We can do hard things, but does it have to be so hard?

Lets just jump right on in- Smear tests. I do detail some stuff I've been through so this is your content warning.

Nici in hospital recovering from an operation.

I've seen a wonderful increase in advertising and discussion around smear tests recently. I've seen loads of NHS adverts, adverts from Jo's Trust as well as lots of upbeat posts about getting them done.

I even saw a Instagram reel yesterday that diarised the whole experience with a thumbs up and smile at the end (to clarify they shared everything other than the actual smear)

Friends, I am here for that shit! Getting your smear regularly is super super important and life saving as I well know from personal experience.

But what we don't talk about is how for a large number of people, getting a smear can be the opposite of what is advertised and how for me, seeing that stuff actually has the opposite effect.

So let's talk a little about doing hard things (thankyou Glennon Doyle) because they are necessary.

The reason we are seeing this increase in advertising is because there has been a huge downward trend of people with a cervix getting their smears and due to the pandemic that got even worse.

And like I said, it is NEEDED and NECESSARY. So how does that work when you have had traumatic experiences?

For me, I would love to see some honest advertising about what can be done around having your smear when it's not a '5 minute, minor discomfort'.

Ya know, 'We know this can be really hard, here's what we are doing to support you because we understand for some people this is not an easy thing but it's so needed'.

You see, for me, having a smear is a hard thing. I know it's needed, I was someone who avoided smears for 9 years and ended up having quite a bit of my cervix removed under general anesthetic due to stage 0 cervical cancer.

Apparently there is this inbetween stage between stage 3 CIN and stage 1 cancer. Who knew?! Not me until it was written in a letter confirming they had got it all, and I had to have a google.

But as someone who has trauma, that is why I didn't go sooner right?

Now if I had a wealth of info letting me know how we can make this hard thing easier or at least less traumatic? I don't know. In hindsight maybe I wouldn't have waited so long. Maybe.

After my operation I was called for a 6 monthly smear and friends, it was horrendous. Even the nurse commented that smears so early after treatment can be really tricky, but thankfully it was clear and so I was able to return to 3 yearly.

Well. My 3 years were up this year and I tried booking twice, both of which I cancelled last minute. The first time I cancelled the receptionist was wonderful. I was literally having an anxiety attack and she talked me down. The second time? I got a shitty voicemail for wasting the nurses time.

This is what I'm talking about. Because we are constantly told how easy it all is and how it's just a tiny bit of discomfort, it can be really hard to be a person who struggles with it. And that is the part of the conversation we seem to be missing.

Due to a lot of interconnected continuing issues I have been having, I was booked for a smear today. It was booked for me, by the GP and I instead had the option to cancel.

It took a huge weight off my shoulders of feeling ashamed phoning back in to rearrange my previously cancelled smear. It was with a different nurse to the one who left me a shitty voicemail and it was actually with the nurse who did it last time too.

She was wonderful. I sobbed my way through it and we made totally inappropriate jokes about my vagina while she talked me slowly through the entire process. I was in there for over 30 minutes and not once did I feel rushed or like I was wasting her time.

We sat together afterwards too, so I could calm down and feel okay to go back out into the world.

Afterwards she told me she had preemptively booked a 30 minute slot after checking my notes.

This is the stuff that makes hard things easier.

And it's the stuff we need to speak about in balance with the '5 minutes minor discomfort' conversations.

  • Optional longer appointments

  • Acknowledgement that this can be hard

  • Advertising that recognises trauma

  • Testing that is trauma informed

  • Clear language about your options and support available

This stuff makes hard things possible.

And it's exactly the same in my work. We do the hard things. We talk about the unspoken, the shame, the guilt that gets carried because we are too afraid to share it with others.

Some feedback I got recently sums it up beautifully. It's all about doing the difficult stuff in a gentle way.

Because yes, we deserve to be free of the crap that ways us down, but there are definitely more ways to do that than suffering more.

I'd love to know if this chat resonates with you and if you can think of any other ways we could be having conversations around smears that could encourage us to do that hard thing (if it's hard for you too) and as always I'm here if you need to chat more about this, just drop me an email.

Massive love