Why I’m Defaulting On Cervical Screening

Defaulter: a person who fails to fulfil a duty, obligation, or undertaking.

Google Dictionary

It’s a cold, dark, quiet night in 2017. I’m sat in a warm, deep bubble bath, mobile phone in one hand, a large glass of wine in the other.

If I didn’t know how important it was to go, I wouldn’t go.

That was my message to my Mum.

I was traumatised after the second cervical screening appointment I’d ever been to. I put my glass of wine on the cabinet, curled my arms around my knees and rested my head on arms.

I felt.. violated.

The first time I went for a cervical smear, it took me 7 months of gearing myself up for the main event. I’ll never forget it, it was the week before my third wedding anniversary- the perfect distraction for this undignified procedure,

Or so I thought.

Before we began, the nurse needed to check my credentials. I pointed out the mistake in that I am a Mrs, not a Miss, and she snapped at me,

“Well it doesn’t really matter, does it?!”

Considering my upcoming wedding anniversary was distracting me and motivating me, yes, it mattered a great deal.

The first time the nurse inserted the speculum, I was okay with it. It felt cold and invasive but I was okay with it. A few minutes, I told myself, a few minutes.

But then she started opening it, and a bit stretched became a bit uncomfortable. Okay, I can deal. It won’t be so bad.

A bit more.

Heh.. okay.. I suppose it’s medical, after all.

A bit more.

Okay.. oww.. this hurts, I should probably say something.

Quite a bit more.

What the hell are you doing to me, lady?!

I left my first appointment sore, feeling physically and emotionally violated and like I’d been torn in two. It happened, and none of it felt even remotely okay. I would rather they drew blood than I had to go through that again. That’s how much it hurt.

I was willing to overocme my fear of needles, and give up blood.

It took me about three weeks to really get over the first time. I was sore, and shaken. I also bled a little bit, but I sort of knew that was normal.

The second time, I had a much nicer nurse and I felt much more reassured about things. This would be a breeze, and I knew what to expect.

“Bend your knees up, and just sort of… foof! Let them fall open” she said.

I don’t let my legs just fall open, not even for sex.

As daft as it sounds, I couldn’t do it, I had to physically and tentatively move them open. Such a bold reveal just wasn’t in me.

This nurse was a lot more clinical. Grabbing the swivel light from the wall and hovering it over my hips. I stared at the ceiling as her light illuminated my private bits.

The shame.

She was a lot more gentle, but she started talking to my cervix.

Yes, talking to it.

“Where are you? Oh, there you are! You’re a shy little thing, aren’t you?”

Please, kill me know.

When she held the speculum so she could take the sample, she managed to dig one of the blades into the wall of my vagina. It was a different pain to last time, but it still hurt nonetheless.

Enough, I couldn’t be dealing with any more of these damn things.

I wrote some time ago in support in support of the revolutionary idea to test for cervical screening from a urine sample. If it can be done and be more reliable than conventional cervical screening, then it will mean an end to painful and humiliating procedures for women in low-risk groups like me. An end to pain and tense muscles for women like me, who struggle with anxiety.

There is some theory that some doctors and the NHS staff are paid to carry out cervical screening, regardless of risk. The more they do, the bigger the pay packet. To some extent, I have an iota of evidence that might back up this theory.

in 2009, I worked for the NHS. We were just coming up to a winter with swine flu and I was a team of about 7 admin assistants tasked with distributing approximately 2,000 letters inviting high-risk patients for immunisation. After a month of folding and paper cuts, we were finally all given a Christmas card each.

“A little something for your hard work this past month” my manager said,

In it, was a £60 John Lewis gift card. £60!

That’s only a little less than what my own biological mother spends on me.

If rumours are true, then the 4 medical secretaries each pocketed £200 in vouchers. If you work that out, that’s more than £1,500, in our office alone.

So yes, I do fully back the idea that some (though not all) of medical treatments are financially incentivised.

Of course, I am absolutely not advocating every woman to pass up her right to cervical screening, and it absolutely comes down to recognising and knowing your risks. The risk groups for developing cervical cancer include:-

  • Being a smoker – Smoking alone doubles your risk.
  • Being exposed to HPV 16 & 18 through skin-to-skin contact with the genital area of an infected person
  • Taking the combined oral contraceptive pill
  • Immune system deficiency
  • Age – women 20+ are more likely to develop cervical cancer
  • Genital herpes
  • Exposure to DES ( diethylstilbestrol)

For me, the risk is very, very small. So small in fact, that I’m willing to wait three years for the urine test to become available.

  • I’ve only ever had unprotected sex with one man, who used barrier methods with his ex-partners, so any risk is unlikely.
  • I don’t smoke
  • I don’t have herpes
  • I take the progesterone-only contraceptive pill (POP)
  • My immune system is pretty kick-ass
  • I’m 31, and both of my past results were normal
  • I was born in 1988. Use of diethylstilbestrol stopped in 1970.

That leaves only my age, and any number of things can happen in three years.

I do follow the news on this story, and I hope, really hope, that our government decides to roll out the simple urine test soon. I also know that our media likes to remind us about the fate of Jade Goody and how important cervical screening is. We have also seen the smeared lipstick campaign, which I chose intentionally not to part-take in. Testing for cervical cancer may be important, but so is the physical and mental impact from these invasive procedures.

I know that I will be summoned again next year. For that, I plan to write a letter to my GP and refuse my screening, I will also underscore my reasons for declining, along with underlining all the reasons that make me exceptionally low-risk. Cervical cancer takes 10-20 years to develop, and the urine test is expected to be ready in three. Once the new test is released, I will happily fulfill my obligations again, pain and humiliation-free.

Cervical screening does hurt, it is invasive and unless you have a substantial risk of developing cervical cancer, it is quite often also completely unnecessary. I can’t tell you what to do, but do your homework, know your risks and if you feel you’d rather wait a little bit for an alternative, don’t be afraid to say no.

Stay well, folks,

Helen xx

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