Friday, 20 September 2019

What if getting your Smear Test isn't straightforward?

According to the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, attendance for cervical screening (or smear tests) is at a 19-year low in England and a 10-year low in Scotland and Wales. This means that, when they receive their invitation letter, one in four women are not making an appointment to be checked. Things are going on to try and help reverse this shift. For example, the recent Channel 4 documentary about Jade Goody’s life, which includes her journey with cervical cancer, has got a lot of women talking about, and booking, their cervical screening tests. And recently, Zoe Sugg (aka. Zoella) uploaded a video that showed her having a smear test and asking the nurse various questions about the procedure. Over 1.4 million people have watched it so far. And it’s not just these high profile celebrities who are raising awareness of why it’s so vital to go for your cervical screening appointments. You only have to look at Instagram to see hundreds of thousands of pictures discussing the importance of having regular smears. 

And don’t get me wrong – this movement of women taking ownership of their health and encouraging others to do so too is fantastic. And for most people, these campaigns are enough to inspire them to book an appointment and get checked themselves. But the thing I struggled most with, was trying to find stories from people for whom having a smear test isn’t as straightforward as most people say it is. In amongst all the amazing posts and media about why it’s so important to have a smear test, I also found a lot of content shaming people for not having one. And that’s why I have decided to write this post. Not to put people off going for their appointments or to scare people off who haven’t been for a test yet. But to reassure others that they’re not alone if they struggle, for whatever reason, to go for their cervical screening. And that that struggle is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Like most women, I received an invitation to go for my first smear test just before my 25thbirthday. As someone that has had a huge number of medical tests over the years, I wasn’t too worried about the prospect of another one and so, fairly quickly, booked in with my GP Practice. On the day of my test, although feeling a little apprehensive about something new and different, I went in to see the nurse on my own, as I have done with many tests before. She asked me all the usual questions and told me how the test would be carried out, and then asked me to lay on the bed so she could proceed with the test. And this is where things started to go wrong. I found the test incredibly painful – so much so that I was in tears because of it. It didn’t help that the nurse I saw didn’t seem to be particularly gentle or sympathetic, and made comments about how difficult I was making it. After what felt like ages she finally managed to get the sample and I left feeling completely traumatised. 

Thankfully the result came back negative, so I tried to just forget about my experience for the next three years. But when my next invitation letter came three years later, the panic set in. I just couldn’t face going through that experience again. In the end, I went to talk to my GP about it. She told me that it was my choice whether I went to have the cervical screening done and that I didn’t have to get it done if I didn’t want to. But the problem was, I did want to – I knew how important the test was and I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could to keep myself as healthy as possible. We talked about it quite a lot and in the end, decided that I would give it a try and if things really didn’t work, then we could talk again. She did also recommend asking the nurse to use a smaller speculum. 

And so, with a lot of apprehension, I booked in for my second cervical screening test. This time round, I decided to take my Mum into the test with me for some moral support. Pretty much as soon as I entered the room though, the nurse asked me why I’d brought my Mum in. I explained that I had found the test traumatic last time and for a couple of other reasons as well, I just needed someone I trusted with me. The nurse then told me that it was very strange that I would bring someone in with me and that she’d never seen anyone else need to do that before. My Mum was told to wait in the room next door while I had the test, so I was effectively on my own. So before we’d even started the test, I was feeling humiliated and upset for being what I now felt was strange. And the test didn’t go much better. We had the same problems with excruciating pain and the nurse not being particularly gentle while she tried to find my cervix. She kept telling me that my cervix was in a funny place and that I shouldn’t be in so much pain. Despite all this, somehow, she managed to take a sample and I left. 

I remember leaving the Doctors Surgery and bursting into tears – I felt like there must be something really wrong with me. Everyone else I had spoken to or heard talk about having a smear test said it was, at worst, a bit uncomfortable, but was over in a couple of minutes. So why wasn’t it like that for me? Ever since then, I have felt embarrassed about the whole process and the fact I couldn’t do what every other women could apparently do. 

