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Let’s talk about… why sensitivity matters

Posted on: Wednesday, 21st August 2019 by Kate Sanger, Head of Communications & Public Affairs

Ahead of the third and final part of the new Jade Goody documentary on Channel 4, we’re discussing the sorts of conversations it will inspire, and how we can make sure they are as positive as possible.

Jade Goody’s very public cervical cancer diagnosis resonated with thousands of people. When she passed away at the age of just 27, 400,000 extra women than usual went for cervical screening. This undoubtedly saved lives. However, the ‘Jade Goody effect’ was far from permanent and cervical screening attendance rates are now lower than ever. The new documentary on Channel 4 about her life is helping to generate conversations about cervical cancer and also about preventing it. For some it will be a reminder and to younger generations it will be a new story which represents cervical cancer in a way they may not have seen before.

Jade’s story is very emotional and it can evoke many different reactions. For those who have had a cervical cancer diagnosis, or have lost someone to the disease, it can bring back memories of a difficult time. For those who have been diagnosed recently, it can heighten anxiety or worry. 

Conversations about preventing cervical cancer naturally follow. This includes the role of cervical screening and encouraging people not to delay their test. Such conversations can be really positive. We have seen many women saying they have been reminded to book a test or feel better informed and supported about attending through posts on social media. 

Amongst all the research and conversation about cervical screening however, one thing is very clear: cervical screening is not always easy. While many women will have a straightforward experience, there are lots of reasons which can make screening difficult for others. Fear, existing conditions such as vaginismus, experience of sexual violence and pain are just a few. We’ve adapted our online information to reflect this, working with our community and making sure that we are as inclusive and supportive as possible. 

Embarrassment remains a reason that some women find screening hard and conversations online are fantastic at helping to normalise the test. However, we would encourage people sharing messages about screening to be careful to not to use words which could blame or shame. We’ve seen this kind of supportive language in action and seen the positive effect it has. Going for screening is a choice and no one is silly or stupid for having questions, concerns or fears, or struggling to book a test, so let’s be kind and mindful with our words, and make it clear that we are here to support each other. 

It’s also important to keep in mind the fact that there is a group of women who always attended cervical screening before their cervical cancer diagnosis. Screening prevents thousands of cases of cervical cancer every year and is the best protection against the disease, but there are still cases that it won’t prevent. 

Ensuring every woman feels equally supported and included must be encouraged and this means using language that is understanding and empathetic. We don’t want to isolate those who are already finding the concept of a test hard, however well-meaning the messages are. 

Ways to talk about screening supportively:

  • Acknowledge that it is not always easy
  • Avoid language that takes away choice or makes assumptions about how others may feel
  • Ask what someone finds difficult about the test
  • Share our tips and information pages
  • Share your own tips
  • Point towards our Helpline: At Jo’s we’re here to support those who are nervous or have questions. The volunteers who staff our Helpline are there to listen, to understand and to be non-judgemental
  • Talk about the support others can provide on our Forum where many people share their experiences and ask questions about cervical screening and beyond 

If you need support yourself about any aspect of cervical cancer or prevention, then don't forget no question is too big or too small and we're here for you at every step.