Yesterday, Jade Goody the UK reality tv star sadly passed away from cervical cancer. She was 27 years old.
Whatever else one may think about the furore and PR that accompanied her last few months, we cannot deny that she was very brave and probably did more for raising awareness of the condition than any other individual.
Cervical cancer is linked to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and vaccines such as Gardasil (Merck) and Cervarix (GSK) are now available to prevent the disease occurring in young women. Currently, there are 11,000 new cases a year in the US with 3,800 deaths. In the UK, over 700 women a year die from cervical cancer. The condition can be picked up early by PAP smears.
What was fascinating about the Jade story was that she got the conservative and shy Brits talking about death and dying in an open way that has rarely been seen in the country before. Even my mother discussed it despite not being able to talk about my father's death from prostate cancer a few years ago. Some cancers are slow growing, some recur, Jade Goody's battle was a short and very brutal one.
Cancer is devastating. It's not just a life-threatening illness. It can make
you poor, it can collapse your family life and it can have huge
emotional consequences. But most of all, it can leave you isolated and alone.
In the end, perhaps we should think more holistically about about the patient as a whole and not just treat the tumour. If more young (sexually active) women consider getting annual PAP smears and parents vaccinate their under 21 yo's, we may well see a decline in the death rate for cervical cancer in the future. If that happens, it may not bring the Jade Goody's of this world back, but at least the publicity and raised awareness will have achieved something lasting and impactful.