This season we are proud to be supporting The Eve Appeal, the UK’s leading gynaecological cancer charity. We’re giving 5% of sales from all our Orchid styles to this amazing cause.

The Eve Appeal help prevent gynaecological cancers and save lives by funding ground-breaking research focused on developing effective methods of risk prediction, earlier detection and developing screening for all the five gynaecological cancers.

We sit down with Karen Hobbs, Nurse Service Co-ordinator for The Eve Appeal, to share a little bit about their work and all the things you should know about preventing gynaecological cancer.

Can you tell us in your own words a little about your job and how you got your position?

I run The Eve Appeal’s free, expert, information service, Ask Eve, with our brilliant gynae nurses Hilary and Tracie. I also give gynae cancer talks and work on the public-facing awareness side of things. Athena, Eve’s CEO, offered me a job in 2016 after I’d spent a year or so volunteering for Eve.

Karen is wearing the Smooth You Tee and Divine Pants in Orchid.

Can you tell us a little more about Ask Eve? Why was it set up and what it does?

Ask Eve is a free service available to anyone who has any type of gynae cancer question or concern. People can call or email us with anything that’s bothering them – no question is too big or too small, and we will do our best to give them the information and support they need. Hilary and Tracie are two of the best women I’ve ever met, who also happen to be my Ask Eve colleagues – they are both Gynae Cancer Nurse Specialists, with decades of experience and an endless pot of knowledge – I learn something new from them every single day, and it’s unique to Eve that we have practicing nurses running the service with me, which means they have the most up to date gynae information.

Sometimes people come to us feeling unsure about whether their concern warrants booking in to see their GP, or they have questions before/after a gynae appointment. Perhaps they’ve been diagnosed with a gynae cancer and forgot to ask their consultant something at their last appointment. We’re here not to replace a GP, gynae nurse or doctor, that’s important to stress, but to provide a space where people can get additional support and information, without the time limit of a 10-minute appointment.

Karen is wearing the Go To Vest and Chi Culottes in Orchid.

Why is the Eve Appeal so special to you?

I was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was 24, and started writing about what the hell was going on, then got into stand-up comedy with a 5-minute set about my cancer extravaganza. Athena found me on Twitter (she has an eye for talent!) and the rest is history. I really respected the fluff-free and straightforward tone of the charity.

I think it’s very easy for the conversation around cancer to be either something people tiptoe around because it’s scary and sad or fetishize into some sort of battle the person is going to fight. Then when you add in the gynaecology angle, it’s either ‘let’s go girls, girl power or ‘you’re a dirty, broken woman’. I’m so incredibly proud to work for a gynae charity that includes anyone with gynae anatomy, that doesn’t make cancer a battle lost or won, and that is focused on providing accurate information to those who need it.

When I was first diagnosed and started sharing my story, The Eve Appeal allowed me to be me first, cancer patient second. Apart from the time when I was told I wasn’t allowed to swear in a speech at a Christmas Carol fundraiser…in a church. Which is fair enough, isn’t it.

Karen is wearing the Move It Leggings in Orchid and the Go To Vest in Navy.

What’s the one thing we should be sharing with the younger generation when it comes to gynaecological cancers?

That if you notice that something has changed, that something is different to whatever is ‘normal’ for you, whether that’s a change to your vulval skin, a change to your bleeding pattern, a change to your toilet habits, please speak to your doctor.

What are the main taboos around gynaecological cancers and how can we change this?

In my experience, the main taboo is that if you have HPV (which is linked to three of the five gynae cancers – cervical, vaginal and vulval), then you’re promiscuous and sexually irresponsible. Which isn’t the case at all.

The only way we can change this is to keep sharing information, make the facts louder than the myths. I think it’s also very a) helpful and b) powerful, to not just see the same people talking about the same thing all the time (which sounds like I’m trying to talk myself out of a job!) – if HPV can be seen as a common virus that is most of the time harmless, and that anyone who has had any type of sexual contact can be exposed to, regardless of whether you’re casually dating, you’ve been with one partner for 35 years, you have a penis, you have a vagina, you’ve never had penetrative sex, whoever you are, whatever your background and whatever you’re sexual experience, you can get HPV, then surely the stigma will start to reduce.

Karen is wearing the Move It Leggings in Orchid and the Go To Vest in Navy.

HPV feels like a ‘buzzword’ but it’s clear, not everyone knows what it is or how important it is. Can you tell us a little bit more about HPV and why we should all know about it?

HPV stands for the human papillomavirus. There are over 100 types of HPV, and they can be classed as either ‘low risk’ or ‘high risk’. High-risk HPV is the thing we’re concerned about in terms of gynae cancers, as it can cause abnormal cells to develop, which can sometimes lead to cancer.

Now HPV, as I mentioned earlier, is very common. It’s passed on through all sorts of sexual contact, and most of us who are sexually active will get it at some point. Our immune system often clears/gets rid of the HPV on its own, but sometimes, when it doesn’t clear, that’s when the abnormal cells might start to develop.

The current HPV vaccine given in schools to children ages 12-13, protects against four different types of HPV. 6 and 11 are low risk and cause about 90% of genital warts, and 16 and 18 are high risk, and cause around 70% of cervical cancers.

That means that if you have had the vaccine, you still need to attend your cervical screening appointment, as there are other high-risk types that aren’t protected against the vaccine. If at your next cervical screening appointment, the result shows you have HPV, then the sample will be checked for abnormal cells. If no abnormal cells are found, you will be tested again in 12 months, to see if the HPV has cleared, which in most cases, it will have.

You can check out our HPV guide here: HPV Guide

Karen is wearing the Smooth You Tee and Divine Pants in Orchid.

