'Can you say the word vagina without being embarrassed?'
This was one of the questions I was asked in my interview for CEO of The Eve Appeal. Not a standard interview question I know, but it made total sense when becoming the head of the UK's only gynaecological cancer research charity. I'm aware that many women, including some of my friends and family, might have hesitated when asked that question. I know just how vital it is to raise awareness and understanding of these cancers in order to remove all the stigma and embarrassment that surrounds them.
A dictionary definition of vagina is very straightforward: 'the part of a woman's body that connects her outer sex organs to her womb' - it's an anatomical term, and should be used without embarrassment or shame.
At The Eve Appeal we know that this is far from being the case. Women are not only embarrassed to talk about gynaecological symptoms, some age groups are completely lacking in information about gynaecological issues. Our work to increase awareness of the symptoms of all five gynaecological cancers (womb, ovarian, cervical, vulval and vaginal) and overcome the stigma that surrounds talking about them will save women's lives.
We are ambitious for a future where no woman delays seeing her GP due to the intimate nature of her symptoms. A future where women of all ages know about the early signs and symptoms of all five gynaecological cancers and know where to go for more information. At The Eve Appeal, we encourage all women to listen to their bodies, look out for any changes and see their doctor if something does not feel right. I'm outraged that women are literally dying from embarrassment.
To challenge this trend and to raise awareness of the importance of having these 'difficult conversations', we're delighted that one of our corporate partners - integrated marketing agency, Kindred - has published a new collection of short stories to coincide with Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month.
The book began as a competition for marketing and media professionals, but the result - We Need To Talk - is an anthology of stories which, together, show many different kinds of challenging discussions, from sweet to awkward, to awful.
The worst conversation many of us will ever have will relate to deadly diseases such as gynaecological cancers. And one thing is very clear to me - these diseases don't discriminate; they can affect women at any age. Nearly 20,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer and almost 8,000 die within five years.
The statistics are brutal and what's really tragic is that so little has changed for some of the gynae cancers where so much progress has been made for other health conditions. Deaths from lung cancer and heart diseases have halved since 1970. Over the same period of time, deaths from breast cancer have gone down by 40%. If you're diagnosed today with late stage ovarian cancer, your prognosis is pretty much the same as it would have been 30 years ago.
So as - we hope - many people will be opening up Kindred's new book this Autumn, we hope that many more are opening up in general on gynae cancers. In doing so, they might just have a conversation which saves a life.