NSW

Eurobodalla Relay for Life: a community fighting cancer

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The Eurobodalla Relay for Life’s survivors and carers lap.

The Eurobodalla Relay for Life was held over the weekend at Batemans Bay’s Mackay Park, and was “better than expected” according to Cancer Council community engagement coordinator Grant Plecas. Zoe Simmons reports.

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Let’s Talk About Vaginas

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No, but seriously; let’s. We really don’t talk about them enough—especially in a non-sexual context. The word feels strange to write, and even stranger to say out loud. Even my phone corrects “vagina” to “cagina”, as if an inanimate object could also feel awkward. Well, that taboo ends here! This is an important issue that could save your life—and a lot of young women really don’t have a clue about it. Now that is awkward.

Okay, brace yourselves, ladies (and any men who were unknowingly lured into reading this through the word “vagina”) here it comes: pap smears. What a terrible name. Smear. Smear. They really don’t make it sound appealing, do they? But in all honesty, It’s not that bad. The procedure takes probably less than thirty seconds in all, and it doesn’t hurt even slightly.

You can get a pap smear by booking in an appointment with your doctor, or at a women’s health clinic. Basically, they take you into a private room, just like any other doctor’s visit, and ask you to remove your underwear and lie on an examination bed. This bit is rather awkward, but remember: they are trained professionals and have probably seen thousands of vaginas in their time. They use a hard plastic tool called a speculum (not to be confused with a spatula) in order for them to see your cervix. From there, they take a quick sample of the cells and send them away for testing. And then you’re done!

Now, I would definitely recommend seeing a female doctor—at least for your first time. It’s much less awkward. My usual doctor is male, and I’m also friends with his daughter. The vagina jokes he made certainly didn’t make me feel more comfortable. The female doctor I sought out, however, was kind and made general conversation and even gave me some information for this article.

So, what the Pap smear actually does is test for any abnormalities in the cells around your cervix which can eventually lead to cervical cancer, as well as testing for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is present in 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. HPV, which is an infection of the skin around think, moist linings of the body (like the nose, mouth, throat and genital) results from close skin contact, isn’t something to be overly concerned about: 4 out of 5 people will have it in their lives, mostly with no symptoms. Your body will usually clear it naturally in 1-2 years, but in some cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer.

According to the Cancer Council, about 1 in 10 Pap smears reveal abnormalities, though less than 1% of these abnormalities lead to cervical cancer. Even so, all women, regardless of age, sexual orientation or number of partners, should be tested every two years from the ages of 18-70 (or younger,  depending on what age she became sexually active).

In 2017, based on recommendations from the Medical Services Advisory Committee, the Australian Government will make some changes to the Pap test. Women aged between 25 and 74 will undertake a HPV test every five years, which may also include various other tests. These changes are estimated to reduce the number of cancer cases by a further 15%. Hooray!

However, until then, Pap tests are absolutely necessary. Soldier through that awkwardness, and it could potentially save your life! Eighty per cent of women who develop cervical cancer had not had regular check-ups. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with a simple test—these tests have halved the mortality rate. Can you really ignore that?

Listen to your vagina, and don’t be afraid to talk about any problems you may have, no matter how seemingly miniscule. Don’t become another statistic because you were too embarrassed to ask. After all, happy vagina, happy life. Preach it, ladies!

Small Acts of Bravery, Small Acts of Kindness

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I still believe there is kindness in this world. Even though we are engulfed with war, disease, suffering, death, hate and torture, I still believe there is hope.

A few days ago, I somehow popped my tyre while driving. Don’t ask me how. I just heard a massive BANG and there it was. A flat tyre. Now, normally I would have called family friends to come and help me. The only problem was: I now lived three hours away from them.

Oh, dear! I thought. How is it possible that I can write thousands upon thousands of words and analyse philosophical ideas, but I can’t change a damn tyre?

I was freaking out—and kicking myself for not learning to change a tyre sooner. That was when a random guy asked me if I was okay—and he helped me, with no thought of himself, not even accepting my offers of money as thanks. I was bewildered—and grateful.

Similarly, a few years ago I was at a petrol station, and my cards declined—one of which was supposed to contain child support payments from my father. I tried $20 on each. Declined. $15. Declined. $10. Declined. Even $5—once again, declined. I was humiliated to the point of trying even $2, while counting up ten cent pieces from my wallet. And that was when a man stepped out from behind me and paid the rest of what I owed.

“Don’t worry about it, mate,” he said. “We’ve all been there.”

And then he left without another word.

A tyre and some money; for them, it may not have meant much. But for me, it meant the world. Could it be that there are genuinely good people out there? People who are willing to help others with no thought of themselves?

My mum once told me a story about how she saved a woman from a rather dire car crash accident. She crawled into the overturned car to pull the woman out of the wreckage. At any moment, the car could have burst into flames: but she did it anyway.

I can’t say if I’ve saved a life—I’d like to hope someone else would have intervened if I hadn’t. Two years ago I was holidaying in Vanuatu at a place known as the Blue Lagoon—essentially, a very deep, very blue swimming hole. A mother was there, waiting to catch her two girls who were jumping off the wharf into the lagoon—only, it was much deeper than she anticipated. She began to struggle. She began to call for help—scream for help. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew I had to do something. Grabbing the girl—who couldn’t have been older than five—I slowly made my way to where I could touch the ground, banking on the idea that I could hold my breath for longer than she could. The mother cried, thanking me. Did I save her? I don’t know. But I did something, and that’s my point.

Something is all it takes, no matter how small, to change someone’s world. Small acts of kindness, small acts of bravery—that’s all it takes to change the world. So, what will you do? All it takes is one tiny step. Will you take it?