Natalie, 32

My cervical screening experience

Despite having a grandmother who was a cervical cancer survivor and had suffered through the invasiveness of cancer treatment, I never really took the need for cervical screening seriously and I think this was mostly due to the fact that I held many misconceptions regarding my need for the test. These misconceptions included:

  • I believed I didn’t have a ‘high’ or ‘urgent’ need to complete a test because I was not sexually active until my mid-twenties and because I had only ever had one sexual partner who I was married to. This led to me continuously ‘putting-off’ getting tested
  • I also thought that I wasn’t at ‘high-risk’ of developing cervical cancer because I’m young and so I thought I don’t need to worry about cervical cancer until I’m older like my grandmother. I thought I could delay the test until later in life, but didn’t realise cervical cancer could definitely impact young people too.

Although I did feel a bit nervous before going to my first Cervical Screening Test, I asked a friend about their experience before my appointment and talking about it made me feel a little less nervous.

I booked a long appointment with my doctor so that I wouldn’t feel rushed and so I could let them know it was my first cervical screen and ask a few questions. This really helped to make me feel less nervous.

Understanding what happens during a Cervical Screening Test

When I started working in the cancer-space myself I received training so that I could communicate cancer screening messages to others and during this process I learnt what happens during a CST. I found the following info really helped me to understand the test and my urgent need to have one:

  • I learnt and saw what a speculum is and what the swabs look like that will be used in a test. I could ask a lot of questions about what the test might feel like and all of these things helped me to not have as much fear surrounding the test as it no longer seemed like the ‘unknown’
  • I learnt about what HPV is and how it can cause cervical cancer. When I learned that 90% of women will have HPV at some point in their lifetime, it suddenly occurred to me that I, like every person with a cervix, has a high chance of contracting HPV and it is important to have it monitored. I suddenly did not feel at ‘low-risk’ of cervical cancer anymore!
  • Not long before attending this training, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and this also shattered my misconception that cancer often doesn’t affect young people. After becoming a carer for my husband, and receiving training in these cancer screening messages, I finally had no excuses for delaying a Cervical Screening Test and took responsibility for my own health and went and had my first test.

Advice for others

In my opinion, for a few moments of possible discomfort, the Cervical Screening Test is worth it. I think I always had an underlying anxiety about my risk of cervical cancer because my grandmother had cervical cancer. Once I had the test and received a negative result, I felt I could let go of that anxiety and rest assured that I have taken care of my health.

My husband passed away from a cancer that has no known prevention. The reality of that has made me realise that there is no reason for not getting a Cervical Screening Test, because cervical cancer is largely preventable through the HPV vaccination and regular screening and that is something to be grateful for.

We need to do whatever it takes to push past being hesitant, whether that means having several chats with our doctor before we feel confident enough to do the test, or chatting to our friends and learning more about their experiences, or going out of our way to learn more about the test.

Just because you are young, it doesn’t mean you cannot develop cervical cancer!

Natalie

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