On 22nd March 2009, reality TV personality star Jade Goody sadly passed away from her battle with cervical cancer. You might be too young to remember Jade Goody, you might have disliked her when she was in the spotlight or you might not have many opinions of her at all. But one thing you should know about Jade Goody, is the legacy she left behind.
Since I had my first cervical screening in 2017, which revealed I had slightly abnormal cells and the HPV virus, I’ve found myself as a bit of an advocate for cervical screenings. I’ve covered my first test on my blog here, as well as what happened when I went for a colposcopy and also some tips to help those who are nervous about attending their first screening.
And recently I’ve found myself thinking about Jade Goody a lot, after watching an hour long documentary I found on YouTube about the year following her death in 2009. The documentary shares unseen footage of Jade and her family, as well as speaks to her Mum, friends and ex-partner about Jade’s life, death, funeral and the awful disease that eventually killed her.
Cervical screenings are available to women ages 25 and over in England (the age is lower in Scotland and Wales) and is completely free and available on the NHS. It’s a quick test, which takes on average 10 minutes from entering your doctors office, to leaving again and in my experience, wasn’t painful or embarrassing. Albeit slightly uncomfortable and an odd sensation.
In 2008 and 2009 – the prime years that Jade Goody made her diagnosis and illness public – cervical screening numbers increased in women aged 25-64 by 400,000. Four hundred THOUSAND. And was more prevalent in younger women (a report from the NHS Information Centre revealed). The Jade Goody effect was in full swing and her tragic story may have saved thousands of others from going through the same thing.
But now, 10 years on, cervical screening attendance is at an all time low. But why?
This scares me. Really scares me. Such a simple test could, quite literally, save your life. And I’m not trying to scare-monger here, I’m just stating a fact. Most of the time, you’ll never know that you have abnormal cells on your cervix. I definitely didn’t. Sometimes they’ll go away on their own but sometimes they won’t and that’s where we need cervical screenings more than ever.
I did some of my own research on Twitter (super reliable, I know!) in the form of polls, just because I was curious about some of the statistics and here’s what I found:
Question 2: After receiving your invitation letter, how long until you get around to booking the appointment?
— Jenny in Neverland ✨ (@jennymarston_xo) February 15, 2019
Question 4: Do you FULLY understand what a cervical screening is looking for and what any results (positive or negative) mean?
— Jenny in Neverland ✨ (@jennymarston_xo) February 15, 2019
I was a little surprised by some of these results. Not so much by others. It’s a little worrying that 23% of women put off booking their appointment for longer than 3 months after receiving their letter but also encouraging to see that 73% of women aren’t putting off going for any reason. However that does mean out of 109 people, roughly 29 people are putting it off. And if the final poll is correct and that 95% of women either fully or mostly understand what a cervical screening is looking for, then why are we still putting it off?
I think this is probably one of the biggest reasons that women put off going and it’s not totally unreasonable. Thankfully (probably the wrong word) I’ve visited the doctors and sexual health clinics a number of times in the past, so getting my fanny out really was no big deal but I understand that that’s not the case for everyone. The main thing to remember is that the doctor or nurse doing your test doesn’t give a hoot about what your hoo-har looks like. They’re just glad that you’re there.
Worry about whether it will hurt
Again, another reasonable request. Nobody likes the though of a plastic duck beak looking object going up your minge. For most women, a cervical screening won’t hurt. For me personally, it didn’t hurt and the NHS will say that it shouldn’t hurt but may feel uncomfortable. There will be exceptions to this of course but 1 or 2 minutes of discomfort could save you years of pain. You can also ask for a smaller speculum (that’s the duck beak thing I was referring to) which should ease some worry about this.
Nerves over your results
Another totally reasonable thing to worry about. This was the part that I hated the most and waiting for any kind of results is horribly nerve wracking. My advice for this would be to treat yourself after your examination, make plans for the following week and try and put it out of your mind. Then when your results come through, if they do find anything, do not panic. Read the information carefully before jumping to conclusions. They often provide booklets with information, which can look scary until you actually digest the information and what they’re telling you.
As sad as it is, I think the fact that we don’t have a public figure in the limelight who’s going through what we all so desperately don’t want to go through means a lot of people haven’t got that boost behind them urging them to go. It’s so easy to just brush it under the rug and think, “well I haven’t got any symptoms so I don’t need to worry” when that’s an incredibly dangerous attitude to have.
I like to try and be as neutral as possible in these sort of posts. I can’t force anyone to have their cervical screening and I hate scare-mongering with a passion. But I can try and educate and share my experience, my findings and hopefully a little advice for anyone in a position where they feel they could benefit from it.
If you’re putting yours off, are overdue or know you have one coming up soon and are nervous about it, I hope you found this post helpful and encouraging. And hopefully in the coming months or years we can revive Jade Goody’s legacy.