On Tuesday I attended a breakfast briefing for the launch of the Eve Appeal’s #GetLippy campaign at The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Representatives of the Press, Public Health England, NHS England and other ‘important people’ were there to hear why the campaign is much needed.
Many gynae cancers are either not prevented or diagnosed early due to embarrassment. Embarrassment about our bodies is literally killing us. One of the members of the panel retold a story of a lady that presented so late with a vulval cancer the tumour had got so big she could no longer sit down. It had been there years. She of course knew it was there but embarrassment stopped her going to the GP. Other panel member. a GP, said that many patients use the term ‘down there’. As there are lots of things ‘down there’ that term needs unpicking by the GP to find where the issue really is. Interestingly both GP’s on the panel said that pubic hair has become almost a rarity in the last 15 years. Why? Is it a coincidence that ovarian cancer receives more attention and funding than the other gynae cancers? Ovaries aren’t really embarrassing are they? Vulvas and vaginas are.
Discussion moved on to the absolute need for better sex education for ALL ages. The sexual landscape is unrecognisable from 20 years ago. Many apps exist to allow no strings attached ‘hook ups’. The internet delivers porn to our and our children’s palms in the tap of a click. Delivering unrealistic images of vulvas, breasts and penises. Delivering unrealistic concepts of what sex is about. As women we are fighting to be taken seriously if we don’t live up to the media and society’s acceptable image of ‘woman’.
For me this campaign is about far more than gynaecological cancer awareness raising. It is about being able, as women and girls to be able to talk about discharge and periods and vulval itches and sex and pubic hair and contraception and sexual preferences. If we can talk about these facts with our friends, our partners, our families in a matter of fact way, we will find it easier to talk to our doctors about when something isn’t right.
I say this as a cervical cancer survivor who has undergone some pretty radical treatment. Treatment that was delayed by my own embarrassment of my body.
If we are going to prevent these cancers we have to change society’s perception that talking about women’s menstrual, physical and sexual reality is taboo.
It’s killing us.