In 1988, my husband and I were preparing to become parents for the first time. We were so excited and, like all new parents, a bit nervous to start our new little family. What happened next was something we never expected. At one of my routine medical exams in the early months of my pregnancy, my Pap test showed abnormal cell development. Shortly after, I was diagnosed with early stage cervical cancer at the age of 36.
Considering I was pregnant, I was immediately referred to a specialist, who told me it was too early in my pregnancy to receive cancer treatment. I was told I would have to wait until after giving birth.
I made the immediate decision that there was nothing I could do about my medical situation, as it was well beyond my control. Most importantly, I wanted to stay positive, complete a full term pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby.
A few months after I delivered a healthy and beautiful daughter, I had the necessary laser surgery to remove the pre-cancerous cells.
This experience has reminded me how lucky I was to have an early diagnosis and why it’s so important to take care of my well-being. At the time of my diagnosis, I was young and thought I was healthy. I was busy pursuing my career in an executive position, which required regular commuting and travel. Health checkups and screening were not a priority until I got pregnant—and that increase in health checkups made all the difference in saving my life.
I am now helping Cancer Care Ontario and the Canadian Cancer Society raise awareness about cervical cancer prevention and the importance of getting screened. Women should be screened every three years and awareness needs to start at a young age. My daughter knows this, and has gone for regular Pap tests since she was 18. It is rewarding to know that she and her friends are listening and doing what they can to take charge of their health.
In 2015, approximately 640 women in Ontario were diagnosed with cervical cancer and an estimated 150 died from the disease. The sad thing about these deaths is that cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable with regular screening, appropriate and timely follow-up of abnormal results, and HPV immunization. Most cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who have never been screened or have not been screened regularly.
According to a recent survey by Cancer Care Ontario, nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of Ontario women incorrectly believe a Pap test detects sexually-transmitted infections and almost half (48 per cent) believe a Pap test screens for vaginal cancer.
It is important to be educated on the purpose of a Pap test. The test looks for abnormal cervical cell changes, but it does not test for other cancers in the reproductive organs, such as ovarian cancer, or for sexually-transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or HIV.
A Pap test can be done at your family doctor’s office, and if you don’t have a doctor, you can get a test done at a walk-in clinic or sexual health clinic.
Thanks to my daughter, I was fortunate to catch the cancer early. It is important that we help all women understand how they can prevent cervical cancer through regular screening. I am committed to routine screening and can proudly say I’ve been cancer free for 27 years. To find out more about cervical cancer and when, where and how to get screened, visit cancercare.on.ca/paptest.