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I walked out of my cervical screening, and that’s OK

Posted on: Thursday, 7th July 2022 by Sophie Hannah, Communications Manager

In early 2021, following a routine cervical screening, I was told that I had HPV and low-grade dyskaryosis. This came as a real shock to me – in all honesty, I’d only heard of HPV through watching the HBO show ‘GIRLS’ in my early twenties, when one of the main characters, Hannah, finds out she has HPV. 

I went for a colposcopy, which is a test to take a closer look at your cervix. At that point, I was told that I wouldn’t need any further examination or treatment. I felt so much relief, but I was told I’d need to come back in a year to see if the HPV was still there. So, when I was invited to return for a screening this year, I was nervous. I felt tense and on-edge, not wanting to be given any kind of bad news.

My previous cervical screenings have been fine – never painful, always over quickly, and usually a good chance to have a chat with the nurse about Love Island or Married at First Sight. But this time around, I struggled, to the point where I didn’t actually go through with the test. Having reflected on my experience, here’s what I wish I’d known...

Give yourself plenty of time

I booked my screening in right before I was supposed to go to another appointment. I told myself it’d be fine, that I’d probably be done reeeeeally quickly so I could dash off to my next event. That wasn’t the case. I was in the waiting room for fifteen minutes – absolutely fine, usually, but not-so-fine when I kept checking my watch and counting down the minutes until I needed to be somewhere else. Next time, I’m going to make sure I don’t have anything else in the diary for at least an hour, so I can focus on relaxing for my appointment instead of worrying about the traffic on the A46. 

If something doesn’t feel right, say so

While I was lying on the bed, trousers off, ready to go, my nurse got a phone call. She answered it and spent five minutes in conversation with a colleague, while I became more and more anxious. I know how stretched the NHS are, but in that moment I really needed her to prioritise me and my appointment, knowing that I was laid out on the bed likely feeling quite vulnerable. 

I think lots of us struggle to assert ourselves and worry we’re making things difficult if we push back and say, “I’m not happy with this.” My experience was an unusual one, but if the same thing happened again, I’d tell the nurse, “Actually, I’d really like to get this over and done with – I’m quite nervous. Would you mind calling them back after I’ve gone?”

Be honest about how you’re feeling as you enter the appointment

When I first walked into the appointment I didn’t tell my nurse that I felt nervous or that I was having a stressful day – but I wish I had done. If she’d known how I was feeling from the get-go, we could have had a conversation about why, and anything that could make it easier that day. 

Remember: your body is your own

Ultimately, I didn’t feel comfortable going through with my cervical screening this time around. I gave it a go, but my body wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to force myself into anything. I told the nurse I was feeling stressed and uncomfortable, that I was going to listen to my body, and that I would reschedule to come back another day. She was very understanding and said I could rebook whenever I wanted.

Take steps to make sure you’re comfortable

If you’ve got a good relationship with a particular nurse at your GP – which I do – it’s always worth asking to book in with them for your screening, to make sure you feel relaxed and safe. There’s also the option to ask for a chaperone, who will sit in on your appointment, on the other side of the curtain. You can tailor the appointment to suit you – sometimes, when you’re panicking or you’re not thinking straight, it can be easy to forget that! But it’s really important to communicate what your needs are, so that the screening experience goes as smoothly as possible for you.

My next step is to call the GP again and get my screening appointment rebooked, with another nurse. I’m happy to attend cervical screening, because I know how important it is, but I want it to work for me – and that’s OK.

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