Invites. They’re a funny old thing, aren’t they? They come in a plethora of shapes and sizes, in different mediums and through different channels. Take the Facebook invite for example – ‘Jonathan has invited you to celebrate his 30th birthday!’ Your inner monologue reminds you that the last time you saw Jonathan you called his auntie annoying and threw up all down your favourite silk Zara shirt. After quietly sighing ‘no thank you,’ you politely click the ‘not attending’ button and that is that invite responded to.

The next invite, is a wedding invite, definitely a lot more formal but still an invite that needs a response. You return home on a Wednesday evening to find a delicately handwritten envelope laying sweetly on your doormat. As you carefully flick open the paper, your retinas are met with the tell-tale cursive handwriting. As you read on, you soon find out the wedding invite is from your misogynistic distant cousin Andrew, the one you had the heavy debate about sexism in politics over Christmas dinner in 2009, so immediately then and there decide you’re going to rain check. What do you do? You decline, but RSVP all the same.

We then get to an invite that shockingly over 1.3 million of women a year (28.6%) don’t even acknowledge, and this invite is that important it could be saving your life. This, of course, is your cervical screening appointment invite. Let’s cut the crap ladies – the word ‘smear test’ makes you clench your bits. Growing up in your teens you often heard many a horror story and negative connotation surrounding the word ‘smear’ – it would always have this weird, embarrassing stigma attached to it. Personally, the constant Chinese whispers of this dreaded appointment prevented me from acknowledging my letter at first. I didn’t do my research and basically assumed a giant metal claw would be invading my vagina whilst I was ungracefully spread akimbo on a cold surgery bed (I was somewhat imagining a low budget 90s straight-to-dvd horror concept) and it would be the most painful thing ever. Wrong.

Another contributing factor was the sheer embarrassment I thought I’d have to endure. Do my bits look like everyone else’s bits? Do I need to wax my lady garden to an inch of its life? Spray perfume on it? I was mortified at the thought of letting a *stranger* anywhere near my pink purse. According to the jolly old internet, I wasn’t alone – 1 in 3 women were not attending their appointment due to embarrassment, I felt a short-lived (thank God) sense of relief that I was in the same boat as a lot of women. Hold on, I thought. This certainly was a club I didn’t want to belong to, and I didn’t want my cervical sisters to belong to it either. I decided it was time to book my appointment, this was my health at stake after all and I’d been so incorrectly flippant about it.

‘Freja Budd!’ I looked up from my book to find a beaming nurse called Lydia standing at the end of the surgery waiting room. This was it. I became instantly sweaty and wondered if I’d made the right decision by booking this appointment. She ushered me into a room and I saw the bed that would soon play host to my anatomy. I quickly then began scanning the room for this supposed metal claw, but it was nowhere to be found. I then blurted out how scared I was, and Lydia gave me a reassuring smile and asked if I’d like to bring in a chaperone. Chaperone? I had no idea I could bring someone in to whisper sweet nothings into my ear! Lydia asked me to go behind a curtain, remove my clothes from the waist down and cover myself in this blue paper for modesty. I was then asked to bring my legs up to my bottom and flop them open. Look, I totally get this sounds super ungraceful, but I am sure we have imitated the move with our bedroom partners once or twice. Then – before I knew it, Lydia had inserted a small plastic speculum, swiped what looked like a cotton bud in between the speculum and it was miraculously over with. I was confused, where was this metal claw, where was the pain, where was this whole ‘procedure’ I’d been imagining?

I asked Lydia if that really was it? She again smiled and told me I had been in there no longer than six minutes. SIX MINUTES. Think about it, we consistently MOT our outer body with manicures, blow dries, waxing etc., but why aren’t we MOT-ing our insides? Especially when it takes LESS THAN SIX MINUTES. My mind was blown. It still is. So I’ve made it my mission to get on my soapbox and make sure we stand shoulder to shoulder with our sisters in solidarity. We should be supporting each other, reminding one another, educating. If you do one thing today, please make sure it is reminding your female friends, co-workers and family to not ignore their invite, because health truly is wealth and you could be saving their life. Welcome to the new girl gang in town – the Cervical Sisterhood. And we are BAD ASS.