Why I Haven't Had A Smear Test Yet #DontFearTheSmear

22 Dec 2019

As time has gone on, I've become more and more open and honest on this blog - mainly because I feel like I can, but also because it's my space to say what's on my mind. The topic of smear tests has been whirring around in my head for a little while now, like an annoying, speculum-shaped fly that I can't swat away, and I'll be real, I've been nervous about talking about it. Not because I'm frightened of talking about smears, but because I'm three months away from being 26 and I haven't had one yet.

If you're initial reaction to that statement is shock and the "you need to go get it done, there are no excuses" feeling, then please don't comment or message me saying so, because trust me, I know. In fact, all of us who haven't been to have a smear test know how important it is, but pressuring us doesn't help. We know you care and we know you mean well, but we will get there in our time, which is why I'm sharing this post.

By the 26th of January, the end of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, I want to have had my smear test, and by publishing this post, I'm holding myself accountable, but also being completely transparent about why it's taken me so long. For some of us, it isn't just as simple as booking it and going along with maybe only a minor bit of anxiety. For some of us, the issues run a lot deeper, and I'm hoping that by sharing my reasons for not having mine done yet, I'll be able to give some comfort and maybe a bit of courage to people that have been silent. This post definitely isn't me saying that it's ok to not have a smear test, but quite the opposite! It's about sharing the reasons, making peace with them and finding confidence, so I hope I can give that to at least one other person too.

That's also the reason why I've included the #DontFearTheSmear tag in the title - because while I'm talking the reasons why I have feared the smear, I'm truly hopeful that by talking openly about it without being scared of judgement (well, maybe I'm a little bit scared), I can face it head on. This campaign aims to encourage women to go along for their smear tests, but what I love the most about it is that it isn't attacking or pressuring. It's about making women feel less alone, which is what I'm aiming to do.

That was probably the most jumbled and rambly intro to a post yet, so let's just get stuck in (pardon my phrasing) and talk about why I haven't had a smear test yet.

Body confidence and fat shaming

My whole life, I've struggled with my body image and I've always considered myself to be the biggest in any of my friendship groups. I've been called obese and been made to feel guilty about the way my arms, back, legs and belly have a bit of jiggle to them. So having my bits on show to a total stranger is absolutely terrifying for me and after reading stories of fat shaming health professionals, I'm just so scared of it happening to me.

I sometimes feel like a fraud when I talk about body confidence and fat shaming because there are plus size women out there who exude confidence and don't care about showing their body off, but then there's me, who doesn't quite know where she fits in on the mid to plus size scale and feels the need to cover up her body on the regular. That's a whole post for another day, but my lack of body confidence plays a huge part in why I haven't had a smear.

A great way for me to tackle this is to wear a skirt, which I know a lot of women do. That way, I don't have to strip off - I can just hitch the skirt up and let the nurse go about her business, but I'm always thinking, 'will my thunder thighs get in the way?' and 'what if she sees my poochy belly?'

Phone anxiety

I know, I know, you don't have to phone up your GP to book an appointment, but when you work full time, it's pretty difficult to just nip in to talk to the receptionist. I've had social anxiety for years, but there are aspects of it that I struggle with more than others, and making phone calls is right at the top of the list. I've physically thrown up and been left shaking and crying because I can't make calls as easily as I would like to, and it might seem ridiculous to some of you, but honestly, it can be crippling.

While I haven't had a full blown phone anxiety-induced panic attack in a little while, I will still try and avoid making phone calls at any cost. I'm the type of person who will email or hunt for an online chat because I simply can't cope with dialling the numbers in and speaking to another human being. I would much rather do the smear myself to be perfectly honest!

General fear of medical professionals

This is probably the reason that I'm the most likely to get over the quickest, but I have quite a fear of medical professionals in general. I haven't quite pinpointed why, but if I'm ever in a hospital or at the doctors, I just feel so uncomfortable and unsettled. My main worry with this is that I'll be laid on the bed thing with my legs akimbo, and the nurse will be telling me to relax, but little does she know, I'm absolutely terrified of her and my cervix will be closed for business.

After my A&E experience with my severely torn ligaments and the minor surgery that Alex had to have earlier this year, I've just found the idea of having to be around medical professionals increasingly more horrible to the point where my anxiety symptoms start to make an appearance. It's not exactly ideal, but like I say, it's probably the thing that I can work on the most to get over.

My grandma

While my fear of medical professionals is the least significant reason for my lack of smear test, my grandma is probably the most significant. She isn't someone that I've talked a lot about on my blog, mainly because I find it hard to talk about her in so much detail, but also because I haven't had a 'proper' reason to until this post. My grandma was like a second mum and a best friend all rolled into one, and she passed away from cancer in 2013. It totally shook our family to the core and we definitely haven't been the same since.

But the reason why she's so significant in this post is because her cancer was gynaecological and it's never been explained to me exactly which area was affected. Our family are quite to themselves and quiet about all things to do with bodies and the like, which is probably why I've never been told exactly which type of cancer she had, but it's been a total detriment to me because now I'm terrified of going along for a smear and being told that I have a hereditary cancer.

I know what you're thinking... surely that should make me want to get checked out more? And you'd be right, it does, but it's such a complicated thing to explain. I definitely do want to get checked out, but because I saw her deteriorate and ultimately disappear, I am so freaking terrified of the same thing happening to me, to the point where I don't want to hear it. I know it doesn't make sense and even as I'm sat typing this, I realise that it's confusing, but I have no idea how to make it make sense.

Because I witnessed what happened to her, I want to get checked out, but also because of what I witnessed, I want to live in denial that it could ever happen to me. If that makes sense? I realise it's an awful reason, but it's such a difficult thing to get over and come to terms with.
Like I said at the start, I realise that a lot of people will have read this post and will think that there's absolutely no excuse for not having a smear test done yet, which is totally fine and understandable. I also know that these reasons aren't as major as some people's might be, but they are mine and they're reasons that I struggle with. No two journeys are the same, but I think it's important to be able to feel like we can talk about these sorts of things without feeling like we're being judged.

By openly talking about smear tests and smear fear, we're more likely to help people to have their appointments, so please, let's keep this a safe space and a judgement free zone.

It's also important for me to reiterate that this isn't me having a moan or saying that I won't ever have a smear test because of these reasons. I've set myself a deadline to have it done and I'm pretty certain I'll end up writing a post about it. This post is simply about me being honest to get this off my chest and hopefully help other people in similar positions.

If you'd like to talk to me about smear tests, reasons why you haven't had yours yet or chat about my reasons, my inbox is always open or you can comment below!

Whould you like to comment?

  1. I love this post Olivia. How open and honest you've been in every part of it. Just to give you some context, I'm a guy so you'd think that this post wouldn't be relevant - but there are things even I can relate to.

    The issue of confidence thing and having to show yourself especially. I had testicular cancer, and it's hard to count the amount of people I had to drop me pants for...I felt embarrassed and nervous all the time, even knowing it was in my best interest.

    I'd like to think this post will resonate with a lot of people, not just on the topic of a smear test but in other areas too - and I just think your openness here will aid that. You can tell every point you've made is genuine and I wouldn't say an excuse, but just genuine reasons you've not been able to bring yourself to doing it.

    Addressing the issue, the #DontFearTheSmear message and setting yourself a personal goal of getting it done in January are all great steps. So well done to you Olivia!