Raising Awareness of Women’s Health and Gynaecological Cancers -
Jeannette Preston’s letter reproduced below…
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am privileged to be a Methodist Preacher in the Falmouth Circuit in Cornwall, United Kingdom. 18 months ago I had endometrial cancer, and along with most women with gynaecological cancers, suddenly faced the reality that I might die at age 58. It was a traumatic time, there was much of the Lord’s work to do, my family give me so much joy, and I was not ready.
I returned to my post of Lecturer in Health and Social Care after 6 weeks and had not told anyone that I had cancer. It did not seem important. I just wanted to get on with the work I loved, and not have to think too much about having experienced such trauma.
Following surgery I began to be in touch with women around the world who had gynaecological cancers, and their stories affected me deeply. I was saddened to hear from young women how they were dying due to ignorance of the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers, many of them not having had the smear/pap test. Many were leaving young babies behind.
I read Kath Mazzella’s story and could not cope with the knowledge that she had had to have a radical vulvectomy while still a young woman. This mutilating surgery must be the fear of anyone who knows about cancers. To have your outer genitalia removed is beyond anyone’s ability to understand such awfulness. The daily discomfort, pain, inability to be a loving wife to her husband, plus the fear of the cancer spreading to other areas, is a dreadful burden to bear.
As a young nurse I had watched the operation that she endured and remember being horrified as I watched the patient’s genitalia being removed. It is an image that is unforgettable.
During prayers and times of reflection I came to change my views about keeping quiet about my own experience. I began to talk to those I knew well, and warn them about the signs and symptoms of womb cancer, telling them all to know that the smear test does not show other cancers in the pants area.
The more I spoke, the more I realised how little women know, and I was called to do something about it. I knew that our Father would not want the Rubies of His world being wiped out through ignorance. Proverbs 31.v.10 A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels, the heart of her husband trusts in her… I knew then that I had to make a positive decision to promote awareness and PANTS was born. It is a charitable organisation which I run on my own and my aim is to save lives.
PANTS was chosen as a light hearted name which I hoped would attract the young women, those who are not having their smear tests, or who are not having safe sex and leaving themselves vulnerable to infection by their boyfriends and husbands of the Human Papilloma Virus which is likely to lead to vulval and cervical cancer.
For some reason which I find hard to fathom but which has some basis in Christian doctrines being taught, societies buy in to the misunderstanding that women alone are responsible for the transmission of sexually transmitted disease. It is rarely known that men can get cancer of the genitals and some have their penises removed from HPV viruses, and some will die.
We live in a society where women are blamed for marriage failures, for being unmarried mothers, for being raped, and children blamed for being sexually abused, and for getting the HPV virus and other diseases. No mention is ever made of the responsibility of men. I worked for 17 years as a child protection Social worker and was horrified in court to hear barristers defending abusing families by saying that the children were “ earthy”, some as young as 2 years of age. The implication being that the parents could not be held responsible as the children asked for it.
I believe that we as Methodists have a duty to change the views of society and not to conform to these dreadful notions about women being the cause of so much that happens to them which is inflicted by men.
Girls should be protected against the HPV by vaccination. Believe me no one wants their daughter, granddaughter, sister to die of cervical cancer, it is an awful way to die. In my view, linking arguments against the vaccine with some notion that it will raise promiscuity is such nonsense. It is a safeguard for all women who may eventually marry and not know what kind of sexual history their partners may have. It is the men who may infect the women remember. They should, and hopefully will, all be vaccinated in due course.
I spent a great deal of time with mothers who would not have their children vaccinated against the MMR because of the unfounded fears about it’s safety pronounced by a doctor who has long been discredited. And what happened as a result? Children died of measles. I see a connection between this and the HPV vaccination, except that many, many more of our children will die.
It will not surprise you to know then that I promote Human Rights for all people and included in this promotion is my belief that we are entitled to know about the risk to our bodies from various diseases. I cannot accept that it is not appropriate to talk about women’s diseases when Christ was asked to heal the woman “with issue”, who very probably, in my view, had some type of gynaecological cancer.
I talk about women’s health wherever I go, including the Pulpit, and have been overwhelmed by the support I receive. Life is precious to our Lord and Father, and is precious to me. Women struck down in their 20’s and 30’s face a terrifying future with radio and chemotherapy which has many many side effects which will affect them for the rest of their lives, and of course for many, nothing can be done and children are left without their mothers.
For older women like myself it is hard to face cancer, and to cope with a future of uncertainty, never knowing if it will recur somewhere else. I am committed to helping my sisters, and know that you will be too. I cannot sit by and let them die of ignorance and am inspired by Kath Mazzella who is working tirelessly to raise awareness. She is a phenomenon for good is this world.
In the love of Christ, Jeannette Preston.