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When Jade Goody was diagnosed, my mum asked me when I had attended my last smear test. I replied it was only a couple of months overdue but in the end it turned out it was a couple of years overdue.
A smear test is never a pleasant thing to have done, but I do understand now what it means not to have one done. Living in Grantham and commuting to London, I thought I was too busy, and too tired. I kept putting it off, and so the months built up. I kept receiving letters, and just kept thinking, I'd ring them tomorrow. Admitting to this today, I feel embarrassed.
But after so many years and my mum's encouragement I finally went for a smear test again and it was on my 30th birthday that I received a voicemail from my doctor asking me to call them back. I gave them a call and the receptionist told me I needed to come in and speak to the doctor. I told her I couldn't take more time off work as I'd just taken a day off for my birthday. At the time it just didn't register how important this all was. My doctor eventually called me and said I had to come in for a biopsy and I think that's when I realised how serious this was.
I went in for a biopsy to assess my cervix and was then called back for a loop excision to remove the abnormal cells, which in itself was a fairly painless and quick procedure. All these appointments meant I had to take more time off work. I originally booked it as holiday but when I explained to my boss why I needed the holiday he ripped up the holiday request. I now feel that whilst it can be difficult to talk about such intimate procedures, it's important to notify people at work because the procedure often has a few days' recovery time.
After I had the loop excision I actually went back to work the next day, but I had understimated the emotional and physical impact of the treatment. I experienced a bit of bleeding and I was also doing a four hour train commute which was very uncomfortable. Emotionally, it just hit me how lucky I was that it wasn't cancer and that they were able to remove the abnormal cells. The stupidity of leaving it that long until I finally went for a smear test also boiled to the surface at that point.
I have been checked every year since and I'm now just about to go back to the three-yearly screening frequency, which I'm happy about and I'm now very vocal about the whole experience and the importance of screening.