Jade Goody was 27 when she died three years ago, leaving behind two young sons.
I must admit I never liked her in life, a rather garish Big Brother contestant with an extremely large mouth and an even larger personality. Thinking Norfolk was in Scandinavia didn't really make me see the funny side, or appreciate her intelligence. It seemed to me, on the other side of the screen, that she coveted a celebrity lifestyle, having done very little in the way of deserving it. In death, and in particular the way she died, she has left a lasting legacy that we women really shouldn't ignore.
Jade lived her life (peaks and troughs) in the public eye, and whilst making amends for her racist faux-pas in 2008 live on air in India, she was told she had cervical cancer. By March 2009, she was dead.
For a while after her death, the number of women aged 24-65 going for smear tests peaked, commonly known as the "Jade Goody Effect", it was during an airing of one of her tribute programmes in 2010, shortly after the birth of my second child that I was reminded that I hadn't had a smear for quite some time. A reminder, however subtle and coincidental, that I shall be forever grateful for.
Jade had suffered from many health scares during her short life, and once diagnosed with cervical cancer campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness.
Astoundingly, a third of women in the UK have never attended a smear test, in August 2010, I attended the Doctor for a routine test. I hadn't been for six years, having only ever had one in my twenties whilst at University, which lead mistakenly to a diagnosis of abnormalities. Unfortunately, it had put me off going completely.
The test itself is painless, although embarrassing to a younger woman especially pre-pregnancy, and all the more conscious of baring 'all' to a complete stranger. It lasts a maximum of five minutes, and a moment of discomfort could potentially save your life.
I was diagnosed with "abnormal cells" a few days after having the test, and sent straight to a specialist oncologist at my local hospital. Having done a degree in cell biology and biochemistry, I knew straight away that you didn't get an appointment with an oncologist for abnormal squamous epithelia. Abnormal cell clusters in the lining of the cervix are not usually an indication of cancer, but they can lead to cervical cancer if not treated. This is usually done by colposcopy, scraping the cells, or laser treatment to burn the lining of the cervix and promoting the growth of new and healthy cells. Yes, both intrusive, but nothing to be scared of.
My diagnosis was indeed cervical cancer. Upon a scan of my abdomen they found a tumour on my left ovary, a keyhole biopsy later and that was also found to be in the very early stages of ovarian cancer.
I was 32, had a five-year-old and a one-year-old who were reliant on me. Very quickly during the following weeks I had a partial hysterectomy, and intense chemotherapy which intensified over the space of the following six months. However, I continued working, admittedly some days from the sofa, and my children really kept me going and aiming for the light at the end of the tunnel. I have now been 12 months "all clear". Thanks to the speed that I was diagnosed and the care I received during and post treatment on the NHS.
It saddens me to read that even though there was a 12% increase in the uptake of cervical smear tests taken after Jade's death in 2009, that has sadly declined again. Writing this piece today I urge you, if you've had that piece of paper reminding you you're due to go, phone, make that appointment. Do it as an investment to your body, your future and your children (be they walking around, or as yet just a day dream). Unlike in America and other European countries, in the UK you do not have to pay for these tests.
This is why I'll be forever in my debt to the legacy of a woman whom I never met, and a chance switching on of the TV during a night feed in 2010. I am here today with my children. Everything else just pales in comparison.
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