You don’t have to look too far these days to hear the C word being bounced around. And no I’m not talking the four letter word, which is actually a word you’d probably prefer to hear than the other big C. Cancer.
The statistics are frightening; Cancer research states that 1 in 2 people will develop cancer in their lifetime. And that is why we see stories of loss, fighting, and survival on our TV screens; DIY SOS, Pride of Britain, Children in Need, but also in our communities, our friends, our streets and all too often our doorsteps.
It’s terrifying – every parent’s worst nightmare in not only the very thought of your children being the unlucky ones, but also in the fear of perhaps Cancer taking you too soon, and leaving them behind.
And yet, Cancer is not always a foregone conclusion. With continuous medical and scientific advances, a diagnosis isn’t the death sentence it once was. Screening programmes targeting high risk groups are available and are critical in helping to facilitate early diagnosis, opening up a wider range of treatment options and ultimately a far better prognosis and recovery rate. The UK runs screening programmes for three of the major cancer groups – cervical cancer, bowel cancer and breast cancer. Prostate screening isn’t rolled out as routine, but is available in men over 50 on request.
There are many reasons someone might be scared to attend their screening appointment or carry out the testing process. It’s perhaps more intimate than you are comfortable with. It’s frightening to face the prospect that it could open up a cascade of events and ultimately bring life to a terrifying standstill.
But, as much as we all like to stick our heads in the sand sometimes – perhaps about that credit card bill, maybe a text message you really need to reply to, a confrontation we really want to avoid a little longer…but some things just don’t pay to put off. You can always ask for a chaperone in any medical situation, or request a female doctor if it makes you feel more at ease. But, in my experience, the medical professionals will always do the utmost to protect your dignity and embarrassment, and reassure you every step of the way.
A smear on my patient record
I’ve probably gone down in my GP’s history as the only person who has ever been turned away due to being too keen for my cervical screening. Having lost all concept of time and intervals, I booked one up between having the two girls and was sent home on account of being a year too early. Similarly, in my early twenties I was turned away for not yet being 25. I guess I fall into the category of super keen to be tested for anything, in fear that there is something lurking. In all honesty, as a young woman growing up in the nineties and noughties, I was forever scarred by the high profile decline of Jade Goody. Love her or loathe her, no one can deny that Jade left a lasting legacy on the awareness of cervical cancer, and the importance of screening in young women.
And I too had my own experience of a frightening result. Before the children a routine smear did identify some borderline cell changes (dyskaryosis) which I underwent colposcopy and large loop excision treatment for. It was unpleasant, but it was far from unbearable – and ultimately, for me it was a no brainer to make sure any potential signs were eradicated as soon as possible. It’s common, a lot of women go through it.
Needless to say I’ve remained up to date with all screening to date, and so far, it’s not reared it’s ugly head again, over a decade, and three pregnancies later.
My lovely lady humps
Breast screening is offered as routine here in the UK from age 50, but we all know how important it is to be breast aware at any age. To get to know our breasts shape size and be vigilant for any changes. I’ve always felt a bit unsure about what exactly to look out for, but have concluded that if and when the day came I noticed something irregular, I’d just know.
Back in the summer, I did notice a skin lesion right on my cleavage which bugged me and I poked and prodded it, debated if it was (another) mole, or a zit. I aggravated it by fiddling with it too much, made it sore, but ultimately it faded away from both my chest and my mind.
A few weeks back however I noticed that where it had been was a pea sized lump, deep under the skin in my breast tissue. It took just one conversation with the hubs to decide that enough was enough talking about this ‘thing’, and I promised the next day I’d make it happen that I saw my GP. And that’s no mean feat when you have to call the practice at school run time to stand a chance in hell of getting in.
Ninety percent confident I’d be sent back home feeling bad for having wasted everyone’s time, the GP did in fact suggest that whilst she thought it was probably a benign cyst, she would refer me to a breast clinic for a check – on a two week wait urgent referral.
I don’t think any amount of self reassurance and common sense can ever take away that small element of fear in these situations – especially when, a week later I found myself in a waiting room filled with brave faces, puffy eyes, ladies wearing headscarves and proudly smiling with their treatment success. I saw people giving out thank you cards and flowers, laughing and smiling with the warm staff as I sat reading the walls adorned with Cancer advice and support services.
Thankfully, the specialist nurses there and then confirmed my lump is in fact a harmless cyst, but the experience has offered me a momentary glance into how perhaps that process could have been, how it is for many others, and shown me a world I have been blissfully ignorant of. But the stats are positive, and with a national average of 96% survival in breast cancer, that’s something to celebrate.
God bless our NHS
As I moan and gripe about my inability to obtain a GP appointment for my daughters viral cough, again, I rarely stop to think about the wonder of the provision we have access to hear in the UK. We all know the difference in seeing a doctor when we REALLY need it, and as I witnessed first hand recently, this service is a life saving operation when it needs to be.
On the Cancer Research website you can search by your postcode to see the stats on early diagnosis, testing within 2 weeks of initial referral, commencement of treatment within 31 days of decision to treat, and 62 days of initial referral. It’s pretty amazing to scroll through the stats and see the incredible work being done across the UK by the real heroes of Britain – the hard working, underpaid and overworked NHS staff who save lives quietly every single day.
There are so many charities that support activities surrounding cancer – Cancer Research and MacMillan are the huge players that spring to mind, whilst hundred of other smaller charities target the 200 types of cancer, the impact of their occurrence on people’s lives, and helping them move forward with their diagnosis and treatment. We all give what we can, when we can, often in memory of loved ones or in celebration of a brave defeat of Cancer. We run, we march, we bake, we throw ourselves out of planes. We sponsor, we crowdfund, we donate and we sign up to direct debits. We are all doing what we can to bring an end to the suffering, and find that magical cure for the disease which has robbed far too many families of loved ones far too soon.
As a mother, a friend, a woman, a daughter, I will always be that annoying person who nags you to go and get that overdue smear, should you tell me you have been avoiding it. I will share my experiences to be vocal in supporting others to face their fears and commit to the screening programmes, or go and get something untoward checked out – however silly it may seem.
As a blogger, we are constantly told we have influence, so more so than any online shopping recommendation, any leopard print coat, or any pair of sparkly trainers, if there is one thing I want to influence you to do today, it’s to make that call if you need to. Lay to rest your worries, accept that anything sinister is best being known about, so you can set about putting things right.
We cannot guarantee that Cancer won’t knock on our door, but we can know that we couldn’t have found it any quicker, and that could be the thing that makes every bit of difference.