Highland model says: 'Without my pap smear, my story would be completely different'
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A woman who survived cervical cancer is urging females to stop putting off their pap smear test.
Rea Crook (39) from London is a survivor of cervical cancer, and is taking part in the Inverness Catwalk for a Cause 2024 taking place on Saturday (February 10), run by the Highland Hospice and the Head Gardener as a platform for brave individuals to share their story of living with cancer or other life-limiting illness.
Rea is on a mission to do whatever she can to shine a light on taboo topics of pap smears and recognising the signs of cervical cancer.
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"Sometimes when you have symptoms you keep them to yourself for quite a while even if you are aware of them, you play them down because you think, ' I don't feel comfortable talking to a doctor about this', and you don't feel comfortable talking to your friends about it either.
"I was one of these people.
"I had all the symptoms – but I didn't know that they should be ringing alarm bells. I wasn't educated on recognising signs – I didn't realise they were things I should be getting checked out. If I had been more educated, I probably wouldn't have held off going to my smear test for so long.
"Many ladies I've met have also been really reluctant to get things checked out by a doctor, or really nervous to have a smear – which is upsetting.
"If it hadn't been for my smear... my story would be completely different."
Bluntly, Rea tackles the stigma around women's health by stating: "Females in general seem to be nervous to talk about their vagina. I understand that smear tests take people out of their comfort zones – which is understandable, but it shouldn't put you off from having the test. They really can save your life."
The two pieces of advice Rea wishes she could give to every woman is: "Any change that you notice down there – go and see your doctor. Your doctor is not going to judge you, they won't think anything of it.
"If you have a group of friends, bring it up, ask them 'Is this normal?'. If I had put my smear test off... I don't even want to think about what would have happened. I would have been blissfully unaware I had cervical cancer."
Explaining why she's taking part in the charity event, Rea said: "My parents and my partner have been truly incredible, my family have been a huge support not just for me but for each other. I have the most wonderful friends who have been by my side. However I know that’s not the case for everyone, also sometimes it’s easier to speak to a stranger. The Hospice, Jo Cervical Cancer Trust and Macmillan have been and still are being such a support to me and I know they will be there for many others. Anything that I can do to say thank you and help support them I will.
"Catwalk for a Cause is such an amazing thing that Alison McRitchie has organised. It's going to be a really good night – and a very emotional one too I'm sure!
"I'm very honoured to be a part of it, I think it will be very empowering."
For more information about the signs of cervical cancer, visit www.nhs.co.uk here.