‘A cervical smear test is as important as the air you breathe’
The signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, the process of a smear test and the Smear on Demand campaign are just some of the vital topics to be discussed at an online awareness session later today.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the Pink Ladies, in conjunction with Team Sorcha are holding the session via Zoom at 1pm today. The Pink ladies will advise on signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, and a nurse will explain the process of a smear test.
Christina Glenn, the mother of Derry woman Sorcha Glenn, who died from cervical cancer at just 23, will speak about the incredible work of Team Sorcha.
Additionally, Lucy Jones, a cervical cancer survivor, will talk about the Smear on Demand campaign, which asks that if someone presents to a doctor and asks for a smear, they should get one, regardless of factors such as age or how long it has been since their last smear.
Michelle McLaren of the Pink Ladies told the Journal they want to highlight how, despite Covid restrictions, the cervical screening process is still taking place.
“Many people think it has been cancelled. It has not and it’s still happening. So, please go if you are called and also, if you have any signs, symptoms or concerns, go to your GP and demand a smear. Early detection is really important. I know that some people are also concerned about going into a medical setting due to Covid fears, but it is one of the safest places you can be. They are doing everything to make it safe, so please don’t let that put you off.”
She added how many parents are now at home with their children and have less time, but that shouldn’t mean you should ignore any symptoms.
“Please be proactive in your own health and body.”
Signs and symptoms people should look out for are any bleeding outside of a period, pain in the pelvic area, an unusual discharge, particularly if it has a pungent smell and pain during or after sex.
“Our message is don’t fear the smear. It is just a few minutes and if and when you get that letter telling you everything is ok, it gives you such piece of mind.”
Christina Glenn described a smear as ‘important as the air you breathe.’ “If you have a cervix, you need it.”
Christina urged every doctor and nurse to ensure any person who asks for a smear gets one.
“Nurses and doctors are so good but if someone comes to you, whether she is under 25 or between smears, and say they think something is wrong, please give it to them.”
She added: “ A cervical cancer diagnosis and the treatment is a horrible, dark road and we don’t want anyone, especially young women, to have to go through that because they were denied a smear.”
Lucy Jones knows the value of smears on demand and heads a national campaign.
She was just 19 when she began experiencing irregular bleeding between periods, as well as lower back pain. Her university nurse advised her to get a smear test but her GP said that at 19, she was too young as screening doesn’t begin until women are 25. She returned to the nurse ‘in tears.’ The nurse rang a friend, who arranged for Lucy to have a colposcopy, where it was found she had pre-cancerous cells at CIN 3, the highest pre-cancer grade. A biopsy a month later found the area had grown bigger so she had the cells treated in a procedure called LLETZ under general anaesthetic. At 25, Lucy had a smear test, which came back clear, but a year later, at 26, her previous symptoms returned. She told her GP, who advised they couldn’t do a smear as it would be returned, due to the fact she had one a year previously.
“That was May, I went back in June and August and at this point the GP said it was ridiculous and she was doing the smear. A few days later the brown NHS envelope landed and the letter was from the lab, saying they had received my sample, but had destroyed it as I was not due a smear test. This was despite the fact my GP deemed it necessary.”
Lucy rang health insurance provider BUPA who advised a private colposcopy due to her history and she paid over £1000. A further biopsy confirmed she had cervical cancer.
Lucy, who lives in Cheshire, told how she is an ‘annoying, upbeat person who will push and push’ and she fears for those women who ‘take people at their word’ and won’t demand a smear if they have signs or symptoms.
Lucy, who later became pregnant and had a son, added how men can ask their doctor for a prostate exam at any time, even just after a previous one, but women cannot do the same with a smear test.
“It is not the 1800s anymore, Women can talk about cervixes, irregular bleeding etc and if they feel something isn’t right, then they should be able to get a smear, the same way a man can get a prostate exam. If you look at other cancers, like breast, lung, testicular, all the campaigns say how early detection is key and if you feel like something is amiss, then go and get checked. Why isn’t it the same for cervical cancer?
“To anyone out there, if you think you need to have a smear and you’re told you can’t, then ask why. It is your body and you know it, ask why you can’t and what help you can access to get what you need.”
You can follow the Pink Ladies, Team Sorcha Smear on Demand Campaign, which is backed by names such as Unison and deputy Labour leader Angela Raynor, on Facebook.
The Zoom session begins at 1pm. See Pink Ladies Cancer Group on Facebook for the direct link www.facebook.com/pinkladiesderry