The Week — Oct. 25: Exam is least of your worries

A pelvic exam is nothing to be afraid of, B.C. says 'We don’t want no pipeline' and a mission to prick the cold

Protesters send a clear message about oil on Monday.

Exam is least of your worries

A pelvic exam is nothing to be afraid of.

That’s the message the BC Cancer Agency, Provincial Health Services Authority and one particular woman is trying to get out to women this week.

As Pap Awareness Week opens Oct. 23 to 29, Shawnna Taylor recalls how, through her 20s, she thought she was too healthy and cervical cancer was too rare for her to need the screening. She put off getting the exam for seven years. Then, one week before the B.C. woman’s 29th birthday, Taylor was diagnosed with a cervical tumour the size of a kiwifruit.

Taylor received treatment and survived, but learned she would never be able to conceive children. “I know how easy it can be to put off getting a Pap test, especially when you are young and feel indestructible,” says Taylor. “I was just like many young women before my cancer diagnosis, but I now know the importance of screening. It takes five minutes, can save lives and prevents unnecessary suffering.”

Cancer agency guidelines now suggest women should receive an exam as soon as they turn 21, or have been sexually active for three years. After three normal yearly exams, women can then receive an exam every two years until they are 69.

Dr. Dirk van Niekerk, medical leader of B.C.’s Cervical Cancer Screening Program, says that while 70 per cent of targeted women are obtaining exams, 30 per cent aren’t. And the problem isn’t just in first time visits — it’s getting women to go back regularly.

“There are myths around the exam, like women worry that it’s painful, or worry that they will be embarrassed to talk about these issues,” says van Niekerk. “What we know is that Pap tests save lives; but it only works if women come to get the exams.”

In a valiant effort to help that 30 per cent of women find their way, Victoria resident Sue Dakers has started the “Screening Sisters” program, a new initiative unique to the city.

Dakers, who had her own scare with cervical cancer in 2010, learned the value of having the support of her sister, and vowed that no woman should be prevented from having a pelvic exam due to fear. Dakers recruited a team of volunteers available to provide support to women, to encourage them to make their appointments, to attend appointments with clients and to provide telephone support inbetween appointments.

“The program is designed to encourage peer group support — woman to woman,” says Dakers. “A Screening Sister will put you in touch with the right people who can provide medical information.”

Over 175 B.C. clinics have signed up with the BC Cancer Agency’s LACE (Live Aware. Create Empowerment.) community engagement campaign. Learn more at http://bit.ly/lvwBE. To get involved with or to become a Screening Sister, email Dakers at dakerssj@yahoo.com.

We don’t want no pipeline

The statement was made — now, will it be heard? An estimated 3,500 people gathered by the legislature despite the rain on Mon., Oct. 22, to protest the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project and make it clear where they stand on the issue.

The group remained peaceful with no arrests, though that’s not to say there weren’t messages. The provincial lawn was turned into a symbolic mud pie, with thousands of stamping feet and an impressive 235-metre black banner that stretched the length of a supertanker staked into the grass. Oil-covered rubber ducks were thrown into the fountain, and Belleville Street shut down for part of the afternoon.

“This is my fight,” says local artist Dan Gray, who has been following the anti-pipeline protests across the province and who paints protest images as he goes. “I use my art as my protest weapon, and it’s a great fight to be part of.”

Some attendants came over from the Mainland and other parts of B.C. just to be part of the rally. More demonstrations are planned for the coming weeks.

A mission to prick the cold

A sharp message will help the whole community this weekend, as one acupuncture collective prepares to offer its services in exchange for donations.

On Sun, Oct. 28, 10am-2pm, the Heart & Hands Health Collective (851 Cormorant) will host an open house providing free community acupuncture sessions for donation of cold weather clothing and/or a minimum $5 donation. All proceeds and clothing go to the group’s community partner, AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI), which serves the needs of people affected by HIV and hepatitis C.

“As the winter season approaches, it’s collection efforts like these that save many lives on the street,” says Shane Calder, AVI street educator.

Christina Chan, owner/acupuncturist at the collective asks people to break out of their routine.

“Please consider skipping a coffee or treat one day and donating your pocket change — or more! — to help,” she says. “For a healthy community, we need to start with its people.” M

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