Christa Ackroyd: Why putting off life-saving screening because of how you look is crazy

I have done so many embarrassing things in my life I blush thinking about them. In fact when my youngest daughter was a teenager her favourite under the breath mantra seemed to be ‘Oh are so embarrassing.’ I probably still am.

Jade Goody who died after delaying cervical screening test
Jade Goody who died after delaying cervical screening test

This week I was ‘embarrassed’ watching a reality TV ‘star’ ( I use the word loosely ) having a strop on Dancing on Ice when quite frankly she was useless. It was not about the size of her body. It was about commitment and manners. It must also have been rather embarrassing for the Queen and the rest of the Royal family to hear the comments about Phillip driving around Sandringham estate without a seat belt the day after the 97 year old was involved in a crash which wrote off his car and injured at least one person. It was not about his age. It was about stubbornness and safety.

But I have never, ever, been embarrassed about having a medical procedure, just because of how I look. That is just crazy. So I am horrified at the survey this week which suggests one in three women between 25 and 29 and one in four older women will deliberately miss an appointment for cervical screen because they are embarrassed. Not only that but the majority are embarrassed because of body image. I can’t begin to tell you how this makes me feel. Ladies this is not a trip to the beauticians. You are not being forced to strut your stuff in a thong bikini on the beaches of Ayia Napa. You are being invited to a simple, though admittedly not very pleasant, procedure to save your life. If you lived in another country it would cost you thousands of dollars. And it’s free of charge thanks to our wonderful NHS.

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Let’s be honest the doctor, or more often the nurse, who carries it out has seen it all before. It’s what they are trained to do. And frankly if you have ever experienced childbirth, any shyness about what happens ‘down there’ soon flies out the window as fast as you can say forceps. Just thank the Lord stirrups are now becoming a thing of the past if you want to know what undignified looks like. I can think of lots of reasons why women don’t want to go for screening or indeed for mammograms. Too busy, too painful, too personal. Well I give you two more words if you need a rethink, Jade Goody. Google her if you have forgotten how a woman in her twenties died leaving a husband and two young sons because she failed to follow up on a call for further screening. Need more convincing? Here goes. I have a lovely friend. She is called Sue. Now Sue is one of those people you might consider to have been unlucky. She has had cancer twice, first breast cancer and secondly cancer of the cervix. But do you know something Sue considers herself the luckiest person alive. Because she is alive. And that’s all thanks to routine breast and cervical screening which detected cancerous cells early and which led to brilliant, successful treatment, twice. Yes the screening was uncomfortable, certainly her cancer treatment was horrendous and worrying. But it’s over now and she is still here for her lovely family and fabulous grandchildren. And her friends.

Today as I write this I have just received a message from another friend telling me that she too has cervical cancer detected again through screening, albeit that she delayed making the appointment for three months . The last words of her message, “Am just so glad my friend told me to stop being such as idiot and get that appointment booked.” She is beginning treatment soon, but they have got it early. Do you think she cares what she looks like on a doctor’s table? Of course not.

Let’s be honest neither breast screening nor cervical screening is the most pleasant way to spend a few minutes of your life. It hurts some more than others and anyone who isn’t apprehensive isn’t telling you the truth. But a few minutes of discomfort is nothing compared with the sense of relief when you get that letter telling you it’s all clear. Or that they have caught it early and are able to treat it . My friend Sue had a mastectomy. Now that, if anything, should have affected her body image. It didn’t and for several years she decided against the reconstruction she eventually had because her scars reminded her how lucky she had been and how wonderful our free health service is. So to every reader putting it off, or knowing someone who is, come on ladies. Together we can do this. We have a lot of living to do whatever our age, whatever our body shape. And who wants to wear a thong bikini anyway?