You would have to been living under a rock to not have heard that Jade Goody (who started life as a Big Brother contestant) has terminal Cervical Cancer. No matter what you think of her now/then it’s difficult not to feel immensely sorry for someone who has terminal cancer as 27 and will be leaving two young children behind.
I have actually been ranting about the importance of Cervical Smears (or Pap Smears in the US) for some time to my friends… I am in my mid twenties and have had two (one last year). Whenever I have had the reminder letter, I haven’t put it off – it only comes through the door once every 3-5 years anyway. I was surprised to find that only ONE of my female friends have had a cervical smear – the rest said they would be too embarassed and found the whole things quite ‘gross’ so couldn’t be bothered.
Can’t blame them really – the idea of a cervical smear isn’t pleasant and the process itself – although different for everyone, varies between ‘ah – that was ok’ and ‘gerrofff me you bearded freak!’. Nevertheless, this isn’t an optional test, its something you have to do when the time arrives.
(I think we are particularaly bad for this in the UK. In the US I think, going to a gynaecolgist is more of a normal thing – in England you would only go when something is wrong.)
The friend of mine – the only one who had been for a smear actually comes from a family prone to this illness – which is why she had been fairly good with visits….although she was told on a visit that she had some mild abnormalities and had to go back fairly soon for another check up. She put it off…as you do….when she finally did go back, the cells had developed further because of the delay, not to cancer, but heading that way. She had to have evasive surgery to have some cells removed and still has to go back in the next few months too see if it has come back. She’s only 26.
Jade Goody had also ignored warning signs, being too frightened to go back to the doctors “When I heard I had more abnormal cells, I thought this is the fourth time I have been told I need to have the same operation now,” she told Heat Magazine. “Once you have them burnt off they should not come back, but I was too scared,” she added.
It was after she collapsed from blood loss for the fourth time in four years, that she realised she couldn’t ignore her condition. “The doctors were doing tests for my blood loss but they seemed unclear about what it could be. It was then that I was told I must have another operation on the dodgy cells on my cervix. They had sent a letter to me ages ago, telling that I needed to go in for an operation, but I had been too scared to do anything about it,” Goody confessed.
In the UK cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women under the age of 35. Each year there are around 2,700 new cases.
What are the symptoms?
Often there are no symptoms when abnormal cells have developed or in the early stages of the disease, which is why women are encouraged to attend regular cervical screening.
When symptoms do occur they include:
* Bleeding after sexual intercourse
* Bleeding between menstrual periods
* Bleeding after the menopause
* Discomfort or pain during sex
* Unusual vaginal discharge
How is the smear test done?
* A doctor or nurse will gently open your vagina so they can see your cervix.
* They then use a wooden stick called a spatula, or a thin brush, to gently scrape off some cells from the surface of the cervix.
* The cells are sent away and looked at under a microscope to see if any are abnormal.
In the UK a smear test is free. You can request one from:
1. The GPs
2. Family Planning Clinics if you are under 26 (like Brook)
3. Sexual Health Clinic/Well Woman (there are plenty all over the country that run after work hours)
4. Hospitals FPC
I personally choose a Sexual Health Clinic after work and it was full of older women who I am guessing were getting the same thing done (not to mention a drunk, scary man who wanted to push in front of the queue to get free condoms….)
These clinics are run by women, you will be seen by a woman doctor or nurse so it’s not too bad.
My first experience was great – a doddle. I was about 21 and the doctor was the nicest. My second experience wasn’t as pleasant but not unbearable. Two doctors, one bolshy lady and her rather scared sidekick trainee. ‘Do you mind if my assistant watches?’ ‘Errrr’. Don’t let this put you off. You, like I, can tell this story to others for years…
It was also pushed on by the fact (yes, I had ignored the letter for a few weeks too) that my friend had just had her operation and I really felt that if I had anything like that happened to me – something that is preventable and curable if caught early, it would be my own fault for not looking after my health. After all the reminder was sent, the test is free, I could pretty much be anonymous in the clinic.
I did have to wait around for nearly an hour (that’s how it is with the evening clinics it seems).
Once it’s done (and it lasts for 3 minutes, max. It would be even quicker, but they asked me if I wanted to be tested for X, X and X and since it’s not everyday you lie there, legs akimbo with two women staring at you and a bright light shining down your poonani, I said yes, yes test me for everything, shingles, cradle cap, black lung – everything) you feel AMAZING. You feel kinda proud you did it and see – no one else saw. Now go and buy a lipstick (or five).
Once you get the letter saying everything is a-ok it gives you a great sense of comfort and you are ok for a few years! (Obviously – you still have to take care of yourself! Eat well! Practice celibacy!). If things aren’t so good – well at least you can do something about it. The worst thing would be leaving it so late that nothing can be done for you – as we’ve seen with Jade, that is a tragedy.
So if you haven’t had one yet, you should go, tell me what it was like!