Smear 4 Smear – My First Smear Test

My letter from CervicalCheck arrived around mid-December, reminding me that I was due my first smear test soon.  These reminders are posted out to each woman in Ireland shortly after her 25th birthday – and I must admit I was surprised at how timely my “smear invite” arrived!  From what I’d heard from other friends, aunts, and my mum, I knew it would take something like 3 weeks to get the results.  So I decided to book in for mine in January, so as to avoid any unnecessary worrying over Christmas time.

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So that was it – my first smear test booked. All I had to do was wait until the start of January.  I’d booked in with a female doctor at my GP’s practice, and I’d seen her a few times before for the inevitable “women’s problem’s” so I was comfortable with her.  I mean, your first smear test is kind of a thing, so you need to know whose doing it I think.

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So anyway…. 2.20pm, just checked in for my Smear at my GPs surgery. I’m nervous, this is my first Smear Test. I hope it doesn’t hurt but I know it’ll probably be uncomfortable.  I’ve now lost the letter for my smear test with the tracking number on it. The panic looking for it today hasn’t helped my humour at all. Hopefully the doctor can still do the test with my PPS number and ID number for my Smear, which I was able to look up on the Cervical Check website – here’s the link, just incase you lose yours too.

Oh my nerves, I can hear the clock ticking behind me and everything. Now I’m starting to think silly things: should I take my socks off or leave them on? Does she know I’m blogging about this? I hope she won’t mind. What if I do it wrong? Ugh it’s a smear how could I do it wrong?!! The doctor is the one doing it, all I have to do is lie back, relax and… think about something else. Like what though? The gym, I’m going to the gym later so I’ll think about that. What if I’m sore after the test and I can’t go to the gym? Ok I’m not gonna think about the gym, I’ll just go in there and empty my mind.

It’s 2.29 and no sign of the doctor, but my appointment is at half past. I can’t handle the suspense of this I just want it over with….

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I was called at 2.31, and out the door and all by 2.40…. What was I so worried about?  The female doctor called me into her room, and asked if I’d ever had a smear before.  I hadn’t.  So she explained to me how the test was done; that it would feel like a bit of pressure, and that I’d be waiting six weeks for results.  She asked if I was still happy to do the test and if I felt comfortable.  I did, but I was still nervous.

I lay back, and allowed her to do the test.  Its basically very similar to a pelvic exam, except that they use a little brush type instrument to take a few cells from the cervix.  I’m squeamish, and it didn’t bother me in the least.  It didn’t hurt either – like I said, it felt like pressure from a pelvic exam.  And that was it.  It was finished.

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The reasoning behind writing about something like this was to try and normalise it for other ladies, and to take away the fear around it.  As you’ve read, I was so nervous – and it turned out I had nothing to worry about!

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I’ll give an update on the Beyond the Blonde Facebook page when I get my results in a few weeks – but I’m not in the least worried.  Something to note though – a smear test only tests for cervical cancer or changes in the cervix.  It doesn’t screen for other gynae problems, like fibroids, or gynae cancers like ovarian cancer or endometrial cancer.

 

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2017 MUST Be Better

This year...

2016 was a really hard year, I think we can all agree on that.  I know from me personally it was probably the hardest year I have had to deal with.  But this is a new year so I don’t want to focus on the bad –I want to focus on the good that is to come.

If 2016 taught one thing, it’s that your perception of any situation is everything. The way you perceive a situation will dictate the way that you handle it.  So I knew it was important to go into 2017 with the positivity that I would carry with me for the rest of the year.  Start as you mean to go on – isn’t that what they say?

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On Monday January 2 I did something I don’t normally do. I organised myself for the next morning; clothes selected, make up at the ready, handbag packed – I even picked out matching socks! For 2017, I wanted to make more of an effort with my appearance. I spent most of 2016 with my hair in a messy bun, makeup-less, and wearing clothes that didn’t even match at times. In 2016 sometimes I just didn’t care. But this is a New Year so I’m going to care more. I’m happy to say that this is one resolution I have kept up so far. And considering we’re only a week in, that’s longer than most of my resolutions have lasted previously.

The next day saw one of the more dramatic changes – a good 12 inches was cut off my hair by my stylist at Colours.  New Year, new me. I cant really describe what a big change this was, so I’ll leave you with the before and after photos instead.

