Nicole’s Story

A personal cervical cancer journey

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Beginning with a $5,000 grant from BC Women’s Health Foundation, followed by years of research, clinical trials and pilot programs, BC is now the first province in Canada to offer cervix self-screening for the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer. These kits are now available provincewide and free of charge, so that cervical cancer in women like Nicole Keay of Vancouver may be prevented.

Back in 2015, Nicole began experiencing pelvic pain and spotting between periods. After years of back-and-forth Paps results and some concerns about her cervical tissue, Nicole’s doctor felt a cervical biopsy was in order, and that biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of 1B1 squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cervical cancer.

As her cancer was in the early stages, doctors recommended a radical trachelectomy to remove the majority of her cervix. The surgery went well, but “they didn’t have clean margins around the tumor and the lymphovascular invasion was more extensive than they thought it was,” explained Nicole. Her dreams of giving birth and having a family were dashed as she had to undergo extensive chemotherapy and radiation, which put her into menopause.

The treatments were physically demanding and exhausting, and Nicole was also suffering emotionally: “I can’t even explain the level of grief and darkness that I went through knowing that I was never going to be able to have children,” said Nicole.

That was eight years ago. Since that time, the road has been long and difficult, but happily, last year Nicole and her husband Mike welcomed son Jack, now ten months of age, through surrogacy.

“The self-screening test is looking for HPV, which the regular Pap test doesn’t always pick up. Had this screening for HPV been available to me, what I went through could have been prevented,” Nicole said. “The at-home kits make testing so much more accessible, easier and comfortable.”

“The main difference with this screening method is that we’re testing for the presence of HPV, instead of pre-cancerous cervical lesions that can progress to cervical cancer,” said Dr. Gina Ogilvie, Associate Director of the Women’s Health Research Institute. “This is all about getting ahead of cervical cancer and preventing it in the first place.”

As Dr. Ogilvie explained, unlike traditional Paps tests, HPV testing detects the presence of HPV, the virus that causes 99 per cent of cervical cancer, before cell changes occur. It also eliminates barriers to screening, including time, trauma and cultural barriers.

With the continued support of generous donations, we are looking at a future where cervical cancer can be eliminated. Your help is vital to fuel advancements that transform healthcare and health outcomes.