“We’ve found ourselves on a new path and there are lots of things to look forward to." Liz Long tells FIONA FINCH about surviving cervical cancer and why she is now campaigning for more women to turn up for their smear tests.
Liz Long says she would not be alive today if she had not gone for her cervical smear test last year.
Liz and Olive Long
The young mum was shocked to be diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
Today the 30-year -old from Wheelton, near Chorley, is also shocked at how many people avoid going for the cervical screening tests which are available free of charge through the NHS.
In Lancashire and South Cumbria last year 31,000 people eligible for such tests failed to attend for what could be life-saving screening.
Now Liz has become a local ambassador for the NHS’s Let’s Talk Cancer campaign which aims to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening.
"We've found ourselves on a new path" - Liz, Mark and Olive Long
Last month, as part of the campaign, Liz joined a Facebook Live event broadcast from Library House Surgery in Chorley.
The aim of the wide-ranging discussion was, said organisers, to “smear the myths and share the facts”.
The panel was frank in its discussions, friendly and encouraging, determined to break the taboos and end the ignorance which can create fears about having a cervical screening test.
The discussion was timed to coincide with a national campaign.
Currently the lowest uptake is among those aged 25 to 35, ethnic minority groups, those who identify as lgbtq (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) and those with learning difficulties.
Tricia Spedding, NHS Lancashire and South Cumbria’s Head of Public Health said: “There is a common misconception that cervical screening is to check for cancer, which can be a scary thought. In actual fact the aim of the cervical screening programme is to identify those at higher risk of developing cervical cancer, so they can be monitored and treated well before any cancer develops.”
Liz, who after radical surgery, was given the all-clear from cancer, said: “Because of what’s happened to me I’m a big advocate now and extremely passionate now in spreading the word.”
The mum of 20-month-old Olive said she wants to help those who may be fearful about going for a test, what it involves and the news it may bring. Her ongoing commitment to helping spread the message about the need to be tested means she also has raised funds for and is volunteering for the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust charity. Her husband Mark is in business with her parents at Brindle based Cuckoo Gin and their fourth gin Cuckoo Solace is a fundraiser for the charity.
Liz’s own training means she is well placed to be an advocate. An actress who now works freelance as a singing and public speaking coach, she worked in musical theatre for six years after graduating from the Guildford School of Acting, appearing in Les Miserables in London. She said: “I loved doing that. It was when I wanted to do the ‘life things’ like getting married and buying a house I thought I had better come back up north and settle down.”
Since having Olive she is, she said working more on the “skillset side”. She also trains students at Westholme school.
She knows many people say they haven’t got time to go for smear tests but dismisses this saying there are evening and weekend appointment available outside usual working hours.
Liz said: “99.8 per cent of cervical cancer can be prevented by getting your test. However unfortunately for me I was in the 0.2 per cent because my test actually found my cancer, it didn’t prevent it. I’m a really very rare case, really unfortunate and very unlucky. But for the large majority it (cancer) can be caught and eradicated before anything happens.”
She said she knows a lot of women get embarrassed about having a smear test and are nervous about being in what is an intimate situation with a stranger.
But she advised: “There’s nothing that they haven’t seen or will be shocked by. The nurses are there to help save your life not to judge you.”
She acknowledged that the test can be less than comfortable but points out that a lot of women go for waxing, which is painful and takes time, whereas “a smear test takes all of five minutes”.
Liz was diagnosed in January 2019 and on March 1 she had a radical hysterectomy- her womb, cervix, surrounding tissue, lymph nodes and fallopian tubes were removed. In most cases ovaries are removed too. Liz said: “The reason they left mine is I was 29 and they didn’t want me to have to go through the menopause at the age of 29.”
Unfortunately there were complications for Liz - she suffered two internal bleeds which meant her right ovary had to be removed and she was in hospital for 18 days.
The couple are still coming to terms with all that happened. They were referred for a course of counselling at Vine House, Preston and she said: “I really recommend it for anyone going through anything, either cancer or another trauma in life. It’s been really helpful for us both.
“It’s still a process. We are extremely fortunate and blessed to have Olive but it’s just hard she will never have a sibling and I will never carry any more children. We can’t grow our family any more.
“It doesn’t get any easier. We’re just grieving the life we thought we were going to have. We’ve found ourselves on a new path and there are lots of things to look forward to.”
• Women and people with a cervix aged between 24.5 and 49 are eligible for screening every three years, whilst those aged between 50 and 64 should be screened every five years.
• See the Facebook Live discussion at: www.facebook.com/NHSCMLSC/
• Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS is promoting a “Let’s Talk Cancer” campaign to encourage eligible people to attend for cervical screening.
• A fund-raiser at Cuckoo Gin and donation from sales of Cuckoo Solace gin helped raise more than £26,000 for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.