Then a few months ago, I received my next invitation letter and my anxiety hit the roof again. This time, I really was tempted to just not go because after two horrible experiences and some other life events that have happened, it felt like burying my head in the sand was the easiest thing to do. Problem was, I had been getting some bleeding in between my periods and knew that, if I went to see my GP about it, the first thing she would say is that I needed a smear test. Plus, the bleeding was also giving me massive anxiety because I had no idea what was causing it. So I could either ignore my letter and continue to worry about the bleeding, or book an appointment and worry about the test instead. I went for the second option.

Out of all the medical tests I’ve had (and some have been pretty horrible) I think this was the one I felt most anxious about. In the weeks leading up to my appointment I was getting panic attacks, not sleeping properly, nightmares and generally just felt awful. The day came and this time my appointment was with a new nurse I had never seen before. I decided to go in on my own and I’m pretty sure as soon as I sat down the nurse could tell how anxious I was! She talked to me for quite a while, going through the normal questions and asking about previous tests. I tried to explain to her about the problems I had had with my previous tests and how worried I was about being there. I also spoke about my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and how it can make it more painful to lie in the correct position. She was very sympathetic, listened to me and I didn’t feel judged at all, which started to put me at ease. As I lay on the bed, she explained exactly what she would be doing and showed me the instruments she would be using. She had got out a smaller speculum at my request and showed me exactly how it worked. Then she told me she would talk me through everything she was going to do and that if, at any time, I was finding it too difficult, I could ask her to stop.

The first time she tried I think I nearly shot through the roof because of the pain it caused, but true to her word, she immediately stopped and gave me some time to just breathe, move around and relax. When I was ready, she tried again, and this time, although it was uncomfortable, I wouldn’t say it was painful. I tried to focus on my breathing to keep myself calm, but after a while, the nurse told me that she was unable to find my cervix and would need to try again. My heart sank. But the nurse was lovely about it. She told me to make my hands into fists and then place them under my bottom, as this would help to tilt my cervix into a better position. She then tried again, and in a couple of minutes the test was complete. I think I nearly cried with relief this time rather than from pain or embarrassment. 

After I’d got dressed, I sat down with the nurse again, and she told me that I have a tilted cervix, which is what makes it harder to find. She reassured me that a lot of women have it, so it’s nothing strange or abnormal about me. She also told me that I have something called a cervical ectropion, which is very common among women who are on the pill, and could well be causing some of the pain and bleeding. I honestly just wanted to cry – finally someone was explaining to me why I might find having a smear test more difficult than some. This time, I left my appointment feeling relieved and empowered, all because I had a supportive nurse that really listened to my needs and worries.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still pretty anxious about having to have my next cervical screening in three years time because I know that it is still likely to cause me pain. And being disabled just adds to the issues by making it more difficult to access. But I guess I wanted to tell my story because it shows just how important it is to find a medical professional that you can really talk to about your worries when it comes to your smear test. There are so many different things that can be put in place to make the experience more manageable for you – that could be using a different sized speculum, having a friend/relative come with you (which, by the way, is completely normal and lots of people do it!), making adjustments for a disability or even going to a specialist hospital clinic for people who find smear tests particularly difficult.

So whether it’s your first smear and you’re scared of the instruments they use, whether you need to wear fancy underwear or if they will judge you for how you look down there. Or if it’s your third, fourth, fifth plus test and you’ve had experiences in the past that might make the whole process more difficult for you. My biggest piece of advice is to just talk to someone. Whether that’s your Mum, sister, friend, GP, the nurse or even a charity like Jo’s Trust (0808 802 8000). If something is worrying you about your smear test – anything at all – please talk to someone. I promise you’re not alone in finding it difficult. And the more we speak about our own experiences, the more people will realise that every smear test is different and that it’s OK if yours isn’t a straightforward process. 

Have you found having a smear test difficult? What advice would you give to others in a similar position? 

