The mother of Sorcha Glenn, who tragically passed away from cervical cancer aged just 23-years old, has emphasised how important it is to attend your smear test.
Speaking during Cervical Cancer Awareness Week Christina Glenn has encouraged women of all ages to demand a smear if they feel that something is ‘not right’ with their bodies - regardless of guidelines.
She made the emotional plea after her beloved daughter Sorcha, who attended Oakgrove Integrated College in Londonderry, was initially denied a smear test when she attended her doctor in June 2013 despite a ‘feeling that something was not right’ with her body.
Sorcha also told the doctor that she was concerned due to a family history of the disease, with both of her grandmother’s dying as a result of cervical cancer.
Despite this, then 22-year old Sorcha was advised that smears aren’t routinely carried out until a woman is 25 and was refused.
“Sorcha was annoyed at the time, but didn’t think too much of it. I don’t think it had crossed her mind at that stage how serious it was,” Christina explained.
“At that age, you don’t really jump to the conclusion of cancer, it’s not something you think about. But unfortunately, all of that was about to change.”
Sorcha had just moved into a new house with her boyfriend of four years Matt Lynch, and had just started an exciting new job in retail when she returned to her doctor in August 2013 reporting symptoms of cervical cancer, which included abnormal bleeding between periods and pelvic cramping.
“The doctor performed a smear test there and then, and noticed a mass on her cervix. At the time the doctor thought this was a cyst, and Sorcha was sent for a biopsy” Christina said.
However, on September 9, 2013 Sorcha, with Matt by her side, went to see a gynaecologist at Altnagelvin Hospital, where they were given the news that she had cervical cancer.
Sorcha had received the HPV vaccination whilst at school.
“Sorcha never complained, she fought cancer from day one despite 13 months of gruelling treatment, which included a full radical hysterectomy and full pelvic lymph node clearance, as well as dozens of rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy sessions and also brachytherapy.
“She was always so brave, so inspirational and so postive.
“One thing she always, always said was ‘I don’t want anyone else to ever go through this.’”
True to her word, Sorcha campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the disease, starting a petition calling for all women to have access to a smear test if they ask for one - regardless of age guidelines.
Sorcha’s petition quickly went viral following her tragic death on October 24, 2014 aged just 23-years old, and it would eventually go on to achieve almost 120K signatures before being put to Parliament.
To this day, Sorcha’s loving family have continued to raise awareness for cervical cancer and campaign for the right of women of all ages to have their requests for a smear test achieved.
“Sorcha was just an ordinary girl, from an ordinary family. She had a good job, a nice house, a boyfriend who she loved dearly, and a loving family. She was preparing for the future - but ‘recommendations’ took all of that away from her.”
Sorcha fought passionately for a change in the law to lower the age of cervical cancer screening.
The NHS Cervical Screening Programme currently sets the minimum age for smear tests in the United Kingdom at 25 — three years older than Sorcha was when her cervical cancer was diagnosed.
Mum Christina said that whilst they will sadly never know if it would have made a difference had Sorcha been examined when she initially requested, things could have been very different for her beloved daughter if she had been screened at the age of 20 or 21.
“We can never know if things would have been different if Sorcha had been granted a smear test the first time she asked.
“But we do believe she should have never been turned away.
“There is absolutely no doubt in our mind that if Sorcha had been given a smear test aged 20, or 21 then she would still be here with us today - but because of these ‘recommendations’ she isn’t. These recommendations took Sorcha’s life away.”
The health department agency voted to move the minimum age from 20 to 25 in 2003 based on recommendations from an independent advisory committee, which found that because cervical cancer in women younger than 25 is rare, screening them can do ‘more harm than good.’
Unnecessary procedures can lead to anxiety and other problems, the advisory committee said.
But Christina believes that if a woman outside of these age guidelines requests a smear, she should receive one.
“I would challenge any politician to knock on the door of a parent, a brother, a sister or partner of someone who has died from cervical cancer and tell them why they weren’t examined sooner because of age guidelines.
“All we are asking for is that if you request a smear, you receive one.
