Regular readers of my page will know how strongly I feel about raising awareness of cervical cancer screening.
But if you’re tired of me harping on about it, you might want to look away now.
I have written about various local women’s experiences with the disease, including the recent story of 27-year-old Lucy Rushton, who had to fight to get doctors to give her a smear test after they said she wasn’t due for one, despite having previously had pre-cancerous cells and abnormal bleeding. When she finally got one after paying for it privately, she turned out to be in the early stages of cervical cancer.
Last week, the importance of screening tests has been in the news again, after 28-year-old young mum Amanda Booth from Middlesbrough died after being too scared to go for her test. Amanda was diagnosed with cervical cancer last year after experiencing some bleeding, but she was too nervous to go and see her doctor to find out why.
She underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but had recently been told she had just weeks to live, which inspired her to create a bucket list of things she wanted to achieve before her death.
This movingly included seeing her three children get baptised, and renewing her wedding vows.
Before her death, Amanda told her local newspaper: “I would say to all women ‘go and get your smear tests done’ because I wish I had.”
Since her death, Amanda’s family have continued her efforts to encourage women not to be afraid of embarrassed and go for cervical smears and they join many campaigners who say current laws which dictate that only women over the age of 25 are eligible for a cervical smear test should be changed.
Another woman who shares this view is another mum-of-three, Lynn Jones from Buckley, whose experience with cervical cancer meant she recently had to undergo a hysterectomy at the age of 33.
She shares her story here, emphasising how important it is that women do not ignore that vital test.
When she was 30, Lynn got a letter through the post reminding her that her next screening was due. Busy with work and looking after her two children, she forgot about it and before she knew it she was 18 months late with her test.
Lynn made the appointment, had the smear done and while waiting for her results discovered she was pregnant.
“I had my first bad smear in December 2012,” recalls Lynn. “I had just found out I was pregnant so I couldn’t have much treatment, just a repeat smear to check the cells, which came back showing that I had CIN 3 and that I would need treatment 12 weeks after the baby was born.
“Twelve weeks after Tilly was born I had to go in for a large loop excision of the transformation zone LLETZ. This is a loop of wire that is heated and used to remove the area of abnormal cells from the cervix.
“They tested this and booked me in for another biopsy which came back the same.
“So I had the same treatment again which was not very nice at all. After my results came back the doctors said they could try the LLETZ again but they couldn’t be certain they would get everything – the other option would be a hysterectomy.
“With three young girls, I felt a hysterectomy was my only safe option,” explained Lynn.
“So at the age of 33 I had a hysterectomy. But because I had missed a few appointments for my smear, I can’t help but think if I’d have gone earlier I wouldn’t have had to had something so drastic as a hysterectomy.”
Lynn also feels strongly about the current age limit for cervical cancer screening. At the moment, women in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are screened for any cervical abnormalities from the age of 25, while in Scotland, women are screened at 20, although in 2016 this is set to change to follow the same screening schedule as the rest of Britain.
This is because scientists think younger women should not be screened because cervical cancer is rare in women under 25, and changes in the cervix are said to be quite common in younger women.
By getting screened, it could result in a follow-up gynaecological investigation, the treatment for which increases the likelihood of the woman having a premature birth in the future.
But Lynn, whose daughters are now 12, 10 and 20 months old, believes the age should be lowered since the legal age of having sex is 16.
“I really don’t understand why the age is so high when the legal age you can have sex is 16,” she said. “As a mother of three girls I’d like to see the age lowered, I’m sure it would save young women.
“As for them telling us we’re unable to have a smear test when we ask for them, feeling something is wrong, it makes me blood boil Who are they to play God? Women know their own bodies and know when something isn’t right.
“It makes me so sad that young girls are slipping through the net because they are ‘too young’ for a smear test.
“I urge anyone who is late going for a smear to book your appointment, it only takes a couple of minutes and it might just save your life.”
And in the wake of Amanda’s death this week, surely that is a small price to pay?