused me fertility issues and I have had to have surgery and treatment to get back to a normal daily life.
I cannot thank my specialist and surgeon enough for giving me my life back, they even managed to save my left ovary so that I could have fertility treatment. And although every day is hard, I am better knowing how to monitor my condition. There is no cure, and only surgery can remove it, so you have to learn what works for you. Hot Water Bottles and Strong Pain Killers have become staples in my house to get me through the rough days.
Having Endometriosis has meant I have cancelled social plans knowing my cycle would clash with it, I rearranged important events and even changed plans with very short notice to people. After a few times it became difficult for some people to understand, that you are not being awkward but you cannot be in a social environment when you are so ill. Endo has also caused me to suffer with anxiety. It all made me realise who true friends were and I am grateful to all of those who have stood by me through some rather difficult years.
Remember Endometriosis affects people in different ways, like any medical problem your body size and severity of the condition plays a part. I was actually told I must have a high pain threshold for withstanding what had been occurring inside my body, though at the times it was bad I thought I was the weakest person. Sometimes you have to believe in yourself and that the bad times will eventually pass. Thankfully for me I got help and it has gotten better.
Luckily I am now doing much better, but with an overall prognosis and time frame given to me by my specialist. I try and live every week to the fullest, although that is hard to do some weeks. But I have to say there is now light at the end of my tunnel and I am a stronger woman for the journey that I have had to overcome.
Endometriosis Awareness Month is March.
Thanks for reading this blog post today, I know that it is a lot more open and honest than some of my previous ones, but I think that it’s so important that people support one another. I wanted to be honest about what I have gone through so it may help someone else.
I may do a more in depth Endometriosis post in the future if people would find my experiences useful. If you would like to read more about this and my ways of coping, please leave me a comment.
As women we need to support each other through the things that we go through. Talk to your best friend, your mum or a female nurse if you need some further advice on Smear Tests, but please, don’t put off having your Smear.
And when you think there is something not quite right, listen to your body and go to see your Doctor about it.
Thank you for reading Severn Wishes today,
✩ Sabrina ✩
x This post was written for Hayley, and everyone currently fighting Cervical Cancer x