The Pink Ladies and Team Sorcha have issued an open invite to everyone to come along to their Cervical Cancer Awareness Afternoon, being held this year in memory of Sorcha Glenn and also the founder of Jamie’s Journie, Trisha Harkin.
The free Afternoon Tea event takes place at the Maldron Hotel this Friday, January 26 from 1pm to 3pm and is open to all local men, women and children, with information and advice on cervical cancer.
This will be the third annual awareness event to be staged jointly by Team Sorcha and the Pink Ladies.
Sorcha Glenn passed away in October 2014 aged just 23 following a 13 month battle with cervical cancer. Sorcha had had the HPV vaccination whilst at school, and in June 2013 had requested a smear test, as she felt something wasn’t right, but was advised that smears aren’t routinely done until a woman is 25. After initially being refused, she later secured a smear test and was diagnosed with cervical cancer in September 2013, and underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy sessions and brachytherapy as well as major surgery.
Prior to her death she was involved in raising awareness among other women.
Speaking ahead of the Awareness Afternoon on Friday, Sorcha’s mother Christina Glenn told the Journal: “Sorcha wanted other girls not to have go through what she went through. She wanted to help prevent it. And she was advising them to go for the smear tests, but as it stands women under 25 and over 64 in Northern Ireland cannot get a smear test. That’s a recommendation, so it leaves GPs and medical professionals in a very grey area.
“You are not invited for a routine smear test until you are 25, but you can have pre-cancerous cells. The numbers have gone up three fold: there’s three times as many women being diagnosed with cervical cancer at 25 simply because it is not being dealt with at the earlier stages.”
Christina Glenn said that the official statistics needed re-examined in light of this, as even the World Health Organisation - which introduced the recommendations - stated that they needed to monitored. “Even for young women who survive it, they go through invasive surgeries,” she said.
Team Sorcha, who have been carrying on the campaign after Sorcha passed away, collected over 180,000 signatures calling for the age limits to be changed, and the petition is still with Parliament.
Speaking about the two groups’ joint campaign events, Pink Ladies Michelle McLaren said: “January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and as the Pink Ladies, being an active organisation promoting awareness, we joined forces with Team Sorcha and we held our first ever joint coffee morning at the Maldron Hotel three years ago, and we were delighted with how many people came.
“From our perspective we were able to bring along information about what signs and symptoms to look out for, what the procedure involves. Christina spoke to all women to say if they have any signs or symptoms get them checked out, and if they are due a smear test to please get it done.”
Michelle added that the campaign for the age caps on smear testing to be removed remained a major issue, as was awareness raising about the importance of ensuring women who are offered check-ups do not ignore them.
“We, as a partnership, are asking people, if you have these signs and symptoms, go to your GP and ask them to refer you for a smear. Once you ask, it is then recorded. You won’t know if it has been refused if you don’t ask. And those who have been getting letters through the post should attend their smear. It takes two minutes to ring for that appointment, and yes it is nerve wracking but a couple of minutes and that’s it done. And to get that letter coming through your door to say ‘it’s clear, we will send you out a letter in three years time’, it is like a weight lifted off you, because, let’s be honest, nobody ever think anything is going to happen to them. It is potentially a life saving appointment you are going to make.”
Christina added: “Sorcha always said if you can go for a bikini wax, you can go for a smear. Anybody who has any concerns, if they go on the Team Sorcha Facebook page, Sorcha’s sister, my daughter Orlagh, runs it, and she will speak to them via private message. She will speak to them.”
Both Christina and Michelle said they felt it was important this year to pay tribute to the campaigning and support provided by the founder of Jamie’s Journie, Trisha Harkin, who passed away suddenly in August.
Michelle said: “Trisha Harkin was one of the great supporters of Team Sorcha and Pink Ladies, and the founder of Jamie’s Journie with her son Jamie founded Jamie’s Journie supporting local families who have a child with a cancer diagnosis. We work like a triangle between the three of us. We all have different services and different elements we bring together, as well as joining in with a lot of other charities. They come onboard with this event as well.”
Michelle paid tribute to “the wealth of support and general friendship Trisha brought to everybody she met”. “She wore her heart on her sleeve and she opened her arms to anybody who walked towards her. So on Friday we want to, whilst remembering Sorcha’s legacy and memory, also remember Trisha and the work she has done for both organisations.”
Christina described Trisha as “just a breath of fresh air”.
“She was amazing, and so is Jamie’s Journie,” she said. “I have always said it was a privilege to have had Sorcha in my life for so long, but it was also a heartfelt privilege to have known Trisha. Just to be in her company was fun and you felt you were doing something. I would regard her as a hero. There wasn’t a problem she couldn’t solve. She helped me and so many, and she never said who she helped, she just did it.”
The informal event on Friday is open to all and there will be tea, coffee, pastries and sandwiches on the day, with donations being collected at the door for a local charity.
The Pink Ladies and Team Sorcha have appealed to local people or businesses for donations of baked or cooked goods or any items or vouchers that can be used for raffles on the day, no matter how small. Anyone who can help is asked to can contact Team Sorcha or the Pink Ladies, who will arrange for collection in advance. Michelle added: “We would like to thank the Maldron Hotel yet again for donating the use of their space and for providing tea and coffee and facilities free of charge.
“And we would say to women out there, if you haven’t already been for your smear, please pick up your phone now and ring for your appointment.”