Katie Norbury: How a Pap Smear Abnormality Inspired Me to Create Get Papped

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“So your test results are showing an abnormality and I will need to refer you to a gynaecologist in the next couple of weeks.”

I stopped listening at that point. I think my doctor was reassuring me, but I wasn’t listening. Since I was young, I’ve had an irrational fear of ever having to visit a gynaecologist. I got home that day and Googled ‘cervical screening abnormalities,’ and I want to preface this article by flagging that Dr Google is not your friend. The results went into detail about cervical cancer and survival rates. The language was sterile and frightening. 

I reached out to one of my friends who had an abnormality about six months before. We talked on the phone for about an hour going over the likelihood of having to have a cervical biopsy and what would happen at my appointment. She assured me the gynaecologist would be kind and talk me through the procedure. She was right. Although I don’t think she cried and had to be hugged by the receptionist in the gynaecologist’s office.

After my appointment and my biopsies, I was told I didn’t have cancer and that my abnormality would be monitored each year. I started chatting with friends about my experience and I was met with shock. “Katie, you do realise you’re telling people you have HPV, that’s an STI”, others were more kind, “I’ve had an abnormality too but I’ve never told anyone” and some were genuinely curious and had questions as they had never had a cervical screening.

The first person, although rude, was correct, having an abnormality means you’ve contracted HPV, which is sexually transmitted. What they forgot when they passed judgement was that it’s predicted that 70 per cent of the population will contract HPV at some point in their lives.

I quickly realised after sharing my story that the conversations I was having with my friends seemed to be the first opportunity they had to discuss their cervical health. This routine check-up was clouded in stigma and shame and it was stopping so many people even getting it. 

I decided to do something about it. 

I launched Get Papped, which was initially a birthday card with a promise inside that you’ll hold someone you love in your life accountable to book their cervical screening. The promise inside reads, “This card has a special meaning, it’s time for your cervical screening, you’re very important to me, so let’s make your health a priority. Happy Birthday!” 

The Australian Medical Board recommends cervical screenings at 25 years old and every five years after that given that you don’t have any abnormal symptoms. Five years is a long time, so if you aren’t regularly talking about it, understandably it can slip your mind. I figured birthdays were a key milestone to keep in mind and birthday cards were a cute way to mention it given the 25th birthday significance. 

To launch the project, I shared my story across my personal social media platforms. I felt vulnerable. I was talking about my cervix, my HPV and my personal situation to almost everyone I knew. The shame quickly deteriorated when I received over 30 messages from friends and acquaintances telling me they had been in this exact situation — most of which had never talked to anyone about it.

Since then, Get Papped has grown to highlight more issues around cervical health. Get Papped is now home to a practitioner directory which allows people to find a tried and tested doctor local to them who has been recommended by someone within the Get Papped community. We now have over 100 recommended GP’s and a number of specifically recommended GP’s for LGBTQIA+ people and those with a disability.

We’ve had the amazing opportunity to share stories around our community’s personal cervical issues and we’ve been able to expand our shop — now selling T-shirts and a beautiful card designed by a First Nations artist that can be given year-round as it isn’t birthday specific.

Get Papped feels powerful now. It’s turned into a community of people sharing stories around their abnormality, their screening experiences, people facing their fear and others sharing their positive experiences, too. 

Cervical health should be talked about. I’d never be shamed for having an ear infection, but I felt so much shame in my abnormality initially. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer if you have your Gardasil vaccine,  get regular ontime cervical screenings and are aware of symptoms. Protect yourself, remind your loved ones and Get Papped.

Katie Norbury is the founder of Get Papped. You can find more information on Get Pappred via www.get-papped.com or on Instagram @GetPapped.

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