A 27-year-old woman who beat cervical cancer decided to “bare all” as a stand-up comedian to encourage other women to get themselves checked.
Karen Hobbs shows audiences a poster-size image of her vagina to urge them to overcome potential embarrassment about a smear test. She told the Standard: “It’s funny to see a massive poster of my genitals. It’s the shock factor of, ‘I can’t believe she did that’.
“I want women to think, ‘If she can do that, then I can go for a check-up’.”
Ms Hobbs, from Camberwell, was diagnosed in 2014. She had surgery at the London Women’s Clinic, near Harley Street, and was declared cancer-free three weeks later.
At the time, she was too young for a smear test — they are offered from age 25 — but too old for the HPV vaccine, which was introduced in 2008 for schoolgirls on the onset of puberty. It helps protect against cervical cancer, which is the most common cancer in women under 35 in the UK.
Ms Hobbs works for the Eve Appeal, a gynaecological research charity, giving advice to women concerned about potentially cancerous symptoms, such as unusual bleeding.
After graduating from Birkbeck, University of London, she began performing a stand-up routine. She first used the “poster stunt” two years ago at the Etcetera theatre in Camden, a warm-up gig for her Tumour Has It show at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. Unbeknown to her, her father Adrian was in the audience “as a surprise”.
She said: “About a year after my operation, I thought, ‘I have had cancer. I probably can do stand-up. It can’t be any more difficult than wondering if you are going to die at 24.’ Mostly people are really positive. Even if they don’t find it hilarious, they will say, ‘Thanks for that, I will book my smear test,’ which is amazing as it’s the whole reason for doing it.”
Athena Lamnisos, chief executive of the Eve Appeal, said: “Women like Karen telling their stories in honest and open ways is so important.”