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Our bodies are amazing and January 23-29 marks Cervical Cancer Prevention Week…
…a reminder to us all about the importance of having smear tests, even though we may dread them.
It is common for women to put their own health needs behind everyone else’s and let’s be honest, no-one looks forward to going for a smear. But, they are a vital part of looking after our precious bodies and our well-being. To make it easier we asked gynae nurse Jennifer Byrne for her invaluable advice on how to look after ourselves and to relax when we’re being examined.
1.Everyone who walks into the examination room feels awkward
“Being anxious beforehand is normal but turning up for smear tests every three years is so important. Tell your nurse that you’re feeling nervous and remember you can always bring a friend or a family member with you. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions – sometimes knowing exactly what’s going to happen and in what order can help.”
2. Wearing socks is a good idea
“Feeling relaxed will make any examination more comfortable so take deep breaths and try to relax your muscles. The best position for an internal exam is to bring your heels together and let your knees fall open. You might want to wear a dress or skirt so you can pull it up – that can help you keep a bit more dignity. And keep your socks on if it’s chilly – it’s hard to relax when you don’t feel warm.”
3. We don’t mind stopping
“No procedure or exam should be painful but it might feel uncomfortable. If it gets too much, tell your nurse – we really don’t mind pausing. Most exams won’t take more than a couple of minutes.”
4. We don’t care what your ‘down there’ looks like
“We see hundreds of women every week – and they come in all shapes and sizes. We aren’t here to judge or even look – our job is to check inside the vagina and look at the cervix to make sure everything is healthy,” says Jennifer.
5. We also don’t care if you’re groomed, tattooed or free-range
“Don’t compare your body to anybody else’s – there is no right or wrong way to be down below. It’s natural to have hair and I wouldn’t recommend shaving as you can get painful ingrown hairs. Everything else is normal and to us, completely irrelevant.”
“We see hundreds of women every week – and they come in all shapes and sizes.”
6. We’d like you to get your mirror out
“If women knew more about their anatomy, they would have a better understanding of changes in their bodies and what’s normal. We’re often brought up to think that looking or touching ourselves isn’t right but actually, it’s important. I think women should learn to love their vulvas and vaginas – use a mirror to see what it looks like. Women’s bodies are amazing – they’re capable of so much – so we should look after them.”
7. Chatting about periods with your mums and aunts is a good idea
“Some cancers can be hereditary so get to know your family history. If people in your family have had ovarian or cervical cancer then you might be at higher risk – you should always pass that information on and tell your GP. It can also affect what contraception and HRT you might use.
“Other useful info for your nurse is your period history – when they started, how long they last and whether you bleed in between.”
8. Help us catch any symptoms early
“It only takes one bad examination to put you off but my job is to reassure you to come back. There are lots of conditions that don’t have noticeable signs or symptoms – from STIs like chlamydia, that can affect your fertility, through to cervical cancer. All we want to do is catch problems early so that we can treat them and keep you healthy.”
9. Menopausal women are the most educated they’ve ever been
“Over the past year, women are coming in so clued-up about menopause, symptoms and treatments. It’s great – women are realising there is help available where they used to suffer in silence.”
10. My job is the best
“I worked in banking for ten years before deciding to retrain as a nurse and it was the best decision I ever made. All women deserve the right screening and treatment. Getting a ‘thank you’ at the end of the day from a woman I’ve helped is the best feeling in the world.”
Jennifer Byrne is the Lead Nurse at London Gynaecology ; london-gynaecology.com
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