'Sorcha didn't want anyone to walk her path - please get your smear test'
Pink Ladies and Team Sorcha have highlighted how many people ‘fear the smear as they think it’s there to detect cancer, when it is the opposite – it’s there to prevent it’.
Michelle McLaren of the Pink Ladies and Christina Glenn of Team Sorcha spoke to the Journal for Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, which runs from January 23 to 29.
They highlighted how one in three women are not going for their smear/ screening tests.
Christina’s daughter, Sorcha Glenn, died aged just 23 in 2014 from Cervical Cancer after being denied a smear test because she was ‘too young.’ She wasn’t eligible for a routine smear test prior to her diagnosis as she was under the age of 25. Team Sorcha, as well as the Pink Ladies Cancer Support Group campaign to lower the age of cervical smears and to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.
Christina highlighted how many people ‘fear the smear’ as they are scared about what it might detect.
"They sometimes think the smear is there to find cancer, which is totally the opposite of what it is there for. It is there to prevent it.”
Michelle added: “Everyone’s experience getting a smear is different, but the majority will tell you it’s absolutely nothing to worry about. We can work ourselves into a tizzy and girls going for their first smear can be understandably nervous. But, it’s very quick – taking your clothes off sometimes take longer and the nurses are absolutely lovely and so calming. And, there is nothing like getting that letter later to say you’re all clear.”
Christina stressed that ‘everyone with a cervix needs a smear’ and said the smear on demand for under 25s should be implemented, as people become sexually active at different ages.
"Many young women become sexually active very early. If you get the HPV virus at the age of 15 or 16, but aren’t entitled to a smear until you’re 25, what chance do you have?
"We are asking, that if a woman under 25 asks their GP or practice nurse for screening, that she is not turned away because of recommendations.”
Michelle added this is especially important if the woman is symptomatic.
"If you’re symptomatic and have signs that are concerning you, the earlier you are seen the better. It could be an infection or numerous other things, but it is better to know. We know that people are saying that they are finding it difficult to access a GP, but when you ring, and the receptionist asks for a description of what is wrong, tell them it is an emergency and you want to see a GP – because it is.”
Michelle and Christina stressed that, even if you have had the HPV vaccine, you still need to get screened. HPV is not the only cause of cervical cancer.
Christina outlined how the earlier a cancer is found, the better the outcome can be and this is also why screening is so vital.
Michelle urged anyone due a smear test or who is overdue to a test, to make sure they attend.
"Screening still went ahead during Covid and a lot of women maybe missed their smears, as they didn’t want to go during that time. We want women to be proactive and think: ‘I’m due a smear’ and go and book it. If you’re invited and the appointment doesn't suit you, please change it to a time that does.”
Michelle also highlighted how, through Sorcha’s legacy and the work of Team Sorcha, the education is ‘getting out there’ and young girls and women are being more proactive and looking after their vaginal and cervical health.
“If they think something is wrong, they’re going to their GP or they’re speaking to their mammy and that is down to Sorcha and how she wanted to change young women’s perception of cervical cancer, as well as the amazing work of Team Sorcha. She is saving lives.”
Christina told how Sorcha ‘didn’t want anyone to walk her path.”
She asked anyone who may be suffering with symptoms concerning to them, to contact their doctor, no matter what their age, and request a smear test. This also includes those who have had a screening within the last three years.
Both Christina and Michelle outlined how any woman, who has concerns, can contact Team Sorcha or the Pink Ladies for support and guidance. They added that even if you are experiencing worrying symptoms or signs, it may be because of another issue, that is not cancer, but it is always best to get checked.
Christina said: “No matter how much someone loves you, nobody will love you or look after you better than you.
“Cervical cancer affects not only the person who has it, but everyone in their family, for the rest of their lives.”
Some of the symptoms that should be checked are vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you – including bleeding during and after sex, between your periods or after the menopause and having heavier periods than usual; changes to your vaginal discharge; pain during sex, pain in your lower back, between your hip bones (pelvis) or lower tummy.
If you have any of the symptoms listed , particularly if: they are not normal for you; they are persistent; there are repeated episodes; they do not go away, be sure to contact your GP for a check up.Also, some women may have no symptoms at all, so it's important to attend your smear test when invited to detect any abnormal changes as early as possible.
See Pink Ladies Cancer Support Group and Team Sorcha on Facebook.