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‘Do not put off your smear test’: Cervical cancer led to Perth writer Katy’s hysterectomy at 35

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When Katy Gordon from Perthshire attended her routine smear test during lockdown, she had no idea it would change her life.

Katy is one of a generation who remembers TV’s Jade Goody.

And how a campaign after Jade’s death in 2009, aged just 27, saw smear test attendance rates soar.

But smear test uptake in Scotland has declined recently.

So, after Katy’s cervical cancer diagnosis and difficult decision to have a hysterectomy at 35, she is passionate about encouraging others to take the tests.

Here she tells us:

  • The ‘symptoms’ before her diagnosis
  • How cancer, hysterectomy and ‘imposter syndrome’ affected her relationships
  • What to say to someone with cancer

    The ‘Jade Goody effect’ led to soaring bookings for smear tests in 2009. But uptake for cervical screening is falling across the UK.

Katy, who lives with her partner Douglas in Burrelton, says: “I got my normal smear test invitation in December 2020.

“Part of me was thinking ‘oh it’s a bit scary going into the surgery during a lockdown’.

“But I decided (thankfully now) to go ahead with it.

‘I didn’t think this would happen to me’

“A few weeks later I got a call asking me to go into Ninewells for a colposcopy (a test to take a closer look at the cervix).

“They put a dye on your cervix to show up cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. Apparently it lit up, so they knew something was wrong.“Later, they took biopsies and did a Lletz procedure (where they burn off some cervix cells to test them for cancer).

“People said to me ‘oh I had abnormal cells, it will all be fine’. So I thought OK, it doesn’t mean disaster necessarily.

“But I didn’t think this would ever happen to me.”

‘I was fine, no symptoms’

Stressful weeks of waiting for results followed for Katy, who works as a senior copywriter.

She was shocked when told it was cancer, as, other than erratic or painful periods, she didn’t have any signs: “I was completely fine, without symptoms.

Writer Katy Gordon.

“I was working from home and a nurse phoned. She said ‘there are signs of an invasion’.

“I said ‘are you telling me I have cancer?’. She said yes,” Katy says.

‘Would not having kids change things?’

“The hospital didn’t think the cancer had spread but were keen to move fast.

“Right from the start they were saying ‘how would you feel if you had to have a hysterectomy?’

“I was 35. I’ve no kids but always thought ‘if it happens, it happens’.

“I was three or four months into a new relationship and having to say to my partner, what happens if I can’t have kids with you, would that change anything?

Katy in hospital for one of many procedures after being diagnosed with cervical cancer following a smear test.

“He said there are other ways, adoption or whatever, if we want in the future.”

Between February and June 2021 Katy had three more procedures and was given the all clear in June 2021.

Waiting list for hysterectomy

“They said we’ll see you in six months. But waiting for that check-up I was so worried. I didn’t know if they were going to tell me the cancer had come back.

“So in December 2021 I asked to be put on the waiting list for the hysterectomy. I just couldn’t stand the stress of maybe being told they’d have to do it anyway.

Katy had a routine smear test which revealed she had cervical cancer.

Katy had a laparoscopic hysterectomy (womb and cervix removal) in March.

“It was robotic surgery and I was in for two days. I felt really good after it,” she says.

“Recovery time is shorter with the robotic surgery.

“But I hit the wall a few times in terms of my mental health, dealing with having cancer.

‘I’ve lost friends because I had cancer’

“I had Imposter Syndrome too. I felt like it was wrong for me to tell people I had cancer because I wasn’t sick, didn’t need chemo or lose my hair.

“My family were really supportive and most of my friends rallied, asking what I needed, how they could help etc.

“But I have lost friends because I had cancer.

“There were people who didn’t show up for me when I needed them. I realise I don’t need those people around.”

Katy joined Macmillan and Scottish Book Trust’s digital storytelling project, in which people affected by cancer tell their stories through video.

What to say to someone who has cancer

“Making the video made me recognise I’m not the same person after cancer.

“My priorities have changed. It’s changed how I treat people, how I see things.

“People feel they have to say something. But you don’t have to say anything.”

  • You don’t need to say ‘it’s going to be OK’: It’s fine to say ‘this sucks’!
  • Ask what the person prefers: Some want to talk, others want you to listen, or they may not want support and wish to carry on as usual.
  • Ask, don’t tell: Avoid ‘be positive’ and ‘be patient’. Instead, say what do you need? How can I help? What can I do?

“I’m doing stand-up in Edinburgh soon. I’ll be talking about my cancer then,” says Katy.

“But the main message from me is do not put off your smear test!

“There’s no way I could have known without it.

“It is uncomfortable but it can save your life. I was lucky.”

  • For more information on smear tests and cervical cancer click here.

What it’s like to get a smear test – and how it protects against cervical cancer

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