Before....
Before….
...And after!
…And after!

The final change to bring into the New Year with me was to make my lifestyle healthier. I one to see a change in my body.  People think that I exude confidence. But those of you who know me will know that I suffer with depression and self-confidence problems. At times in 2016, this depression crippled me and at one point I allowed it to takeover my life. It affected my confidence; it affected my ability to work; it affected my relationships.  The talk therapy and the meds definitely help, but I felt I needed an overall lifestyle change.

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So I have started a new health and fitness regime.  I signed up for a year with Dan Sweeney Health and Fitness. As well as tailoring a workout plan to help me tone up, I have also gotten a lot of guidance around nutrition and my food choices. From what I’ve read from others who struggle with their mental health, diet can have an effect on recovery too.  Just like it does with the physical health.  So today is the day that I do my first big food shop for the new diet.  I can’t wait to see the results –  physical and mental.

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Summer Sun

As some of you know, I was on a long overdue sun holiday last week – rakes of emails, tweets and Instagram posts have been totally ignored.  While I was posting pictures here and there, I did my best to just sit back, relax, and enjoy a little disconnection from the madness for a week.

Chilling by the pool while on holidays in Puerto Del Carmen, Lanzarote
Chilling by the pool while on holidays in Puerto Del Carmen, Lanzarote

Right away, I know a lot of you are probably thinking “sun holiday, wouldn’t that be a nightmare for someone with albinism?”.  And in the past I would definitely have agreed.  If you ask my parents, there wasn’t one family holiday I went on in the past where I didn’t get some form of sunburn.  It always seemed that no matter how many times I got into the pool with a t-shirt on or lathered myself in Factor 50 suncream I would always end up roasted and as red as a lobster!  Nearly every holiday – even the Staycations we had here in Ireland – I always got a burn, and bad one at that.

 

Obviously, I had learned how sore the burns could be and as a (somewhat) mature 24 year-old, I decided I would do everything in my power not to get roasted this time – but I was determined to do it in style.  From my experience, people can often overlook the psychological effect something like this can have.  For me, anytime I’m out in the sun and there are all these tanned people soaking up the sun, it just serves as a reminder that “I’m different – I can’t do this”.  And so, being careful in the sun in style is a diversion tactic of mine.

Myself, my dad Sean, and my brother Evan on the beach on one of the cloudier days
Myself, my dad Sean, and my brother Evan on the beach on one of the cloudier days

First things first – a spray tan was my first port of call before heading off.  The thinking behind this was twofold; I’ll look tanned when I get there so I’ll fit in, and also there is an SPF in the spray tan my local salon uses so it’ll protect my skin too.  Of course, I’m not silly enough to think that this SPF will keep me completely protected…. And so I bought a bottle of Sally Hansen fake tan and a brand new tanning mitt to pack into my suitcase.  After a little research, I figured that because I would be applying ‘Sally’ a few times a day, the SPF 20 in it would act in a similar way suncream does when you reapply it.  So there, I was sorted – I could wear my bikinis, sun hat and sun dresses without looking pasty and – lets face it – standing out.

 

I forgot to pack the tan and mitt!!!!!

 

So I’m sitting by the pool wearing a dressing gown on the first day because my plan fell apart – and I had refused to pack any ‘just in case’ sunscreen so I was in double trouble!!  Luckily, I kept entirely covered by either shade or light clothes while at the pool that day, and also had the wherewithal to take a few (completely staged!!) bikini photos.  Later that night, I was on the search for fake tan – which is hilarious considering I was on holidays in Lanzarote.  It even got to the stage where I was Googling ‘where can I buy Sally Hansen in Puerto Del Carmen?’.

 

As it was getting to the stage where I was resigning myself to having to lather pasty white sunscreen on myself I found what is probably the best sunscreen I’ve used.  AND it has fake tan in it!!  I HIT THE JACKPOT!!

This is the sunscreen I found - a good SPF and a bronzer!
This is the sunscreen I found – a good SPF and a bronzer!