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Empties - August 2019

Back in March I published my first ‘Empties’ post, where I spoke about some of the products I had used up. I really like hearing what bloggers thought about products they have completely finished, as it’s good to know they’ve given something a really good try, so I thought I would make it a regular series (well, as regularly as I can use things up anyway!) I’ll still be writing about some of my first impressions of products too, but I think talking about a product you’ve used over a longer period of time means you can really work out whether you liked it or not. It’s taken me a few months to build up another collection of empty products, but I now finally have a decent amount to talk to you about. So, here are some of the products I finished up in August!

My first empty for today is one that I’m pretty gutted about to be honest, as they no longer sell it – the Dream Time Temple Balm from Lush. I received this quite a few years ago now, but you need so little with each application that it lasted forever! The product is basically like a hard lip balm, but rather than putting this on your lips, you can rub it into your temples or other pressure points like your wrists. It is scented with lavender and chamomile, to help the user have a deep and restful sleep.

I got into a routine of applying this every night before I went to bed, and although I’ve found a different sleep balm to use now, I’m really missing this one! I often struggle with anxiety, especially at night – my brain just likes to run away with itself when the world goes quiet. But having the scent of this lingering on my skin was often enough to help me to do some controlled breathing and start to relax, so I could drift off to sleep. If you’re looking for a range of products with a similar scent, I would recommend checking out the Sleepy products, although unfortunately they don’t do a sleep balm any more.

Next up is the Dr. PAWPAW Original Balm, which I think I received in one of my beauty subscription boxes when I was still getting them. It is marketed as ‘the original balm you can’t live without!’ although, before finding it in my box, I had been living without it, as I’d never got round to trying it! It is made in the UK from a variety of natural ingredients including paw paw (not entirely sure what that is!) When these ingredients are blended together, they create a multi-purpose formula that can be used for a whole handful of things including as a skin protector, moisturiser, nappy cream and lip finisher. It also has healing properties and can be used on sunburn, skin irritations and as a hair conditioning treatment. 

I can’t claim to have used it for all of these things, but for those that I did use it for, I found it pretty magic! For example, back when the weather was colder, the inside of my nose became really sore. So I started putting a little bit of this on the sore places at night, and within a few days my nose had begun to heal! I also used it on my dry, cracked lips, and again, within a few days they were feeling so much better. I can’t believe after all the hype I’d heard, that I hadn’t got around to trying this out for so long. I really need to buy myself another tube now that this one is empty.

My next empty product was actually a free sample that my Mum received when she bought a standard sized item as a gift – the Molton Brown Ylang Ylang Body Lotion. This lotion is a relaxing blend of ylang-ylang, cardamon and sweet vanilla, and normally comes in a 300ml bottle with a pump. It’s not the type of fragrance I would ordinarily gravitate towards, which is why I love a good free sample, as it allows me to try things I wouldn’t normally go for. I actually liked the scent a lot more than I thought I would and with it being a higher-end product, the scent lingers long after you’ve applied the lotion. It’s a lovely thick product, but absorbs well and doesn’t leave you feeling greasy, which is always a bonus! If I were to buy a standard sized bottle, I’m not sure if it would be the first scent I would choose, but after trying the sample I definitely wouldn’t discount it as I used to.

Whenever I think of ESPA, I always think of luxury spa treatments and beautifully indulgent products. And the ESPA Optimal Skin ProCleanser certainly didn’t disappoint. This is a 3-in-1 skincare essential – an effective gel cleanser, exfoliator and mask that will help to nourish and visibly brighten the complexion. Moringa Seed Extract cleanses and removes all traces of make-up while gentle Jojoba Spheres buff away dull cells, revealing a radiant, youthful glow. 

I absolutely loved using this skincare product and always felt like I was giving my skin a bit of an extra treat. I particularly love the little Jojoba Spheres, which melt away as you massage the product into your skin. Because of these spheres, I would have to spend a little bit longer rubbing the product into my face, and it was nice to just take that little bit more time over my skincare routine sometimes. The full-size product is quite pricey, but if I were treating myself or asking for a gift, I would definitely go for this product again.

