A woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer said she’s "incredibly lucky" her case was detected after delaying further tests following her screening.
Lisa Taylor, 41, from north London, found out that abnormal cells had been detected and there was the presence of the HPV virus after attending her first smear test (cervical screening) in the late 90s.
Although she had a few follow-up smear tests, her last one before she went to University was back to normal and she didn’t think about it again until she was about to sit her third year final exams, when she experienced random spotting (bleeding) again.
Lisa said being in a new city and having to go for a smear made her feel embarrassed, but the test once again showed abnormal cells and HPV.
She underwent a procedure to “zap” the cells and “tried to forget it and crack on with exams”.
Lisa said she then put her “head in the sand” in regards to cervical screening and avoided follow-ups, but at the age of 29 she began getting very slight spotting again after sex.
She initially thought this was “nothing major” and that it was just the start of her period, which were always quite light.
But, as this was 2009 and Jade Goody had recently lost her fight with cervical cancer, Lisa said she thought of how the reality TV star was only a couple of years younger than her and she “felt like such an idiot for not following up sooner”.
“Although I was avoiding it, between school, uni and moving to a different part of London, I did get a bit lost in the systems as to when I was meant to have follow ups and under which primary care trust,” she added.
‘You take all the armour you’re given to fight’
Lisa, who lived in south west London at the time, finally booked a follow up smear and was referred to Kingston hospital who are affiliated to the Royal Marsden.
After undergoing treatment for her cancer, including chemotherapy and radical trachelectomy (removal of the cervix), she was 10 years clear in 2021, just as she turned 40.
She said: “I can’t tell you how lucky I still feel that my cancer was picked up.”
“If I hadn’t booked that smear, it probably wouldn’t have been until it was too late. I remind myself every day that mine was cured. Some aren’t so lucky. As horrible as chemo and all the treatment was, you take all the armour you’re given to fight,” she added.
Lisa’s cancer was not caused by the HPV virus as first thought, but a cell mutation resulting in a very rare form of cancer (a neuroendocrine carcinoma) which is more typically found in the lungs or legs.
However, she said she felt there was a strong stigma around HPV at the time of her initial screening, with someone asking her how she “caught” it and felt there was an “insinuation” that a person with HPV is “therefore promiscuous”.
More promotion around HPV not being an STI could help reduce the stigma, Lisa said.
She added that although there’s no denying a cervical screening test is “not the most pleasant thing in the world”, the nurses and doctors “are amazing”.
On a final note, Lisa said she thinks cervical screening is “very, very, very” important and that “we as a nation are incredibly fortunate we have this available to us in our healthcare system, as so many women/those with a cervix do not”.