LOCAL woman diagnosed with cervical cancer having avoided cervical screening – smear tests - for years now encourages women not miss an appointment.
Charlene Donaldson, 38, from Stalybridge had been avoiding attending her cervical screening for years when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August 2015. She had four weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy in November 2015, followed by Brachytherapy, a type of internal radiation therapy that is often used to treat cancers of cervix.
She's sharing her story in support of Cervical Screening Awareness Week 14-20 June to encourage women to attend their appointment when invited.
Cervical screening is a free health test that helps prevent cervical cancer. Women are strongly urged to have regular cervical screening. It supports detection of changes in cells that may become cancer and is estimated to save 4,500 lives in England each year.
Charlene said: "I was given the all clear following the cancer treatment and had to use a dilator for a couple of years. I am now on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) due to the treatment putting me through an early menopause and I was offered the opportunity to have my eggs frozen.
"It has also given me Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) but the main thing is that I am alive and consider myself very lucky and stupid to be scared of having a smear. Someone had told me years ago that having cervical screening felt like they had their insides ripped out, so that put me right off going to have a test.
"When I actually went in to the doctors to have my cervical screening, having avoiding them for years, it was actually nowhere near as bad as I was expecting."
Being a very private person she found her experience of having the procedure done a little uncomfortable and a little embarrassing but admitted that she would certainly rather have a smear 100 times over, than have one session of Brachytherapy.
The National Screening Programme invites women aged 25-49 to arrange screening appoints at their GP practice every 3 years and those aged 50-64 every 5 years.
She added: "It is very important to attend cervical screening as you don't think you'll be diagnosed with cervical cancer – 'as it will never happen to you!' Well it did to me. I could have died - all for the sake of being a little embarrassed."
Charlene works at Lockside Medical Centre in Stalybridge and encourages everyone to attend their cervical screening appointment. She even tells people her cancer treatment was far worse than having a smear.
Dr Ashwin Ramachandra, co-chair at NHS Tameside and Glossop CCG said:
"The HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine, that is now offered to young people aged 12 – 13 years old, helps to reduce the numbers of cervical cancers developing BUT it is very important that women act on the invite to attend for screening as this is the only way we can detect early changes that may become cancerous and treat them to stop the cancer developing.
"If you have missed your cervical screening appointment or it was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic and you are registered with a GP practice in Tameside and Glossop, please contact them to arrange an appointment."
Dr Joanna Bircher, GP at Lockside Medical Centre said: "Cervical screening is important for anyone who has a cervix regardless of background, beliefs or sexuality.
"I want to put a call out for all trans-men who still have their cervix to continue to participate in the cervical screening programme. The national screening programme only calls for people registered as female at their GP practice, but if you are a trans-man with a cervix aged 25-64 you can still have cervical screening to help prevent cervical cancer. Let your GP or practice nurse know if you would like a reminder to be added to your records, and make a note to request screening every 3-5 years (depending on your age)."
If you have not had cervical screening, are worried about it ask your practice nurse or GP when you next see them or speak to them – they want to hear from you.
For more information on cervical screening and what it involves including helpful videos visit https://www.tamesideandglossopccg.org/cervicalcancer or visit Jo's Trust at https://www.jostrust.org.uk/get-involved/campaign/cervical-screening-awareness-week
Cervical screening saves lives. Help us to spread the word. Follow us at @TGCCG