"I had cervical cancer and I'm NOT ashamed: 5 easy ways to shred the shame"
Updated: May 1, 2019
All you need to know about what cervical cancer is, how to protect yourself from it, and how to shred the shame that often comes from talking about our lady garden and the so called "sex cancer". But first, let me say "yes, I had cervical cancer and I’m not ashamed".
Ok, I'll admit it: I'm not one to be ashamed about my cervical cancer journey. Maybe that's because I understand it or maybe that's because it takes a lot to shame a French woman about her sexuality and womanhood. Yet, I often hear women say:
Help me get rid of the shame.
There's increasing evidence that "body shame" is what's stopping many women from seeing their doctor for their regular cervical screening (also called pap test or pap smear).
I feel ashamed of my cancer, since it's STD related.
Even more surprising to me is that shame and embarrassment go as far as stopping some cervical cancer patients from seeking treatment. It doesn't have to be this way.
What is cervical cancer?
First, let's define cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society:
Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining the cervix - the lower part of the uterus. The foetus grows in the body of the uterus. The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal).
The cervix contains two different types of cells: glandular (located in the endocervix) and squamous (located in the exocervix).
How to protect yourself from cervical cancer
The main two ways to reduce your risk of cervical cancer is through HPV vaccination (prevention) and cervical screening (early detection).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can also reduce your risk for cervical cancer if you:
use condoms during sex (although HPV infection can still occur), and
limit your number of sexual partners (you can still get HPV with only one partner).
5 easy ways to shred the shame
1. People around you do NOT need to know any more than you're willing to share
You have cancer... end of the story! Although I'm opened about my journey now, when I was going through treatment I focused my energy on my own healing process rather than worry about what others might think. This is a time to focus on you!
2. HPV is like the common cold
Yes, HPV is a sexually transmitted infection but it's like having the common cold. You're not ashamed of having a cold, so why being ashamed about HPV? If you've had sex, chances that you'll get HPV in your lifetime. Plus, many people do not know that the HPV virus causes 99% of cervical cancers anyway. For more information about HPV, check out my video and blog: "I had HPV and I'm not ashamed, busting the HPV myth".
3. Find a doctor you trust
For most of us, talking about our lady garden takes practice. BUT, it does help when you have a doctor that you trust. Through my research, I found that something as simple as requesting a female doctor or going to a community health service can help many women feeling more at ease when it comes to discussing our health "down there".
You can also download the comfort checklist - a fantastic resource to make you more comfortable during cervical screening.
4. Choose who you turn to for help
Not everyone is comfortable to talk about illness. For some people, it can bring back painful memories. For others, they just don't know what to say or how to help.
Sometimes our best allies are our friends and families but sometimes we might feel as if we need to support our loved ones more than the other way around. This is your cancer journey, your time to say "yes to help".
When I was first diagnosed, I went to a retreat in the Blue Mountains of Australia where I met other cancer survivors and spiritual mentors with whom I shared common values and experiences. I also contacted a local charity that offers support to people going through cervical cancer. Have a look at what's on offer in your area and don't be afraid to reach out for support.
5. Join a support community
You do not have to go through this alone. We can find strength in each other. Since I created Girls Rocking Cancer 4 months ago, I had so many women saying things like:
I've never come across a site like this one, most people are too afraid to discuss such private parts.
Thank you for talking about this, no one talks about this.
You can join our community and help break the silence on gynaecological cancers by sharing your story either via email or by joining Girls Rocking Cancer on Facebook or Instagram and use the hashtags #imnotashamed #girlsrockingcancer.
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