What are some of the signs and symptoms we should be looking out for?

Abnormal vaginal bleeding is a key sign of three of the five gynae cancers – womb, cervical and vaginal. Abnormal bleeding can be any type of vaginal bleeding that isn’t normal for you, so that could be a bit of pink/brown discharge, bleeding that is very heavy or painful, bleeding between periods, after sex or after the menopause. Anything outside of your normal pattern.

Ovarian cancer is more unusual in terms of its key symptoms, which are persistent bloating, persistent abdominal/pelvic pain, a change in bowel habits, needing to urinate more frequently and feeling full more quickly when eating. The signs of vulval cancer are any changes to the vulval skin, so that could be raised, thickened, red/white/darker patches, sores or lumps on the skin, a change to a mole or a persistent vulval itch.

So it’s important to check your vulva and also be aware of any lumps or itching in the vagina as well, as they’re also potential signs of vaginal cancer. Again, all these symptoms are more likely to not be a cancer, but it’s important to be aware, just in case.

What should someone do if they have a concern about symptoms?

Book in to speak to your GP, as they will be able to examine you (if needed) and refer you for a gynae appointment (if needed). If before you speak to your GP, you’d like some information, advice, reassurance, or support, then of course please do contact Ask Eve.

Karen is wearing the Peace Bra and the Divine Pants in Orchid.

What’s your favourite fact about gynaecological cancers?

It’s obviously going to be about cervical cancer – I’m so biased, aren’t I! But if you are concerned that you might have cervical cancer symptoms, you do not need to have a screening/smear test – you need a gynae referral. Cervical screening is not a cancer test.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a charity and how can we support you?

I’m terrible at asking for money, and will never be a decent fundraiser! But, please do support us by donating anything you can. We fund life-saving and groundbreaking research, looking at the early detection, risk prediction and prevention of gynae cancers. Prevention is better than cure and we want to stop these cancers before they even have a chance to start. Information about Eve’s research can be found on the website.

And in terms of awareness – if people follow Eve on social media, share our posts, tell someone you know one thing you learn from our content, join in with our campaigns, and tell people within your own community that Ask Eve exists and we’re here to help you, then that would be amazing.

Karen is wearing the Smooth You Tee and Divine Pants in Orchid.

We know that there’s still a lot of embarrassment and shame around going to see a GP when it comes to female health, especially for those from more conservative cultures. What would be your piece of advice for helping someone going through this?

Please know that if you are worried about having a vaginal examination/cervical screening test, there is no pressure to go through with it in that first appointment. Everything is your choice.

There are things that might make an appointment a bit easier, like asking for a female GP, writing down the questions you want to ask before you go to the appointment, and asking as many questions as you need to. And if you need a bit of extra support (or dare I say empowerment, although I slightly cringe at that word!) before your appointment, you can always have a chat with one of us at Ask Eve.

And it’s also actually pretty effing essential that all the onus isn’t put on the person/patient attending the appointment. Healthcare professionals need to understand (and all of the doctors we work with at Eve are of course the champions of this) that not everyone will find gynae-related appointments easy peasy. Many people struggle for many different reasons and it’s about communication, patience and working together to make the appointment as helpful as possible for the person with the gynae concern.

Karen is wearing the Move It Leggings in Orchid and the Go To Vest in Navy.

Your story is amazing and it’s wonderful that you’ve made it so relatable with comedy and just by simply talking about it… What do you wish you would have known about cervical cancer when you were diagnosed that you know now?

When I say I knew nothing about cervical cancer until I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I mean it. I had heard of the cervix dilating when someone goes into labour, but that was it. I was very unlucky timing-wise, in that I was a few months too old for the HPV vaccine at school, and a few months too young for a cervical screening (smear) test. So, before I was told I had cervical cancer, I hadn’t received any information or education about it at all. If I could pick one thing though, it would probably be to know what HPV is (the virus that causes over 99% of cervical cancers), as it was a lot of information to take in on top of the cancer diagnosis itself.

How can we ensure that education on gynaecological cancers reaches schools and other important educational institutes?

The Eve Appeal are working with other organisations and schools on this as we speak, which is very exciting! More will be revealed very soon but it’s a game changer.

Karen is wearing the Smooth You Tee and Divine Pants in Orchid.

How can we help the men in our lives understand and get educated on gynaecological cancers? Where can they go for help and advice?

We strive to make The Eve Appeal a place of gynae cancer information, not just a place where cis women diagnosed with a gynae cancer can go to. We have tailored information on our website for trans-men, intersex and non-binary people, and also encourage cis-men who have female partners, daughters, friends etc. to contact us if they have any questions about gynae cancers. Yes, gynae cancers affect those of us with gynae anatomy, but we absolutely welcome anyone to contact us if they have a question, and our website and social media accounts give inclusive information.

A lot of our customers are going through menopause. Is there any specific advice for this period of your life and should women still be concerned with gynaecological cancers?

Unfortunately, yes, gynaecological cancers after the menopause are still a concern, in fact, even more so. Apart from cervical cancer, all the other gynaecological cancers (womb, ovarian, vulval and vaginal) are more common post-menopause. Someone is considered to have gone through the menopause when they’ve not had a period for 12 months. If I could give one ‘top tip’ when it comes to gynae cancers for those who have gone through menopause, it’s that if you experience any vaginal bleeding after the menopause, it is not one last period, one final ‘menstrual hurrah’, it is considered an ‘abnormal’ and needs to be reported to your GP and investigated appropriately. That’s not to say it’s a gynae cancer, it’s more likely to not be, but is still a literal red flag that needs to be taken seriously.

Karen is wearing the Smooth You Tee and Divine Pants in Orchid.

You can find out more about The Eve Appeal Here...