Last Christmas, Elliott and Donna Lowe spent the holiday confronting a devastating diagnosis. This year, Elliott hopes the memory of his wife might save a life.
As Kidspot reports, the mom of four from the U.K. was diagnosed with cervical cancer on December 22, 2016. Just a few weeks later, they learned the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and was stage 4. It was the beginning of a difficult battle for the young mom.
Despite weeks of intensive radiation and chemotherapy, Donna eventually succumbed to the disease. Her husband wrote on Facebook:
On the morning of Saturday the 5th of August 2017, my beautiful wife passed away in my arms surrounded by our four young children, her mother, brother and sisters. [She was] aged just 32.
On the anniversary of Donna’s initial diagnosis, Elliott made a plea to everyone reading to make sure the important women in their lives get regular cervical screenings.
As Elliott explained, knowing that Donna missed her last screening still haunts him:
My wonderful wife postponed her last smear for reasons I can’t even remember. Believe me, I’ve tried to remember and there’s not a day goes by I [don’t] wish I could swap places with her or wish I’d dragged her to the appointment and re-arranged it for her.
Having spoken to other women, Elliott understands that it’s easy to forget or put off a cervical screening (also known as a Pap smear/test). One woman told him that it had been 20 years since her last one. But despite the discomfort, the screening doesn’t take long and could save your life. He wrote:
I am aware its not the most comfortable or dignified of experiences for women to go through, but the consequences of missing one devastates life’s for everyone connected and will do for generations to come.
Elliott is proud of his wife for fighting so hard, even with the knowledge that her condition was terminal. At the same time, he knows from experience that early detection saves lives. Women with the same diagnosis, being treated at the same time as Donna, were given the all-clear because they caught the cancer in time.
He knows that because his wife missed her last screening, “she paid with her life.” Having celebrated his first Christmas without her, he’s hoping to help other families avoid the same pain. He even shared photos of his wife before and after the diagnosis to help bring the reality of cancer home. As he wrote on Facebook:
I wake up every morning alone, bring my kids up alone. Yes I have family around me supporting me, and I’m truly thankful for that, but it’s never the same, nor will it be.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a cervical cancer screening involves a Pap smear, which can detect changes in the cells of the cervix that may become cancerous. For some women, the screening may also include a test for human papillomavirus.
Because it generally takes three to seven years for changes in these cells to become cancerous, cervical screenings can catch the changes early. Women can then get checked more regularly to see if the cells return to normal or have the cells removed.
For women between ages 21 and 29, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a Pap smear every three years, but an HPV test is not recommended. Women between 30 and 65 should get an HPV and Pap test every five years (though a Pap alone every three years is also fine).
The screening recommendations are the same for women who have had an HPV vaccination. However, women with a weakened immune system, a history of cervical cancer, who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol in utero, or who are HIV positive are at increased risk and should follow their doctor’s recommendation for screenings.
If you do get an abnormal screening result, this does not mean you have cancer. As the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains, many women receive abnormal results, but cervical cells often return to normal on their own. Following an abnormal result, the doctor will help decide which follow-up tests may be required to determine how serious those changes are and what treatment might be necessary.