Cervical Cancer Survivor Warns Women to Attend Routine Smear Tests

22nd January 2024

“Don’t ever miss an appointment,” explains Cloughey’s Michele Norman who after attending her routine cervical screening appointment in 2023 was told that cancerous cells had been detected. The 63-year-old reflected on how she always went for her appointments when notified by her GP surgery, reiterating how going for screening “is not worth putting off.”

Cervical cancer is the most common female cancer in women under 35 years of age and, with early detection and treatment, is a preventable disease. Women aged 25-49 will be notified to attend for screening every three years and women aged 50 – 64 will be called every five years. During the appointment a collection of sample cells (a smear) will be taken from the cervix to be tested.

“I remember sunbathing last summer in my back garden and it was a Friday afternoon. I got a phone call saying that this was ‘The Ulster Hospital and could I come down for an appointment following my smear test results and to make sure I had someone with me.’ Obviously I was panicking the whole weekend and I attended the appointment at the Ulster expecting to be told that precancerous cells had been found, but no, I was told they had found Stage One cancerous cells.”

Michele was informed that there “are two types of cells – those that travel and those that don’t. I had the cells that don’t travel.” “I went in for surgery and was told that they had got all the cells and that effectively I was in remission.”

During what was a deeply unsettling time in her life, Michele sought solace with the ‘Bare Point Buoys’ open water swimming club, her passion for crafting, her family and her three adored dogs “Frodo, Arwen and Pippin.”

Michele paid tribute to the oncology team at the Ulster Hospital who were “brilliant.” “I had an oncology nurse who I could ring if I felt stressed and I was also given the Macmillan number to ring in case I needed to just speak to someone which was reassuring.”

Michele’s message to those who may be thinking of putting off or postponing their routine smear test is to “not ever miss it.” “If I hadn’t had gone last year, the oncologist I spoke to said chances are that I would have ended up with Stage Four cervical cancer. Cervical cancer has very few symptoms, so if you don’t go for your smear and keep ontop of your appointments it can go from 0-100 quite quickly, without you even realising that anything is wrong which is scary.”

Gynae Oncology Nurse at the UIster Hospital, Fiona Rice said, “We are fortunate to participate in the smear screening programme which allows cells on the cervix to be monitored for changes from a very early stage. Early detection of cell changes on the cervix allows timely action for further investigation and treatment.

“I would recommend that anyone called for their routine smear test to attend that appointment. I would also encourage everyone to be vigilant in recognising the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer:

  1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding usually between periods, after or during sex or at any time after the menopause.
  2. Discomfort or pain during sex.
  3. Other symptoms may include an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge.

It is important to seek immediate medical assessment if you have any of the symptoms above.”

Michele Norman in her Cloughey home studio