Story type is Article
As a busy woman these days, it is so easy to ignore the messages out there about cervical screening.
Before moving to Sydney 15 years ago, Mary was routinely having two-yearly Pap tests with her gynaecologist and her general practitioner (GP) was generally managing any health concerns. But, after the move, testing fell off the radar and it wasn’t until Mary attended a talk by the NSW Cervical Screening Program that she made a potentially life-saving discovery.
A false sense of security
“I always considered myself a fairly healthy person, visiting the gym regularly and having an active social life. I do not have any family history of illness, and between myself and my four sisters, we have not had any major health issues.”
“In early 2011, the manager of the NSW Cervical Screening Program came to Rotary to speak about cervical screening. I knew that I was well overdue for a Pap test, but there were a few factors that gave me a ’false sense of security’ about not having a recent test: I had never had an abnormal Pap test result in the past; I had been through menopause; and I was not sexually active. My husband passed away 18 years ago and I knew that cervical cancer could be linked to sexual activity, so I just assumed everything would be ok. Not having a regular family GP also meant that I didn’t have anyone reminding me when I was due for my tests.”
A little bit of awkward for a lot of peace of mind
“In July 2011, I went to a local GP for an unrelated medical condition. As I was a new patient, he recommended that we do a few other health tests just to make sure everything was ok. When he asked about my last Pap test, and I said it had been too long ago to remember, he suggested we do it right there and then and get it over and done with. I was quite excited at the idea, as I had been thinking about it since hearing the speaker at Rotary. I had never had an abnormal Pap test result before so was not worried, I thought having the test would just give me some peace of mind.”
A shocking discovery
“A few days later, I received a call from my GP asking me to come back in to speak about my results. He told me there had had been some abnormal cell results in the sample taken from my cervix, and he would like me to see a specialist. About a week later, I went to my specialist appointment where the doctor explained that she would need to perform a colposcopy. It was explained to me that a colposcopy was a camera that would be put into the cervix so the specialist could have a closer at the cells, and if necessary another sample of cells would be taken.
“A week or two later I was booked in for a colposcopy. I was admitted to the hospital for the day and went back home afterwards to recover. I went back to the specialist to receive the results and they explained that I had pre-cancerous cells. The specialist said that they were graded as a level three out of four possible levels. They could see from the colposcopy that there was bad scarring in my cervix and recommended a hysterectomy. As I had already been through menopause, I think it made it a little easier to accept having a hysterectomy, than if I was of child bearing age.
“I was booked into the hospital about six weeks later for my hysterectomy surgery. I wasn’t exactly sure of what type of hysterectomy type I was having, however I prepared myself for have a complete hysterectomy as I was happy to be having all of the abnormal cells removed. The hysterectomy was performed under a general anaesthetic using a laparoscopy, where they made four small holes in my abdomen. Using small instruments inserted into these holes, the surgeon removed my uterus and cervix, leaving my ovaries as they were not affected. I stayed in hospital for three days after my surgery before going home. Within just a few weeks, I was feeling healthy and well again.
“I noticed some changes almost immediately after the hysterectomy. Firstly, was the huge relief I felt at having the abnormal cells removed from my body, knowing that they couldn’t do any more harm. Secondly, I noticed that I generally felt much better. Before the diagnosis, I was living a healthy life and had not noticeably felt unwell. However, it was not until after the surgery that I realised what it really felt like to be ‘well’. Although I had no signs or symptoms that anything was wrong, I can now see in hindsight that now I feel healthy again.”
Spreading the word
“After my experience, many of my friends and family have been prompted to go and have their Pap test. It is such an important test that every woman should have every two years, to pick up ‘unsigned’ symptoms that may otherwise go unnoticed, until it often it is too late. As a busy woman these days, it is so easy to ignore the messages out there. I encourage every woman to book in and have your Pap test, if for no other reason, than to provide yourself with a sense of security.”