Kathy had always considered herself to be healthy and active, until she her GP told her she had cervical cancer. Kathy, 44, was told that while her prognosis for treatment was hopeful, if she had only left that routine pap-test another month or two, she may not have lived to tell this story.
Have you ever been late on your pap-test? A month? Two months? Even a year or more? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. A recent study revealed that in NSW alone up to 130,000 women admit they are likely to delay their next pap test beyond the recommended two years and may be putting themselves at a high risk of cervical cancer.
The Facts About Cervical Cancer
- Regular Pap tests every two years can reduce the risk of being diagnosed with cervical cancer by 96 per cent, which means saving the lives of 1200 women each year in Australia.
- Only six out of 10 women are being tested regularly, every two years.
- Cervical cancer has the 2nd highest incidence and mortality among women in developing countries, second only to breast cancer.
- Around 734 Australian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.
- Many women are not aware that the HPV vaccine does not protect them against all types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and vaccinated women still require regular cervical screening/Pap tests every two years.
Here’s Kathy’s Story
Tell us about the day you discovered you had cancer?
I had been at work all day and when I got home there were 5 messages on the answering machine from the doctor’s surgery asking me to call. As I’d just had my Pap test the week before, I had a feeling something was wrong. I went straight to the surgery where my doctor told me I tested positive to cervical cancer. The news came as a big shock as I always thought of myself as fit and healthy. I was silent for a minute, and then asked my doctor what we had to do to treat it. With all the information on hand I went back home and told my husband Mike who was understandably quite distressed and promised me we would tackle this together.
What difference would a few months have made to the treatment or the end result? Tell us a little about what your Dr told you…
I was so lucky. I’ll never forget my doctor telling me, ‘You are very lucky. If you had waited another 6 months it could have been a whole different story’. Cervical cancer is a fast growing cancer yet curable if caught early. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have regular testing.
Can you talk us through the treatment?
After consulting with my doctor that surgery was needed quickly to remove the tumour, the process of treatment was extremely uncomfortable and invasive. There are different ways the procedure is conducted, but in mine I was awake through the whole process. The details are quite graphic, but it was an experience which no woman should ever allow herself to go through. I took a couple of days off work with bed rest at home, and took it easy for a few weeks afterwards.
Did you have to undergo any kind of chemo or radio-therapy?
I was very lucky as no chemo or radio-therapy was needed. The whole procedure was done at my gynaecologists office – I was in and out in just a few hours. It was still stressful, but I’m so grateful that the treatment was so minimal.
Has there been any follow-up treatment or any complications/ongoing issues as a result of the surgery?
I did have a couple of follow up appointments and Pap tests every 6 months for the first 2 years following the surgery. I’m now having them every 12 months and my results have been normal.
What message would you give to other women who might only be a few months late on their pap smears?
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have regular Pap tests. Ladies, I’m talking every two years without fail. We all make time for our beauty appointments every month, so there is no excuse not to go to your doctor when your screen is due. A Pap test takes only 5 minutes and is much quicker and less painful. It could save your life, just as it saved mine.
Have you changed your lifestyle (health/fitness/diet etc) in any way after?
Not really, I love to surf and have always been relatively healthy and active. I very rarely get sick or visit a doctor and that’s why it was quite a shock. I have changed my outlook and I’m also far more vocal about the issue. I openly encourage my friends and family to get tested. There’s no point being embarrassed about it!
How has this impacted your family, kids and husband?
We have always been a very supportive family, which really came through after my diagnosis. It was a strong reminder to some of my younger female relatives who had never had a Pap test. I’m happy to say that they are now both regular with testing. It’s a bit of a running joke in my family about my constant reminders to keep up with Pap tests. My first question when I haven’t seen them in a while is ‘have you had your test?’. While we all have a laugh, the situation is serious and I truly believe it’s up to women to remind each other about such an important procedure.
Kathy, from Sydney’s Palm Beach, has become known amongst friends, family and the community for advocating the importance of regular screening. She actively spreads the message to women that cancer can affect anyone and that there is no excuse such as lack of time or the ‘awkward factor’ for neglecting regular Pap tests. For Kathy, the 5 minute procedure is far quicker, less awkward and less painful than most beauty treatments young women endure, except this ultimately saved her life.
For more information on Cervical Cancer screening please visit www.cancerinstitute.org.au
Do you get screened regularly? Or, have you had a brush with cervical cancer like Kathy? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories below…