To mark European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (24th -30th January) and World Cancer Day (4th February), I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my cervical screening story as part of the #ShareTheWisdom and #WeCanICan campaigns. It’s all about what we can each do as individuals to inform and empower ourselves, as well as others, on cancer prevention and the importance of early detection.
Nothing says ‘leave your dignity at the door’ like a cervical smear, or so I used to think. Like most women, I procrastinated and avoided this unpleasant task with feeble arguments like, “Didn’t I just have that done?” or “I’ll make an appointment as soon as I get a chance” and my favourite, “I’m sure the last one will tide me over for another while”. Between one thing and another, I dodged my cervical smear for over 5 years. It was only when Cervical Check – The National Screening Program in Ireland ran an ad campaign asking that all women register online for an appointment, that I finally did something about it. I signed up myself and my sister because, hey, we do everything else together and I figured we could give each other a little moral support and more importantly, stop each other from backing out.
The appointment finally came and yes, the ‘procedure’ was just as I remembered. Slightly mortifying and uncomfortable, but relatively quick and painless. Why had I been putting it off for so long? So I didn’t think anymore about it and assumed my results would come back normal. However, one sunny afternoon in May, I received a call from the clinic and they informed me my results were abnormal. She told me I’d be receiving another appointment for the Colposcopy Clinic and they would explain further. I couldn’t get my head around it and pressed the nurse for more details on the ‘cell changes’ the letter referred to. When she said the words ‘pre-cancerous cells’ I heard little else. I was completely gripped by fear and panic and suddenly felt icy cold. When I hung up the phone, I jumped into a scalding hot shower and stayed there until I felt warm again. I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed, called my family and cried a lot.
Of course I was worried, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have had a much more positive outlook instead of going straight to the worst case scenario. The professional team in the Colposcopy Unit were amazing and following a biopsy, they performed a simple procedure and removed the abnormal cells. It was actually similar to getting a smear, so not the big production I had been fearing. Now I have a smear once a year (for 10 years) and all my old excuses seem so trivial now. I know how lucky I am – 300 women in Ireland are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and in 2014, 95 women died from the disease. This is one form of cancer that we have the power to prevent and believe me, when you get a scare like that, you suddenly realise how important it is to make that appointment. It can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, awkward and all of those things, but it’s quick and once it’s done, you have the peace of mind that you’ve looked after yourself and your health. A good tip I received at the clinic is to make the appointment at a time of year you will remember, like Halloween or some other date that’s significant for you. Our lives are so busy, it’s easy to lose track and forget when your next test is due.
So my message is, make the appointment. And if it’s been a while, please don’t worry; if the results come back with an abnormality, there are steps in place to prevent things from progressing further. If you’re a man reading this, please tell the ladies in your life and if you’re a woman, why not rope you’re female pals into joining you! #sharetheawkward