Last week, I live-tweeted my first cervical screening. There’s only so much you can do with 140 characters on Twitter, so I thought I’d do a follow-up post too! I just want to start off by saying everyone’s experiences are different. I have heard a wide range of different stories, both good and bad. Thankfully, my experience was a positive one and I’m certain it was down to the fantastic nurse I had.
I’m going to be talking about my experience, what to expect from a straight forward cervical screening and hopefully give you some useful pointers along the way.
Booking the screening
So I’m not going to lie to you, I had some difficulty booking mine. Do you know why? Because nobody tells you when’s the right time to book! I called as soon as I got my letter and spent two months trying to book it. My doctor’s surgery only accept bookings three weeks in advance and they ask you book it in the middle of your cycle. The first time I called I had to call back a month later because it was the wrong time in my cycle. The second they were all booked up. The receptionist told me to call the day I got my period and you know what? That was the easiest solution. I would recommend calling the day you get your period (and mention this!) and take it from there. I booked mine for eight days later; my period had ended and discharge wasn’t heavy.
I would also recommend thinking about the time of the day you book it too. I booked mine for first thing in the morning, so I could get it out of the way and continue with my day. However, when I arrived they were behind schedule so I had to wait a while. If you’re already nervous it’s likely you don’t want to be kept waiting, try book it for a time where it’s likely to be quiet if you can. Obviously this differs with each surgery but I noticed mine is quieter during school hours mid-week. You can always ask the receptionist when they think is best.
Things you can do/think about before your cervical screening
If you are somebody who gets nervous about things like this, the build up can’t be fun. I would recommend thinking about things you need to do beforehand to make the day itself less stressful. Think about your route, how much time you’ll need, what to wear etc. I hear a lot of people recommend wearing a dress but the idea of taking tights off an on again seemed tedious to me. In the end, I just went for some comfortable pyjama bottom-like pants that I could slip off at ease. When I tweeted about it, somebody suggested a long skirt with just undies underneath so you don’t feel too exposed. Ultimately, you need to wear what you feel comfortable in.
If you can, it might be worth trying to practise relaxing your muscles a bit. If you use tampons, cups, or anything else you have to insert into your vagina during menstruation, think about what you do to make that easier and try apply it here. It’s important to remind yourself that the exam should only take around five minutes.
When you first arrive
When I first arrived, we sat down and spoke for a bit. The nurse asked me where I was in my cycle, what form of contraception I was using and if I had any ‘off’ discharge recently. By off, I mean anything different from what you normally experience. Again, discharge varies person to person.
She typed all this info up and we made some small talk. We both agreed that the age should be lowered and she explained to me that the lab won’t take the samples. I normally hate small talk but something as simple as this could really help somebody else. I really do think the nurse as the reason my experience was so positive.
This is the part that seems to scare a lot of people, but it’s really not as bad as you think. However, this is easy for me to say as this kind of stuff doesn’t really phase me. Basically the nurse showed me to the table and there’s this sheet you put over yourself once you’re undressed. The curtain is closed and they’ll should only come back in once you tell you them too.
How my cervical screening went down
In case you missed my tweets, here’s what happened. I laid down in my funky socks and the nurse told me to spread my legs. She gently moved my legs for me when I wasn’t spreading them enough. She told me to clench my fists and put them under my butt to help relax the muscles (I thought this was a really neat trick).
All ready to go, I stared at the ceiling and focused on breathing. Making an effort to slow down my breathing helped relax me. I also made a point of relaxing my muscles. Breathing and being aware of what my vaginal muscles are doing is what made this easy. I don’t know how to explain it to you but it’s really about mindset. I may sound insane, but my vagina and brain really are connected. As somebody who got over vaginismus with no help from the doctors, this is what personally works for me.
The nurse will put an instrument called a speculum into your vagina; they use lube and insert it gently. When it came to insertion, she didn’t warn me but she entered slowly. I didn’t mind, I was just focusing elsewhere. Personally I think I would naturally tense up if she had warned me beforehand. However, if this is something you’d prefer definitely say. The speculum is half of the examination and holds the walls of your vagina open so the cervix can be seen. There are different size speculums available if you’re struggling. Once it’s in, they’ll take a small brush and collect some cells from the surface of your cervix. It didn’t hurt but it felt weird as she scraped quickly.
I bled during my cervical screening and that’s completely normal
Once I sat up, I saw the speculum and it was bloody. Before I could even say anything, the nurse asked me if sex was ever painful and if I experience bleeding after that. It’s happened before as a teen but it’s not something that happens regularly. She told me that the cells around my cervix are fragile and about 40% of women are the same apparently. She handed me a panty liner and let me get changed. After that, she showed me some images on the computer and explained this in more detail. Not only did I get my body looked at, I learnt something new about it too!
There was more blood on the speculum than there was on the pad. I was spotting throughout the day, but it was nothing major. Just like a light day or an end of a period. I didn’t need to change and I wasn’t in pain at all.
- Jo’s cervical cancer trust have a handy diagram that is helpful
- Emma shared her cervical screening story as well as what happens when you have abnormal results
- Tarnya blogged about her negative experience and the aftermath
I hope this has been an insightful read, now to wait for the results!