Most talk about cervical cancer will tend to revolve around the numbers. Around how 90 per cent of those who die from the disease have not had regular pap tests, around how 43 per cent of Australian women are not up-to-date with their cervical screening.
But behind these numbers are women. Women like Cassandra, Michelle and Maxine, three ordinary people who found themselves part of a statistic. Three ordinary people who are determined to ensure that others don’t join them.
Cassandra, 33, teacher.
"Like many women, I put off my pap smear for far too long – I lacked knowledge on why this was important, and even when I was told I had abnormal cells at the age of 17, I didn’t know what this meant. Years later, at the age of 26, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and even then I didn’t really understand the gravity of the situation. I had previously had surgeries for abnormal cells, and simply thought this was the same thing. My now partner, but then friend, forced me to take this seriously and helped me understand the magnitude of what was happening – I think this is what brought us together.
"Life has changed so much since I had my treatment. While I’m lucky to be cancer-free, I certainly wish I knew then what I know now. I suffered nerve damage as a result of one of my surgeries, and it’s a life-long and painful thing I need to endure daily, which could have been prevented had I not put off my pap smears.
"Cervical cancer is one of the few preventable cancers if treated early. I’m frustrated that my lack of maturity led to this, but I’m using it as an opportunity to have these conversations and to encourage women of all ages to do the same. Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation’s education program is vital, and I want to inspire women to open up with someone they trust and to know their body. For women my age now, they should talk to their children – a 15 minute pap-smear or a conversation with a friend could change your life."
Michelle, 44, entrepreneur and fitness instructor.
"It’s been ten years since my diagnosis, and I am pleased to say I am living a great life. I’m more confident and focused on my inner-self, but it hasn’t always been this way - and it took a long time to get to this place.
"It all started over a glass of wine with a friend, when I admitted I hadn’t had a pap smear in seven years, about the same time frame since my son was born. She encouraged me to go and I conceded, which subsequently resulted in me requiring a minor procedure to remove abnormal cells. I asked the gynaecologist whether I had cancer - which she told me no I did not. As you can imagine, I was in shock when I received a call just two days after the surgery to advise I had cervical cancer and needed a radical hysterectomy.