I once received a card of a cartoon stick man standing on top of a flattened cartoon stick woman.
“Oh dear,” said the stick man’s speech bubble. “I seem to have trodden on a woman. Hope it doesn’t leave a mess on my shoe.”
Which seems to sum up Ireland’s attitude to women’s reproductive health right now. I was lucky enough to have my cervical cancer correctly diagnosed, which means I am still alive today, and my kids aren’t orphans.
It’s pretty basic, in a wealthy 21st century democracy, to deliver medical results promptly and accurately, is it not?
We have the technology. If humans can measure seismic activity on Mars, then why can we not get the results of a simple smear test correct, tell the individual woman her correct result, and take life saving medical action as needed?
Because this affects only women? Shush now and don’t be making a fuss.
Google ‘male health scandals’ and lots of stuff comes up about doping in sport. Google ‘female health scandals’ and weep.
While the biggest scandal affecting men’s health seems to involve individuals running or cycling a bit too effectively because they’ve injected themselves with performance enhancers, the scandals affecting women tend towards mutilation and death.
And no, nothing as culturally foreign as what we term FGM – here in Ireland we have our very own versions, albeit under the guise of medical procedures.
Symphysiotomy. Cervical mesh. And now cervical cancer, deaths so utterly preventable you’d laugh if you weren’t screaming and tearing your hair out.
I owe my life to a correct diagnosis, followed by life saving surgery ten days later. Stage 2 cervical cancer sliced out and sent to the lab.
Waiting those ten days from diagnosis to surgery and waiting another ten days to hear if the cancer had spread was insanely stressful, despite medical assurances that I was unlikely to die. That they had caught it in time.
The entire wait was just twenty days, but even twenty hours of churning fear and catastrophic thinking seemed like a lifetime.
So imagine how it feels to be one of the Irish women still trying to get through to that helpline.
Does she have cancer? If so, what stage? Is it too late? Will she need surgery? Chemo? Or will she have to think about having the worst conversation imaginable with her family and friends?
How can this be happening? We can send accurate images from outer space, but not from the inner space of a woman’s body?
It’s not like women tend towards non-compliance in presenting for tests, scans, routine examinations. Men die from ignoring their symptoms, women die from having their symptoms ignored.
No woman – not a single one – needs to die from a cancer so preventable and treatable.
Imagine this happening to men. No? Me neither.
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