“The doctor who initially refused Sorcha’s smear was just following recommended guidelines, we understand that. It’s the recommendations themselves that need to change.
“I would urge any woman younger or older than the guidelines to ask for a smear if they have any of the symptoms. If you are denied one - demand it.
“Never allow another person to deny your right to live based on a ‘recommendation.’
“Demand your right to life.”
Christina added that whilst Sorcha received the HPV vaccination whilst at school, there seems to be some confusion over the vaccination.
“I believe a lot of people believe the vaccination totally prevents cervical cancer, but it just protects against two strains of the disease,” she explained.
Christina also hailed the work of local SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan, who has raised Sorcha’s case at Parliament during Prime Minister’s Questions.
In October 2015, Mr Durkan urged the then Prime Minister David Cameron “not to offer a reflex repeat of the rationale for current screening-age policy but to reflect on the questions raised.
When David Cameron responsed that the UK National Screening Committee set the age at 25 not because of a “resources based decision” but “because of the potential of perverse medical consequences of carrying out screening routinely below that age” Mr Durkan urged him to consider Team Sorcha’s campaign carefully.
“Sorcha’s family have campaigned tirelessly over the past year to make screening available to women under the age of 25.
“Since the screening age was increased in 2004, there has been a reported increase in the number of young women contracting cervical cancer.
“Team Sorcha’s open letter to the Prime Minister powerfully sets out age-related data on this issue.
“Regardless of the rationale for the current guidance, I ask him to adhere to the recommendation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that the age range for cervical screening policies should be kept under review dependent upon incidence and mortality rates.
“I would strongly urge the Prime Minister to encourage the Secretary of State for Health and other Health Ministers to consider this letter and the wider campaign carefully.”
Mr Durkan has continued to raise awareness for Sorcha’s campaign, even meeting the leading UK charity Jo’s Trust at Westminster in recent years to further highlight the cause.
This Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, Christina also urged women not to feel nervous if they have received a letter for their first smear appointment.
“I understand why someone would be nervous about getting their smear test for the first time, but as Sorcha always laughed, ‘if you can go for a bikini wax - then you can get a smear test!’
“There’s absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about, and although it can be slightly uncomfortable for some women - just remember that those few minutes will be so worth it in the long-term when you can avoid the months of painful treatment Sorcha endured.
“I know women who put off getting their smear exam until it was too late, now they won’t see their children grow up.
“Don’t miss your smear and leave yourself open to such regret.”
Sorcha was one of five children from a close-knit family, and was incredibly close to her sisters Keelin and Orlagh and brothers Emmett and Cahir, as well as her doting mum and dad Christina and Vincent.
“She was just an ordinary girl from an ordinary family who was very much in love with her boyfriend Matt.
“Team Sorcha is an awareness campaign, but a local charity called Jamie’s Journie has done so much to help us really celebrate Sorcha’s life.
“Jamie’s Journie is an incredible charity, set up by Jamie and his mother after he fought cancer twice aged just 12-years old.
“Brave Jamie and his amazing mum Tricia Harkin run this charity which gives teens and young people a place to ask questions about their treatment, voice any concerns they have, or even just have a chat with someone who has been there before.
“They also run incredible prizes and holidays for families affected by cancer called Sorcha’s Prizes, sending families from all across the whole North West area on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
“To have Sorcha’s name associated with something so happy, and so joyous means the world to us.
“That is how Sorcha would have wanted to be remembered, not as ‘the girl who had cancer.’
“The sad reality is though, that when one of your loved ones has cancer, it truly moves in with you. Life just isn’t the same anymore and you can’t help it.
“That’s why Sorcha would have been so proud to see the work that Jamie’s Journie are doing in her name.”
Christina added: “It was just a priviledge to have had Sorcha in our life, that’s how we look at it.
“And hopefully if we can avoid this happening again in the future, then our daughter won’t have passed away in vain.
“Sorcha’s legacy will be that no other woman should have to go through this.”
Team Sorcha works with important charities such as Jamie’s Journie to raise throughout the year, as well as running numerous awareness campaigns on social media.
To keep up to date and learn more about Sorcha’s story, make sure you Like Team Sorcha on Facebook.