Isabel Munoz-Newsome presumed she was too young to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. Here, she recalls how embarrassment held her back from having a smear test.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women, with around 3,000 people being diagnosed each year in the UK. Shocking statistics like this show how absolutely vital it is that all women need to feel comfortable and confident in attending regular smear tests, but sadly this isn’t always the case.
The consequences of missed appointments can be life-changing and someone that has experienced this first hand, is Isabel Munoz-Newsome, the front woman of London-based electro post-punk band Pumarosa.
Munoz-Newsome hadn’t had a smear test before, but when she started seeing some unusual symptoms, she started to worry and knew it was time to bite the bullet. She remembers: “I just started getting a shadow of blood, but very faint, in my pants everyday. The doctor could tell straight away that something was wrong”.
In 2017, Munoz-Newsome was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She says: “It’s pretty shocking because you feel like you’re a young person and you shouldn’t be getting news like this”. In the same week as her diagnosis her husband released their debut album The Witches. It should have been an exciting time but Munoz-Newsome it was incredibly difficult, she explains: “For the last few years that’s all we wanted and it was finally happening. It was difficult to enjoy it. I remember that you feel like you might die… because you might”.
Munoz-Newsome, like many others, says that she continuously put off the test because she felt uncomfortable about the procedure. “I was ashamed of taking off my trousers in a doctors surgery, which is ridiculous. I felt a sense of shame about having my vagina looked at,” she says.
A study by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust shows that embarrassment about the body plays a huge part in the lack of attendance for between a third and half of women in the UK, which is something Munoz-Newsome really felt herself: “I was angry at myself for not having a smear test. I was angry with society for making me feel ashamed about my body”.
“It’s wrong that we feel that sense of shame about our own bodies. Women shouldn’t feel like that. Just go. Have a smear test, it’s a tiny bit uncomfortable. But it’s way more uncomfortable to have an operation”
Luckily, her diagnosis was early enough for doctors to catch it and remove the cancer from her body, she explains: “I had a radical trachelectomy. They take out your cervix and the top of the vagina.”
“We happened to have our Glastonbury gig three weeks after my operation and I was just determined to do this gig. It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do. It was important for me to do that. It hasn’t defeated me!”
When caught in its earliest stage, more than nine in 10 people with cervical cancer survive. That 10 minute appointment that we all dread really can work wonders and many lives depend on them. So do as Munoz-Newsome says and “Just go. Just take that smear test!”
But if the thought of that still makes you feel a bit iffy, you’ll be thankful to learn that new innovations are being developed to help ease your worries. Things like home testing kits, accessible screening for people with disabilities and non-invasive urine tests are here to help those that just can’t bring themselves to go.
Let’s hope that Munoz-Newsome’s story acts as a motivation for more women to attend their screenings and that we see a rise in the amount of smear tests being taken.
Images: Stylist / Instagram