Another brand that automatically makes me think of luxury is Aromatherapy Associates, and I was lucky enough to try a sample size of their Hydrating Renewing Rose Cleanser recently. This is a rick and velvety cleanser, which is ultra-gentle yet really effective. Infused with an essential oil blend of radiance-boosting finest Damask Rose and complexion-balancing Geranium, it brightens and hydrates. Alongside that, silky Jojoba oil melts away impurities and make-up to leave skin dewy, freshened and petal-soft.

This was another product that I absolutely loved using as part of my skincare routine – I only wish it hadn’t been so small and run out so quickly! Rose is one of my favourite scents and always makes me feel quite nostalgic, reminding me of the Turkish Delight that my Grandad used to love. So I’m always excited to try any product scented with it. This felt comforting and gentle to use on my face, and left my skin feeling nourished and glowing without being too drying. 

Since my hairdresser started using hair oils on my hair, I have got quite into trying out different types and different brands. I recently finished using this Pantene Smooth & Sleek Dry Argan Oil, which is actually recommended for dry hair (although I wouldn’t necessarily say that mine is particularly dry). It helps to make the difference between straggly, dry ends and a luxurious glossy mane, and even with my fairly ‘normal’ hair, it left it feeling shiny and hydrated. The blend of Moroccan Argan oil and lightweight Pro-V complex ensures you get the benefits of Morocco’s famed beauty elixir, without the greasiness associated with the 100% pure oil. 

Proven to add moisture for 24 hours, the Argan Dry Oil is the ideal treat for thirsty strands and is particularly good for fine hair.  I have very fine hair, and find it can be really difficult to find an oil that doesn’t weigh my hair down. But thankfully, this one didn’t leave my hair feeling heavy or greasy. Plus the bottle lasts ages, as you don’t need a lot per use.

Unfortunately, there are always going to be products that I don’t get on so well with, and this time round one of those was the Garnier Pure Active Sensitive Anti Blemish Clarifying Tonic. I’m a huge fan of the Garnier Micellar Water, so when I saw this I thought I would give it a try. It is meant to help tighten pores and soothe skin. With Witch Hazel extract, it is formulated for sensitive skin with imperfections and combines effectiveness with a gentle, hydrating formula. It is also hypoallergenic and ph neutral for optimal tolerance.

I will say that it felt quite cooling and soothing when I applied it to my skin, but I really just wasn’t that keen on the gel-like formula. I found it quite messy, as it would drip off my cotton pad and be difficult to apply if I put even a little too much on. I don’t by any means think it’s a bad product, and like I said, I love a lot of other Garnier items, but I just don’t think this particular formulation was for me. I think I’ll probably stick to liquid toners in future.

This next product is one of my all-time favourites, and I’ve lost count of how many bottles of the Simple Kind To Eyes Make-up Remover I’ve bought now! It cleanses effectively yet is gentle around the delicate eye area. It is also an oil-free formulation and even removes waterproof mascara, as well as soothing the area around the eyes. This contains no artificial perfume or colour and no harsh chemicals that can upset sensitive skin. It is also dermatologically tested and approved.

As I said, I’ve been buying this for quite a while now – I’ve tried other eye make-up removers, but this is the only one I’ve tried so far that doesn’t irritate my eyes. I’ve used some that have literally had me crying in pain, despite saying they’re sensitive, while others haven’t particularly hurt, but they also haven’t removed my make-up. Whereas this one ticks both boxes for me – it doesn’t hurt my eyes and it removes my make-up really well. Plus, it is really inexpensive – what’s not to like?!

I’m pretty sure this next item came in some sort of Christmas gift set or something, so I’m struggling to find a link to the Baylis & Harding Wild Rose & Raspberry Leaf Hand & Body Lotion unfortunately. It has a lovely soft floral scent, which is perfect for a hand lotion that you don’t necessarily want to linger too long. The actual product is quite a thin lotion, a bit more on the watery side, rather than being very thick. However, this didn’t stop it from moisturising my hands well, especially over the summer months. I’m not sure how effective it would be during the colder wintertime, as I’m not sure it would be thick enough, but certainly for everyday moisturising when the weather is good, it definitely did the job.

