Belfast Telegraph

Pal's nagging over a smear test saved my life, reveals Co Down woman

Marianne Nicholson (left) with best friend Nicola Campbell
Marianne Nicholson (left) with best friend Nicola Campbell

By Lisa Smyth

A Co Down woman has paid tribute to her best friend for saving her life after she insisted she have a smear test.

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The legal secretary from Saintfield only discovered she had the disease thanks to the persistence of her best friend and colleague Nicola Campbell.

Nicola (34) from Newtownbreda was concerned that her pal was experiencing irregular bleeding but wasn't getting herself checked out - so she made an appointment for her.

Marianne (42) said: "I kept putting off going for my smear.

"I was supposed to go for one a year before, but I hated them so I didn't go. I was having irregular bleeding but it never entered my mind that it could be something serious.

"I thought it was because of the pill I was on. I kept forgetting to take it at the right time and I thought that's what was causing the bleeding.

"But Nicola wasn't convinced - she kept nagging at me to make an appointment for a smear and when I didn't, she made an appointment for us both to go along and have one done on the same evening."

Nicola subsequently received a letter telling her she was healthy, while Marianne was called back for a colposcopy, a procedure used to examine the cervix.

Marianne was diagnosed with cervical cancer on July 18, 2017, and had a radical hysterectomy. "They also had to remove some lymph nodes from my leg to make sure the cancer hadn't spread, which it hadn't, so I was lucky in that respect," said Marianne. "I also didn't need radiotherapy or chemotherapy either, so that was another positive.

"I cried and cried when I found out I had cancer, I was so cross with myself that I hadn't gone for my smear, I was convinced I was going to die.

"I am fortunate I found out when I did and that's simply down to Nicola. If she hadn't made that appointment I probably wouldn't be here today."

Marianne was speaking out as it emerged that there has been a drop in the uptake of smear tests here among women aged between 25 and 29.

Five years ago, 71.5% of women in the age bracket went for a smear test, but that figure dropped to 67.9% last year.

GP Dr Laura Ringland from Kingsbridge Private Hospital said there are a number of reasons why younger women avoid going for a smear test.

"There can be that embarrassment factor but it is done in as dignified way as possible so the woman only undresses from the waist down, they have a screen around them and a blanket over their legs," she said. "It isn't painful either, there is a myth that we are scraping cells away but we actually only use a small brush and that part of the smear only takes a few seconds."

Naomi Thompson from Cancer Focus Northern Ireland also encouraged women to ensure they attend their smear test.

"A smear test is designed to spot any unusual changes before cancer develops," she said.

Hans Nagar, a consultant gynaecological oncologist at the Belfast Trust, said women are putting their lives at risk by avoiding having smear tests.

Cervical cancer mainly affects women between 30 and 45, but by having smear tests done when they are younger, women can reduce their risk of developing the disease.

Mr Nagar said: "We know that half of all women who develop cervical cancer have never been for a smear or haven't had one in the last 10 years.

"The awful reality of cervical cancer is that it tends to affect younger women, meaning a lot these women have young children and that makes it even more devastating.

"The procedures to deal with pre-cancerous cells that are picked up in a smear are very simple and effective.

"The sad fact is that cervical cancer is largely preventable and it is so important that women attend their appointments for smear tests."

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