I remember getting my first Pap test. I had only recently started University and it was maybe my second appointment with my GP. I wouldn’t call it comfortable but my doctor was great at making sure I had all the information I needed and helping me understand the procedure. It didn’t hurt and it didn’t take long. When I finally got to take my feet out of the fuzzy stirrups and get back into my jeans, I felt proud of myself. It was empowering to know I’d taken that step to keep myself healthy.
That’s why in 2010 I started volunteering for the LACE Campaign (stands for Live Aware. Create Empowerment), which runs Pap Awareness Week in BC during the last week of October (this week that’s October 22-28). Aside from its mission, LACE appealed to me because it’s a grassroots campaign started by young women in Vancouver that has now expanded to across BC.
Unlike many similar campaigns, LACE doesn’t fundraise – its main aim is to talk with women of all ages about Pap testing (check out pictures of their outreach at the LACE Facebook page). It’s important because cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and the Pap is one of the most effective screening tests ever devised.
The most rewarding thing about volunteering is getting to have these conversations and learn more about other women’s experiences. Tabling at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre during Beauty Night, one woman didn’t know if she still needed a Pap after having a hysterectomy. I had to look this up (answer: depends on the type of hysterectomy – if you still have a cervix you still need a Pap, so check with your doctor if you’re not sure) and it’s these kind of questions that help us learn and make our outreach even stronger.
This year one of the things LACE has been concerned with is the misconception that having the HPV vaccine means you don’t need Pap tests. While the vaccine does significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer, it doesn’t totally eliminate it, which means it’s still important to get regular Paps.
Handing out LACE postcards I’ve also met many women who thank me for the reminder, and I get it. Before I started volunteering for the campaign I had trouble remembering when I needed my next appointment. Luckily LACE has a cool tool on their website where you can sign up for Pap reminders via email.
Even better, at many of the Pap Awareness Week clinics (check the clinic finder for hours and requirements) you don’t even need to book an appointment during that week of October 22-28. You can just drop in when it’s convenient for you during their hours, get your Pap, and walk out knowing you’ve done something good to take care of yourself. If you’re lucky you might even get one of the custom gift bags of LACE swag and items donated by businesses in support of the campaign.
So far 166 clinics are signed up to participate and the campaign is hoping to kick that number up to 200 by October 22. The campaign organizers have also made a special effort to involve Aboriginal health centres and clinics that offer services in Mandarin, Punjabi, and Cantonese, making sure that more women can access their Paps.
If you’re in BC and you have time this month, I’d really encourage you to get involved with LACE. At minimum, go get your Pap done during Pap Awareness Week if you’re due. All the info is here.