Cancer shock: I thought 'I’m young, I’ll be fine’
THE day Alderley army officer Angela Langdon discovered she had cervical cancer she'd been for a run, she had a new job and she was feeling great.
"I'd just made this New Year's resolution to get fit," the 33-year-old recalls.
It was January and just before the Christmas/New Year shut down she'd finally made time to have a routine Pap test, albeit six months late.
"I was complacent. I thought how could it possibly matter if I was late getting the test ... I thought I'm young I'll be fine," she said.
But she wasn't..
"It (cervical cancer) doesn't care if you are young or old," she said.
"I think I was like a lot of people thinking it's not something that could affect me."
Then when she sat down with the specialist that afternoon in January 2016 she learned not only did she have cervical cancer but she would have to have urgent surgery.
She says nothing could have prepared her for the emotional journey ahead. It was a whirlwind.
"If I had to find one word to describe what it is like to have been through this I would say devastating," she said.
Within two weeks of that appointment she'd had one surgery which left her completely shaken. It confirmed the cancer was so aggressive her surgeon would probably have to perform a hysterectomy.
"I don't think women think about the fact that cervical cancer has this second order affect .. that it affects your fertility. I went from being someone age 30 without children to facing this question of potentially not ever being able to have children."
"If I can do one thing now .. if I can scream it from the rooftops for women to have their Pap test then I will .... I talk about it whenever I get the chance."
She said "nothing is more important than your health and as women that nurturing, caring side of us means we usually put other people first but you can't look after other people if you are not healthy yourself."
"I was very very lucky ... I didn't have to have a hysterectomy but I had to have my cervix removed. I can never have a natural birth but I can still carry a child."
"I do believe everything happens for a reason and it has made me stronger and more resilient but I absolutely believe if I could have done anything to not go through that experience I would."
New research released today by the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF) reveals, for the first time, the extent of the drivers and barriers which can deter Australian women from undertaking the Cervical Screening Test (CST) - previously known as the Pap or smear test.
The research showed "over a quarter of Aussie women were reticent about making appointments because they're embarrassed, and a third because it's awkward".
- "Many have concerns that they aren't normal down there, even that it might smell, or that they are not groomed appropriately," the research found.
While more than 40 per cent of women said they felt uncomfortable talking about the CST.
In conjunction with the research, ACCF has also launched a new campaign, cerFIX2035, which aims to educate Australian women on the risk of cervical cancer and help eradicate cervical cancer in Australia by 2035.
ACCF CEO Joe Toom said the research demonstrated "while we as a nation have made significant gains when it comes to HPV vaccination rates and driving down new cases of cervical cancer, there is still a great misunderstanding of cervical cancer and of the Cervical Screening Test".
"Australian women have told us in no uncertain terms that despite the many off-putting experiences surrounding the CST, they do in fact see the value of it and wish to see further information," he said.
Ms Langdon believes, like many women, she was busy making excuses and not making her health a priority.
"Actually having that Pap test, even though I was six months late, saved my life. It came up immediately that I had cancer. If I didn't have that test the stage of cancer I had would have been more progressed and aggressive."
Looking back she knows tiny changes in her body were actually red flags, signals she hopes to warn other women to be on the lookout for.
"I'd had break through bleeding but I also had a contraceptive implant and one of the side effects of that is break through bleeding so I didn't think much of it," she said.
"Now I'd encourage anyone with similar symptoms to get it checked."
Ms Langdon received the news from her oncologist just two weeks ago saying her "results are now perfect".
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
- Over a quarter of Aussie women (27.6%) are reticent about making appointments because they're embarrassed, and a third (32.3%) because it's awkward
- Only a third of women (34%) know the test screens for human papillomavirus (HPV), and the majority are not aware that the CST has moved to a five-yearly cycle
- An estimated 951 women will be diagnosed and 256 will die from cervical cancer in 2019 alone.
- For more than a quarter of Aussie women, embarrassment is a major determining factor when it comes to booking in for their CST.
- Many have concerns that they aren't "normal down there", even that it might "smell," or that they are not "groomed appropriately."
- The five-yearly Cervical Screening Test replaced the two-yearly Pap test in December 2017
- The Cervical Screening Test detects the human papillomavirus (HPV), something the Pap test could not detect
- HPV is a common virus that, if left undetected, can cause abnormal cell changes in the cervix which may lead to cervical cancer
- The Cervical Screening Test is safe at five yearly screening intervals, compared to the previous two-yearly cycle of the Pap test, because HPV usually takes 10 or more years to develop into cervical cancer
CERVICAL CANCER SYMPTOMS
- vaginal bleeding between periods
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
- bleeding after sex
- pain during sex
- unusual vaginal discharge.
- extreme tiredness
- leg pain or swelling
- lower back pain.