Whether it’s that day out with your best friend, a really important business meeting or the family holiday you were all looking forward to, a diagnosis of cervical cancer interrupts plans and puts life on pause. No matter when in your life you get the news, it causes stress and raises lots of questions, as cancer always does.
This page contains information on:
- Finding a new normal
- Moving forward after diagnosis film
- Physical healing
- Emotional healing
- Emma's story
- Sex and intimacy
- Kate's story
“My way of coping was to start to plan trips, visits, holidays – things to focus on and look forward to. For a while I didn’t dare to think I had a future, but planning things made me feel like I did. Planning things distracted me and that in itself was helpful.” Forum user – 2015
Cervical cancer can alter how you feel about yourself and your body. It may even alter your role within your family. The tests and treatment you have had were invasive. Your medical team looked at and treated parts of your body that are usually private. This was not on top of your ‘to do’ list. This was not what you wanted to have happen.
However, you got through it – the biopsies, the surgery, the chemotherapy, the radiotherapy. Somehow you gritted your teeth, took a deep breath and you have finished your treatment. But what happens now? How do you take on the challenge of everyday life again?
You will find information here on 'finding a new normal'. This will be different for everyone. The way you respond to life after treatment for cervical cancer will be unique to you. However, there are certain issues that are helpful to know about, with many women saying they would have liked to have known about these when they were trying to find their own ‘new normal’. We have included information on these issues on these pages.
It takes time to adjust to life after treatment. Whichever treatment(s) you have had, you will need time to recover. You might feel tired. Your body has gone through a lot; rest when you need to. It may be a cliché, but it is really important to listen to your body and take things one step at a time.
There will also be physical changes to your body that have been caused by your treatment, which may take time to adjust to. For some women there could be long-term side effects that will have an impact on how their body works and feels. Visit out online pages to read more information on side effects.
While you're recovering try to let others help you. Having a friend around for a coffee while you are sprawled out on the sofa may actually be a welcome distraction. People adjust to life after cancer treatment in different ways and at different times so it is important to remember that everyone is different and try not to compare yourself to anyone else. Often family, friends and relatives think that you will be ok once the treatment has finished so again try not to feel under any pressure to feel that you should be ok if you are not.
After you have been diagnosed with cancer the standard follow-up programme by your gynae-oncology team will normally be for a maximum of five years, with the intervals between appointments growing larger as time goes on. However, for some women this follow-up time may be extended to up to ten years. For the first two years your follow-up will be more frequent. After two years the risk of recurrence reduces and the follow-up visits will be further apart. Follow-up programmes are individually tailored to the treatment received, for example, chemo-radiotherapy patients will have scans during follow-up in some centres (they may not in others), and some follow-up programmes are nurse led. Your medical team will let you know what your follow-up programme is. If you’re feeling worried about any unusual symptoms please do contact your medical team. They will want to know if anything is wrong.
You may still be thinking “Will I ever wake up and not think about it?” For some women the emotional impacts of cervical cancer are the hardest to heal. It is important not to punish yourself if you feel like this at any time; however, there are a lot of people out there from whom you can get support, so please do not think that you have to put up with feeling this way forever. You could start with a call to our Helpline or by attending one of our support groups. You could have a chat with your Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) at your hospital or with your GP. If you are overwhelmed by your feelings, speaking to a professional who is trained in providing emotional support may help you through this difficult time. You can find links to organisations that can help in our resources section.
Your friends and family may also need help adjusting to these changes. It can take time for the fact that you have been through cancer treatment to really ‘sink in’ with members of your family. There is support out there for them too, and they shouldn’t feel alone.
Emma describes how her relationship with her partner help support her during her cervical cancer experience:
‘I think one of the things that got me through this the most was having my partner to depend on and talk to.’
Sex and intimacy
Many women's sex lives can be interrupted by cervical cancer. Some women, or their partners, may feel that they need more time to put this part of your life back together, slowly. Your sex life can alter as a result of physical changes caused by the treatment you have had. Physical problems that women report after cervical cancer treatment can include:
- Loss of desire to have sex
- Pain during sex
- Difficulty feeling aroused
- Difficulty in achieving orgasm or changes to your orgasms compared to before treatment
- Being unable to have penetrative sexual intercourse due to treatment.
These changes can be caused by hormonal changes, damage from treatment, or by psychological and emotional stresses brought on by your diagnosis and treatment.
Your relationship with your partner may have changed as a result of your diagnosis and this may be causing changes in your sex life. You may also now feel very differently about your body and your femininity. Some women may also feel that they may increase their risk of recurrence by resuming sexual intercourse, it is important that you discuss this with your doctor or CNS.
There are lots of other ways to be intimate within your relationship and to feel close to your partner, so it is important to explore and communicate with your partner. Kissing or cuddling can help you feel just as close to them and help you to reassure each other of your affection.
If something has changed there are specialists that can help you (and/or your partner). You can discuss the changes you have noticed with your CNS, they should be able to recommend some options to help.
We have more information about sex and intimacy in our online pages.
Watch Kate’s story to hear more about how she is finding the process of moving on from her diagnosis and treatment for cervical cancer.
Visit our cancer stories information page to hear about other women’s experiences.