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Charlene was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was 32 after experiencing bleeding between periods. She shares her experience, what has helped her and how her life has changed since her treatment.
Five years ago, in 2016, I went to the doctors because I had been having some abnormal bleeding. They put it down to an infection of some sort and gave me antibiotics, but it just didn't clear up so I was given tablets to stop the bleeding, thinking it had just been a heavy period.
They offered me a scan, but warned I would have to wait between six weeks and six months so I could keep ringing to see if there were cancellations. In the meantime I was losing so much blood and it got heavier. One day, I felt so bad I took myself to A&E.
I was in hospital for about a week while they tried to figure out what was going on, they thought it was fibroids, or perhaps polyps. But, after a long process and lots of tests, I was eventually diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 32. I had no idea what to say and was in total shock.
I wanted to just run, run away. The first thing I thought about was my children, my family – what will happen to them? They told me not to worry and that it wasn’t life-threatening, but your mind works overtime.
Being told that you had to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy for six weeks, then brachytherapy, and going to and from the hospital was very overwhelming. It was stressful trying to get there on time and sorting out my children. Chemotherapy felt a bit like morning sickness, I couldn’t sleep or rest.
Having to tell my kids was hard. My little boy was really small and he didn’t understand, telling my daughter would have just broken me so my mum told her in the end and thankfully she had fantastic support from her school.
There were times where I wanted to give up through this experience. However, the hospital really got me through. I could not fault them. They were really positive, and always told me what fully was happening. It didn’t smell or look like a typical hospital which really helped. I was in the chemotherapy suite with lots of other people who were all going through something similar, and talking to them about cancer like it was the most normal thing in the world really helped, listening to other peoples’ journeys, having a laugh and a joke with them.
After my treatment, I had an appointment to hear my results. Before it I was shaking and shivering. They said “just to let you know it's all gone”. I was like – what? That feeling was unbelievable.
In a way I am really grateful for having gone through all of this. I’ve had a better outlook on life since then, and I feel that I can achieve more than ever before. Don’t get me wrong, the first months were really scary and I worried about it coming back. Any little infection I had would be so scary. But you have to take each day as it comes, and these feelings will pass.
Now, when I feel stressed, I feel like I can just walk away. Two years ago, my mum was diagnosed with lung cancer. She is doing well now thankfully but I feel like because of my experience, I was able to deal with it better than I would have. I really believe that with the right treatment and with the right support and a positive mindset, you can get through almost anything.
I’m a reiki healer and have been for the last ten years. Reiki helps to release energy and tension from problems you’ve had in the past. It has really helped with the low mood I felt after having had cancer. If I didn’t have the healing side of me then I think it would have been much harder, it is a great place to put my energy. It helped me process and think through what needed to be thought through.
I actually signed up to volunteer with the Mount Vernon staff and in a hospice to help others. I would go to my teacher who taught me Reiki and do healing sessions with her during my treatment. It helped me on a spiritual level as well as for my body and mind, so I want to help others to heal too.
The only symptom I had was abnormal bleeding. I would urge everyone not to ignore something that isn’t right. You know your body. If you feel you’re not being listened to, keep pushing your doctors.