Mother-Daughter Discussion Guide

Our mothers grew up believing they were protected against cervical cancer as long as they got a yearly Pap test. They were unaware that a virus the human papillomavirus, called HPV is what causes the disease and that the Pap smear isn't foolproof.

However, times have changed. Mothers don’t always know everything they need to about their own health; sometimes the younger generation knows more, and can share what they’ve learned. A recent poll conducted by the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health showed that younger women (for instance, women in their 20s) are more aware of HPV and its link to cervical cancer than their older “sisters.” Yet, women age 30+ are at the highest risk for developing the disease. And they are the women who should be getting the HPV test!

As a daughter (or an enlightened mother), you can take the first step to help your mother or another woman in your life prevent cervical cancer by reminding her to get screened for HPV along with her Pap test. However, sometimes that is easier said than done, according to Mary Marcdante, a communications expert who has survived her own battle with cervical cancer. Through her research (and personal experience), she found that health is the No. 1 issue that women avoid talking about with their mothers.

Why does it so often take a health crisis for us to understand the power and value of connecting with our mothers and daughters?

Read Mary Marcdante's story

Tips for Communicating with Your Mom
from Communications Expert Mary Marcdante

  • Consider the best time and place to talk. Select circumstances that will be low in anxiety and allow you to feel in control (such as a coffee shop or a walk in the park).
  • Determine what you want from your conversation. This will help you stay on track (for example: "I want my mother to ask for an HPV test along with a Pap at her next ob-gyn visit").
  • Think of your questions in advance. For example: "Are we both doing everything we can to stay healthy?" or "Do you know all the tests that you need to have to prevent cancer or diagnose it early?"
  • Prepare for possible responses. Think about what your mom might say in response to your questions, and how you’ll react. This will help you remain patient if you're faced with resistance. (Mom: "I've been with your dad for more years than you can count. I'm not at risk of a sexually transmitted virus. Besides, I already get a Pap test every year." Response: "Mom, you could have gotten the virus many years ago and it's just stayed dormant all this time. And as for the Pap, it isn't always accurate. If you get an HPV test too, you – and I – can be a lot more confident that you're not at risk. Please do it for our peace of mind.")
  • Visualize a positive response. Even if you know your mom may react negatively, keep a positive mindset, because your energy and attitude will set the stage for her responses.
  • Establish a positive direction. When your mom says, "I don’t want to talk about this," empathize. You can say: "Mom, I know this is uncomfortable, but it's really important. Women over 30 are at the highest risk for cervical cancer, but it's easily preventable if you get the most advanced tests."
  • Stay calm. Stay calm and remember you can always continue the dialogue later. As a follow-up, you can send her a related article or e-card, with a note that says: "I love you and I know you'll make the best choice for your life and our future together."