The importance of screening

Things you need to get done regularly as a women include having a smear test. If you have not had one, you need to. Now. I don’t give a shit about “it’s uncomfortable, or it’s embarrassing”. Cervical Cancer is a nasty, horrible disease that robbed me of one of my friends, Helen. Pictured below with her son who was 7 years old when she passed, she was my age. Visiting her grave last year on my trip back for my brother’s wedding was horrible.

I was going back to see her, have a coffee, get a hug and have a gossip. Visiting a freshly dug grave too late will remain something that hurts me for the rest of my life. Helen had gone through chemo and radiotherapy, biopsies and operations on secondary tumors. The last few weeks of her life, in and out of a hospice, she had a series of strokes, causing her to slowly go blind. Waiting for the ambulance to take her to hospital, she patted her Mum, Julia’s, hand and told her not to worry, she was fine.

Being Helen, she had planned her funeral to the nth degree, choosing her plot in a lovely open graveyard near trees in the New Forest. Carried in to Under The Moon Of Love, every time it pops up on random now on my iPod, I tear up, then laugh, thinking about when we sang it, doing the Monkees walk, in the middle of Cowes on the Isle of Wight, as you do when your mildly drunk.

We were Army Wives together, forever bound with memories of bad showers, peeling walls and camouflage kit draped about the house drying. At mess dos, we’d be the up on the dance floor with Jacqui, the three of us bouncing about dancing, laughing, singing. When I think of Helen, I smile. I drunk a toast to her at my Hen night, wishing she could have made it. Even now, I can’t delete her number or email address out my phone, and will sometimes look at her facebook page just to see her dressed up as a witch for Halloween, she was very proud she had worked out how to take her own photo. By February I was sending her silk scarves to wear at jaunty angles because her hair had fallen out again.

I got a phone call earlier this week, it was my bi-annual review for my smear test and they needed to talk to me about the results for one of the tests they had done. Because I have a history of cells coming back abnormal, and two operations to resolve that; the GP decided to do two different tests for me. The normal eye-watering necessity, then for good measure they then swirled the brush around in a solution to check for the HPV virus, as this is the main cause of cervical cancer. Rest assured, my smear came back fine, however the other test showed us that I do indeed have the high-risk HPV virus, which means from here on in, I get annual smears. It also means I could have had it for anything up to 10-15 years.

There are over 100 identified HPV viruses, 4 out of 5 people have them, they cause everything from warts to polyps on skin, and because the viruses are passed on through skin contact, you can pick them up from anywhere, not just through nookie. Most clear up on their own, and doing a smear can cause an immunologic reaction to help clear up the virus.

If I hadn’t told the GP my history; if I wasn’t so mindful of Helen every time I get called for a smear, knowing that she didn’t miss them either, and still went from nothing to Stage 4 cancer in two years; if I didn’t take care of myself; this extra test wouldn’t have been done. I would still be on a two-year recall. I wouldn’t be sat up in bed crying all over again for a girl who lit up my life when she walked into it and welcomed me with open arms to the ATR Winchester.

Make sure you get tested, make sure you get the women in your life tested. There are so many cancers we can’t check for, you really have to be stupid to not get tested for one that can be caught and treated early. Helen’s case was exceptional, while I can see chose Hinton Park, I would rather have had a hug.

One thought on “The importance of screening

  1. A very sad post, but a really important message. Everyone seems to get hung up on the unpleasantness or embarrassment involved in screening. As you say in your post, they need to just get over it. What’s unpleasant is dying from bowel cancer. What’s simple and easy is doing the screening test that’s mailed to you when you turn 50. What’s simple and easy is having a screening colonoscopy and gastroscopy, as I have to for various reasons every 2 years. I’ve watched 3 friends or family die of bowel cancer, my closest friend lived with us as he was treated for gastro-oesophageal cancer…and then died. That’s unpleasant for the person it’s happening to, damned unpleasant.
    Girls get your pap test and your regular breast check. Everyone should do the Bowel Cancer Screening kit when it appears in the mail and as you get older you should have regular checks of your body’s biggest organ…your skin.
    Great message in this post. Thanks.


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