‘5 minutes of discomfort is worth it to prevent a diagnosis’ says cervical cancer survivor Samme, who avoided a second screening for over 10 years
Samme (pictured) says she was 'incredibly lucky' that her cancer was caught at an early stage
The stats are shocking – smear test attendance in England is at a 20 year low. In the words of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the ‘Jade Goody effect has long gone’. Here, cancer survivor Samme shares the story of how an uncomfortable first screening led to her avoiding having another test – which ultimately led to frightening consequences.
A Bad Experience
Upon hearing the term ‘cervical screening test’, many women will respond with a mixture of the following feelings: apprehension, anxiety, or perhaps even fear.
Many also worry the screening will be uncomfortable or embarrassing – enough to put you off returning for a second test. This was the case for Samme.
After not having had the best experience at her first smear test aged 25 with a nurse who was 'the opposite of reassuring', and with working abroad and moving around a lot, Samme managed to avoid returning for a second test anytime soon.
‘Years passed, I worked overseas, moved house a lot and just always seemed to be able to avoid thinking about another screening,’ she explains.
It was ten years later at the age of 35 when Samme went for a routine check-up with her nurse, who explained that she was long overdue a cervical screening. Feeling comfortable with this nurse, she finally agreed to the test – but could never have predicted the outcome.
Smear tests prevent 75% of cervical cancers from developing, yet 1 in 4 women don't attend their test.
- Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust
Struggling to Cope
‘My screening results came back with severe dyskariosis (severe cell changes), and further tests revealed I had cervical cancer.
‘Being told you have cancer is devastating,’ clearly recalls Samme. However – there was in fact a silver lining to her diagnosis.
‘The cancer was at an early stage so I was extremely fortunate to have to go through just three operations without chemotherapy or radiotherapy.’
It had been an incredibly close call. Full of praise for her medical team, Samme admits that whilst treatment was tough, it was her feelings and emotions after the surgery which she struggled the most to cope with.
Endless tests, biopsies, and the worry the cancer could come back were few of the things Samme had not prepared herself for. ‘No one close to me could empathise or understand me,’ she explains.
Samme went through her initial diagnosis and treatment without searching for any help or advice.
But after Googling ‘cervical cancer support’, Samme came across Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust – the only charity in the UK dedicated to women affected by cervical cancer – and soon, everything began to change.
1 in 4 women don't attend their cervical screening test
Feeling Much Better
Sharing her thoughts and feelings on Jo’s online forum and reading other women’s support and advice for her instantly made Samme ‘feel so much better’.
She also joined a local support group ran by Jo’s. Although she thought the sessions would be ‘heavy therapy’, she was delighted to find the support of other wonderful, strong-minded women who had fought similar battles.
‘The meetings included wonderful sessions on various elements of living through cervical cancer which helped me come to terms with the long lasting impact of the diagnosis,’ explains Samme.
It was these outlets that helped her to deal emotionally with the post-surgery feelings that had been troubling her.
"To think that I could’ve quite easily prevented all of this is still extremely frustrating."
Looking to the Future
Samme supports Jo's #SmearForSmear 2018 campaign
Seven years after her initial diagnosis, Samme continues to go back for checkups. But thanks to the support and encouragement of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and family and friends, Samme is living her life to the full.
‘I was incredibly lucky that they caught the cancer at an early stage, and had I delayed the screening much longer it may have been a different story,' shares Samme on her experience.
'But, to think that I could’ve quite easily prevented all of this is still extremely frustrating.’
Her final thoughts on the matter are clear: ‘For many women the thought of a cervical screening is worrying. But for 5 minutes of discomfort or embarrassment, it is worth it in order to prevent a diagnosis of cervical cancer.’
Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust are running their #SmearForSmear campaign from 22-28 January to spread the message about the crucial importance of smear tests.