I was halfway through writing a stat-laden article when I thought back to an event PapScreen held last year, and a beautiful speech given by a man who had recently lost his wife – and mother of his two young children – to cervical cancer.
I think it illustrates why Pap tests are so important, better than a thousand statistics, so with his permission we’ve reproduced his story here.
In January 2010 a beautiful amazing woman and mother of two lost the fight against cervical cancer. The fight was short yet inspirational and courageous. This beautiful woman was only 34 and was in the prime of her life, enjoying spending time with her children and a husband who cherished each day with her. This amazing woman was my wife Melissa Jane Ellis.
How life can change so quickly. One day we were your typical family of four, looking forward to seeing our children grow up and develop into fine adults. Yet Tayla (age 12) and Hudson (age 4) have now had to endure what no child of that age ever should – the loss of their mother.
After returning from a family holiday in Queensland, with Melissa exhibiting unusual symptoms, we went to our local emergency department. Two weeks later after an appointment with a specialist, we found ourselves travelling to Melbourne for tests and an operation to examine the symptoms.
Until cancer touched our family we didn’t fully appreciate how devastating this disease could be. One afternoon in October 2009, our lives would be changed dramatically forever: we were given a diagnosis of cervical cancer. It was only three short months later that the disease would claim Melissa’s life.
On the day we were diagnosed we experienced an array of emotions, from devastation and determination, to anger and frustration, to fear and concern for our two beautiful children. Melissa found amazing inner strength: her main concern was for the wellbeing of family members around her. Her positive and unselfish outlook continued throughout her treatment, right up until her passing.
At no point did Melissa ever question why her: her only question was ‘How can my experience help others?’
With the number of women having regular Pap tests still well down on where they should be, I find myself continuing the battle of awareness and prevention of this hideous disease, with the clear and distinct goal in my mind that children should not have to experience what our children have had to.
It may seem strange to have a man raising awareness about the importance of Pap tests, and their role in preventing cervical cancer, yet it’s a passion I hold close to my heart. I strongly believe that husbands, fathers, sons and brothers can play a bigger role in the fight against this disease.
Throughout this story, I’ve made references to ‘our story’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ – because although my wife Melissa was the patient, at no point in time was she travelling this road alone. It was a road that we travelled together. Unfortunately, that road is now a little lonelier with Melissa gone.
I’m sure there’s a reason for Melissa being taken away from us – someday that message may be a little clearer. It may be to help someone else, which would make sense, because she was the most selfless person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Since Melissa’s passing I’ve obviously reflected about a lot of things, and there’s one particular event that’s hard to erase from my mind. It was one night when Tayla and Hudson were in bed, Melissa and I were watching TV and an advertisement about Pap tests came on.
The advert prompted me to ask Melissa about the last time she had a test. Melissa was dismissive and spoke of the awkwardness of the test. Her reaction was understandable, and it stopped me from taking it further.
For the sake of a moment of awkwardness, I wish I’d been more supportive and pushed a little harder. I’ll never get that chance again.
- We know that regular Pap tests (or Pap smears) can prevent around 90% of cervical cancers.
- However around a third of women in Australia don’t have regular Pap tests.
- Around 9 in 10 women diagnosed with cervical cancer haven’t had regular Pap tests.
- PapScreen recommend that all women aged 18–70 who have ever been sexually active have a Pap test every two years, even if they’ve had the cervical cancer vaccine (or HPV vaccine).
- GPs and some specially trained nurses can take Pap tests. To find your nearest clinic providing Pap tests call 13 15 56.
- For more information about Pap tests and how they can prevent cervical cancer go to papscreen.org.au or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.