The Aussie Deep Treatment 3 Minute Miracle Shine is another product that I continue to re-buy. This treatment deeply nourishes and revives tired locks into full beam shine in just 3 minutes. It gives dull hair a shine super boost adding gloss to every strand, with Australian Ginseng extract and Pearl powder. The Aussie products always smell absolutely delicious, and this one is no exception! I would definitely say my hair routinely looks tired and dull, but one use of this just peps it back up again and leaves it feeling hydrated and happy. I keep meaning to try some of the other Aussie products when I get the chance – if they’re as good as this one then I can’t see my bank balance being very happy!

I wasn’t quite sure whether to include the Colgate Plax Gentle Care Extra Mild Mouthwash, as it’s a bit different to hair and skincare products. But I use it so much I thought I might as well add it in, in case you’re looking for a new mouthwash to try! This alcohol-free mild formula has been specially developed for people with sensitive teeth and gums. It’s clinically proven to provide 24/7 bad breath control and fight over 99% of bacteria, leaving your mouth feeling fresh and healthy. 

I use this in the morning and the evening, as the instructions suggest, and like it so much that I’ve continued to buy it for at least a year now. I’m not a big fan of alcohol in mouthwash, as I tend to find it too strong and it leaves my mouth with a funny taste. So when I found this Colgate one without alcohol, I thought I would try it out. It feels gentle on my mouth, which for someone with sensitive teeth and gums is always good. And it never leaves me with a funny after-taste, but instead makes my mouth feel fresh and clean. Plus it’s pink (although of course, that’s not what initially drew me to it!)

I’m pretty terrible when it comes to moisturising my body, so I try and improve my chances of doing it by finding products that smell and feel nice on my skin. The Garnier Body Tonic Hydrating Lotion is enriched with Phyto-caffeine and seaweed extract, for skin that feels firmer and more toned. It has an ultra-fresh and hydrating formula, and promises smoother skin from just 7 days. I really love the smell of this lotion – it’s fresh and uplifting and always lifts my mood when I use it. The lotion isn’t particularly thick, which means it absorbs relatively quickly, so no sticky skin for ages afterwards. With regular use, I definitely started to see a change in the appearance of my skin, with it becoming smoother and firmer. 

I hadn’t used Herbal Essences for years before I decided to try this Herbal Essences Bio:Renew Shampoo in Grapefruit and Mint. It is crafted with a blend of essential antioxidants, aloe and sea kelp, as well as having 0% parabens, silicones, gluten and colourants. It promises to help bring your hair back to life, and this particular fragrance also helps to boost hair volume (which, as someone with ridiculously fine, flat hair, I am always looking for!) It smells incredible, as does most of the Herbal Essences range, and left my hair feeling bouncy and soft. It was nice to find a shampoo that doesn’t weigh my hair down, so I will definitely be trying some other products from the range to see what they can do for my hair. 

The last product that I’ve finished up recently is the Vo5 Nourish My Shine Oil Heat Protect Spray. Vo5 believe that hair shouldn’t be dull, life shouldn’t be boring and that you should never restrict your self-expression. They recommend using Vo5 spray for a silky smooth and shiny finish to your hair. It also features heat defence to help protect against damage caused by heat styling tools. I use this on wet hair before I start to blow-dry it by spritzing a few sprays across my hair both underneath and on top. It’s difficult to tell if a heat protection spray is working, but I definitely notice my hair feeling more dry when I don’t use this. I also think it helps my hair to look more glossy and healthy after every wash, and I like the thought that my hair is being protected from the heat of my hairdryer. 

And that brings me to the end of another selection of empty products that I’ve finished using recently. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about some of the things I’ve been using recently and find my reviews helpful if you’re looking to buy some new products yourself. I would be really interested to hear if you’ve tried any of these things and what you thought of them! Or, if you have any recommendations for things I might like to try based on what I’ve spoken about today.

What do you think of the products I’ve reviewed in today’s post? Are there any products you’ve been enjoying recently that you think I should try?