The sunscreen I bought and used for the rest of the holiday is the Australian Gold sunscreen with a built in bronzer.  Happy days – I was protected from the sun AND i was a little tanned looking too.  I used this religiously for the rest of my holiday, and I didn’t have one burn.  Not one – which is a first for me!  As soon as I got home – sun burn free – I knew I had to let everyone else know about this little discovery I made.  For me, its about convenience and ease of use – this sunscreen helped me to ‘fit in’ with a little bronzing and it wasn’t sticky or pasty on my skin.  Everyone was a winner!

 

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I Know It’s Up for Me, If You Steal My Sunshine

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Skin care in the sun eh?  I bet you’re all thinking SUNCREAM right about now?  A lot more than that can and does go into taking care of your skin in the sun though.  I’d like to think this piece will be useful to everyone with different skin types, as well as my friends who have albinism too.  And also, I’ll take this chance to point out that this isn’t medical advise in any way, shape or form – its just a rambling piece about my thoughts on the topic and what has worked for me in the past.

It can be hard to take care of pale skin in the sun, especially when friends are sallow skinned and seem to tan instantly – which makes them want to spend days sitting in the sun even more.  In the past I’ve happily taken part in these sun sessions, but guess what happened? Burnt scalp, burnt arms, burnt ears etc.  And aside from the dangers of anything more sinister than sunburn blisters, it is really painful and uncomfortable.  So here are a few of my tips:

1.  Check the weather.

There are apps for this so you have NO excuse not to do it.  All during the summer months, I check the forecast every morning to check how intense the sun will be, if there are clouds due, and what times of the day that sunshine is expected.  If you have business to attend to during the day, you might decide to do it at a time when the sun is less intense or when it is overcast.  Above anything else, its helpful to plan an outfit – especially shoes!  Trust me, you do not want to be caught in a pair of cute flipflops when rain is pouring down on top of you!

2.  Choose your outfits wisely.

If I know it’ll be sunny on a particular day, I’ll plan to wear light clothes that will cover problem burn areas like shoulders or the upper back.  You can still look bright and feel comfortable in summer clothes even if you are a tad more covered than friends.  Shorts or strapless tops are a major no-no for me in the summer months, it is just too easy to get sunburned in those or to fail to apply suncream properly to these areas.  A lot of people say black should never be worn in the summer either as it attracts the sun, although I wonder is that a bit of an old wives tale!

3.  Suncream!

There is more to skin care in the sun than suncream, but it is a big part of keeping your skin healthy.  Its important to pick a suncream that will give you the right protection of course, but also one that you’ll be happy to wear too.  It’s pointless buying a suncream that is intensely heavy because you won’t want to wear it and it will be irritating to even apply.  Personally, I have always found the sun spray types best as they are much lighter than traditional suncreams, and as they have a spraying nozzle, they are also easier to apply.  Even the higher factor coverage in these sprays isn’t as gloopy as the typical sun creams are.  Just remember to constantly reapply every hour!

4.  Wear makeup if at all possible.  And sunglasses!

This probably sounds a bit over the top right?  But remember, most liquid foundations do have an SPF level within them.  And its a lot nicer to have makeup with sun protection covering your face, rather than applying suncream.  Keep in mind that the coverage in makeup isn’t that high though, and check your own foundation for its SPF level.  Remember to keep sunglasses around you at all time – especially in Ireland because you may never know when you need them!  Invest in a pair with good protection from the sun too – UV rays can and do damage eyes year after year, and so a pair of sunglasses with substantial protection are a worthy investment.

5.  Do your best to sit in the shade.

Simple but effective, and you would think it goes without saying, but that’s not always the case.  I always have to be reminded to sit in the shade!  If you’re in the park with friends who want to sunbath, try and sit near a tree or statue that can give you shade form the suns rays, while still allowing your friends to bask in the rays.

6.  Look out for moles and skin changes. 

I can’t stress this enough.  Moles that have recently changed shape or colour should always be observed by your GP, especially if they are in an area of your body which has been previously sunburned.  For more info on what type of changes to look for, click here – because I’m not a doctor and this is just an opinion piece and not medical advice in any way!

Hopefully, this piece will be useful not just to those with albinism, but also to anyone who is looking to protect their skin from the sun!  Anything you can add to this list of skin care in the sun?  Drop me a line through the blog page! In the meantime, check out this sunny selfie I took with a meerkat in Fota Wildlife Park on the Cork Rose tour recently – the meerkat didn’t really cooperate though!

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