Like so many healthy women, Marinda van Zyl didn’t give cervical cancer much thought – until she was diagnosed.

“In my mind, disease was something that happened to other people. I was fit, I was healthy… I genuinely didn’t think it could happen to me,” says Marinda van Zyl, a photographer based in Randburg, Johannesburg.

Dr Devan Moodley, medical oncologist and director Campaign4Cancer, says that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in South Africa.

Why you shouldn’t miss a pap smear

Cervical cancer has no early symptoms, which explains why many women don’t know they have it unless they get tested.

“Unfortunately, cervical cancer presents as an advanced disease in over half the people in whom it’s diagnosed. And when it’s advanced, most patients will die from this disease,” says Dr Moodley.

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“The recommendation is that sexually active women be screened on a regular basis looking to pick up this disease at an early stage the screening. The screen is done by a pap smear looking for abnormal cells.”

He says that, if found early cervical cancer can be cured.

“When my gynae picked up abnormal cells, he told me to come back in six months’ time… Again he told me to come back in six months’ time… by the time I was diagnosed the cancer had spread and a whole year had passed. If I had known better, I would have insisted on extensive testing…” – Marinda van Zyl

If I had known better

Sadly, many women don’t go for a regular pap smear. In fact, it is believed that between 60% and 80% of women who are newly diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer have not had a pap smear in the past five years.

This was not the case for Van Zyl.

“I was in the habit of going for a pap smear once a year. When my gynae picked up abnormal cells, he told me to come back in six months’ time. I didn’t know any better so that’s what I did. Again he told me to come back in six months’ time. So, by the time I was diagnosed the cancer had spread and a whole year had passed,” explains Van Zyl. “If I had known better, I would have insisted on extensive testing just to make sure that there was nothing to worry about.”

Related: How to protect yourself from cervical cancer

Watch and share

Diagnosed with cervical cancer in November 2015, today Van Zyl is sharing her story with the hope of inspiring more women to get tested.

She created the following video about cervical cancer to highlight the importance of pap smears and early detection.

Please share this video – it could be the prompt someone needs to book a life-saving annual check-up.

Sources: Marinda Van Zyl & How to protect yourself from cervical cancer

Related: What is the best way to detect cervical cancer?

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.