I was diagnosed with stage 1B1 cervical cancer in October 2018, but reflecting back I think my story begins in September 2017. It is then that I was invited for a colposcopy after a smear detected CIN1 borderline changes. It was very routine and the colposcopist explained that these abnormalities often clear on their own. However, one year on the follow up examination unexpectedly showed severe CIN3. I had LLETZ treatment which further revealed cancer that couldn’t be detected during previous examinations.
The diagnosis was a complete shock! I had just turned 30, I was fit and healthy (I’m a professional dance artist and avid yoga lover), and I had recently left a fulltime position to pursue a freelance career. I was taking risks, embracing life and new adventures. The diagnosis brought me to a standstill. Now, five weeks post-surgery (trachelectomy and lymphadenectomy), I am healing well, although my body has changed so much in this short period I hardly recognise it. Emotionally this has been tough, but I am learning how to be patient and to embrace change in my life that I cannot control.
When diagnosed, I read an abundance of literature that stated cervical cancer is ‘preventative’. Psychologically I struggled with this because it made me feel responsible and that I could (or should) have done something to prevent this happening to me. I felt immensely guilty that I was putting my partner and family through this too, especially regarding the ramifications cervical cancer can have on fertility. However, I now understand why the word ‘preventative’ is important and necessary. Cervical cancer can be prevented in most cases, but there are of course anomalies - and I’m one of those. Therefore, it’s important to never think that this won’t happen to you. Don’t avoid your smear because you feel fine. Every nurse, colposcopist, consultant and surgeon that I’ve seen over the past few months has described me as a ‘healthy woman’. But I still got cancer and if I hadn’t attended my appointments then I wouldn’t have known. Advice I would give to any woman avoiding their smear would simply be: please go. I don’t say that flippantly as I know they can be pretty uncomfortable and difficult to slot into busy lives, but those few seconds of discomfort and inconvenience could save you from invasive surgery and aggressive treatment. Those few seconds could save your life.
I used to think I was unlucky; now I realise I am very lucky. Cervical cancer was detected early because the UK has a fantastic free screening service. I have been treated by outstanding medical professionals and within three months of a diagnosis I am again ‘cancer free’! It’s been inexplicably hard and completely changed my life, but now I go on living and that, I think, is pretty incredible.