Holly Majboroda-Double. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

‘Please take something from my lesson’, get checked

Emily Ireland

Next year, the recommended starting age for cervical screening in New Zealand will be upped from 20 years old, to 25.

But for Masterton nursing student Holly Majboroda-Double, that would have been too late.

Holly, 24 was diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, making her one of the few young women diagnosed in 2018.

Best case scenario, she will get smears every six months for the rest of her life for monitoring purposes; worst case – she may lose her fertility at the age of 24.

With the screening age set to rise, Holly is keen to share her experience and “improve health outcomes for the sisterhood”.

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers as it typically has a long-standing period of pre-cancer that lasts from 10 to 20 years.

For Holly, the cancer progressed much quicker than that.

“The stages of pre-cancer consist of CIN1, CIN2, CIN3 – CIN3 being the most precancerous,” Holly said.

At the start of this year, CIN3 was found as a result of Holly’s first screening, just before her 24th birthday.

She had a biopsy to evaluate the situation, but knowing how long the pre-cancer phase was, Holly said she “went on [her] merry way ignoring the reality of [her] health”.

“I knew that it took 10 to 20 years from CIN3 to develop into cancer, so in my head, I thought I had time and that I would have a baby and then sort it out.”

“I went on my two placements for my nursing degree, pushing this to the back of my mind.”

But two months ago, she was contacted by her doctor who advised her to get rid of the cells now through a procedure which would remove cervical tissue for examination and treat some of the precancerous changes of the cervix.

The procedure is called a large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ).

“I didn’t think anything of it but two weeks after the procedure, I got a call.

“The conversation started as expected; “How are you feeling?”.

“And then the big bomb shell – “So we sent away the tissue that was removed and unfortunately there was cancer found”.

“My heart sunk – what do you mean cancer?”

Holly’s doctor told her that if she had already had children, they would have recommended a hysterectomy.

But because Holly is so young, she is instead continuing to have LLETZ procedures in the hopes that will remove the cancer and pre-cancer cells. Unfortunately, the procedure increases the likelihood that Holly will be unable to carry a child.

The thinning of the cervix can induce miscarriages and pre-term labour.

“With the healing of this, you can get scar tissue which makes it harder to conceive,” Holly said.

“The more of these I get, the less likely a pregnancy would be.

“I thought I didn’t want to have biological kids, but the fact that the choice is being taken away from me every time I get a procedure… it’s hard.

“You don’t want the option taken away from you.

“That’s why smears are really important.”

Cervical cancer is caused by a stream of HPV, a sexually-transmitted virus that affects four out of five people at one stage of their lives.

“Imagine if I didn’t have my first smear until I was 25.

“Who knows what stage the cancer would have been before it was picked up. The thing is, realistically, I could have avoided this if I had done my regularly smears from an earlier age, and I could have got rid of the CIN3 (pre-cancerous cells) earlier.”

“Please take something from my lesson.

“Encourage your daughters, sisters, aunties, mums, cousins, grandmothers, and friends to get their three-yearly smears.

“It could save their fertility, or their life.

“Just because it happens to few, doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you.”

Until the screening age is raised to 25 years of age in 2019, women aged 20 to 24 years should continue screening as previously and as directed by their GP.