Regular columnist Sam Renke highlights the need for better provision for disabled women attending a routine cervical smear test.
Cancer Research UK reported 3,192 new cases of cervical cancer between 2014 – 2016 yet 99.8% of all cases within the UK are preventable.
I have to admit, although these statistics are promising and the war against cervical cancer seems to be going in our favour, particularly since the introduction of the HPV vaccination for teenagers, I have to question what do the stats look like for women with disabilities?
Honestly, I was so scared at my first cervical smear test so much so I took my mum along. Without a hoist and without the nurse knowing about my condition it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, I knew the importance of having the Pap and have always encouraged other women with disabilities to attend theirs and to try not to be discouraged.
My fourth cervical smear test was just a few months ago and having changed my doctor’s surgery I took it upon myself to quiz my GP on the surgery’s policy when they have a disabled patient. She assured me that if special requirements like hoists or sedative medications are needed then contacting your GP surgery prior to your appointment is the best protocol and all GPs will be more than willing to make special arrangements. Encouraging yes, but this information is not widely available and none of my letters for my Pap stated this.
Even turning to the internet didn’t reassure me. There’s very little information out there. Most articles published focus on provisions made for individuals with learning disabilities, equally important and undoubtedly a good start, yet I could not easily access information or advice specifically for those with physical or invisible disabilities.
My last cervical smear test identified pre-cancerous cells which meant I had to attend a colposcopy appointment, a rather invasive procedure, for further investigation. I was astonished by the sheer lack of competence. I was asked to get onto a bed with stirrups and was asked if I could put my legs in them, at 3ft 9 and having brittle bones, that wasn’t going to happen. They then didn’t have the correct speculum a piece of equipment that opens the cervix, one far too small and the other far too big for my body. Given the fact that four people were in the room with me and I was trying not to slide off the chair, I wasn’t the most relaxed which made the whole experience traumatic.
Regardless of the equipment not being correct they repeatedly forced it upon me until after a number of failed attempts to get the swabs needed, I was in too much pain and asked them to stop. I left the appointment with them unable to complete the procedure and I am waiting for it to be rescheduled after they have consulted with a senior specialist. Not the result I was hoping for.
My story isn’t meant to scare anyone away, quite the contrary, what I’ve learnt from this experience is that more of us need to be attending our cervical smear tests in order to educate and make negative experiences such as my own a thing of the past.
My advice, to be explicit about your needs, don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with and don’t let others ignorance about your sexual activities influence you in anyway. Finally, whatever you do don’t ignore your cervical smear test appointment and throw your letter in the bin, the risk is far too high.