Routine health check-ups for crew can prove challenging, often taking a back seat due to changing schedules and demands of the job. Among these health commitments is a crucial screening for women — the Pap smear test to detect cervical cancer.
To honor Gemma Willis, who lost her 20-month battle with a rare cervical cancer in October 2021, and as part of the Pearls of Wisdom Keep Safe campaign launched at the Resilience Voyage event, is the #doitforgem movement initiated by her mother Jayn Willis.
“The start of the Pearls journey coincided with Gemma’s battle, and hearing her story gave me even more passion and drive to continue developing this community and help keep women safe in the industry,” explains Cherise Reedman, founder of Pearls of Wisdom.
Jayn shared the story of Gemma’s relentless battle at the event, starting from her journey into yachting. “She was petrified of boats; she wouldn’t walk near the water,” she says. “But after seeing her brother have such an amazing time in the industry, she faced her fears and followed in his footsteps, Gemma absolutely loved her time in the industry.”
After undergoing a routine Pap smear test and following further investigations in February 2020, Gemma was diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer. Jayn explained the tumultuous journey of medical procedures, including the removal of her cervix and the cancer ultimately spreading. Further adding to the challenges was the fact her treatment spanned international borders throughout the global pandemic lockdowns.
The Keep Safe campaign aims to bring increased awareness and support to women’s health, with the Pearls of Wisdom community putting resources together including a global health directory to show where women can get Pap smear tests while working on board. While #doitforgem is a call to action to emphasize the significance of regular check-ups, Willis asks that crew use the hashtag when they have booked in or have had a routine test, a reminder of the importance and prioritizing of women’s health.
Jayn stresses the significance of early detection, highlighting the silent nature of gynecological cancers, urging, “I want to raise awareness that there aren’t always symptoms with cervical cancer, as in Gemma’s case, which makes having smear tests regularly and on time even more important. Everyone always talks about the symptoms, but not enough is mentioned when there aren’t any.”
Gemma’s story carries a message of hope, resilience, and the critical role of women looking after themselves on board. In her memory, this Keep Safe campaign urges the crew community to reflect on the vulnerability of their health and the significance of supporting each other, encouraging us all to “do it for Gem” by taking action to safeguard women’s health.