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At 23 I was experiencing a lot of lower back pains, bleeding after sexual intercourse, very tired and eating differently – both my appetite and the things I wanted to eat changed. I thought I may have been pregnant. I had the copper coil in as a form of contraception when I was experiencing these signs, so I got it removed. I went to have it taken out at a sexual health clinic and there was a lot of blood when they removed it. The doctor didn’t say anything about this though.
A week later, I was in the bath and passed a blood clot the size of my hand. I panicked and shouted my mum. It was so large that I thought it could be a miscarriage. I rang my doctors and took a picture of it. I was fast tracked to see a consultant in hospital.
At the appointment he said that it looked like I needed my cervix treated to stop the bleeding, as I was going through loads of period pads. He also did a biopsy just to make sure. Cancer was never mentioned.
I went back the following week for the procedure, but unfortunately I never had the procedure done. The doctor asked me bring my grandma in with me. He told me “I’m sorry to tell you but it’s cancer and you need radiotherapy”. It was the most enormous shock. It felt like a nightmare. Cancer hasn’t really affected my family and so I just could not get my head around it.
Then the whirlwind began. I went for MRI, CT and PET scans. I needed 20 rounds of radiotherapy, 4 rounds of chemotherapy and two 19-hour brachytherapy treatments. Before this, I needed two blood transfusions because I was losing so much blood.
At the MRI, I wanted to see the scan so that I could picture the tumour in my body. It was around the size of a walnut. There was also a lymph node which was positive in the side of my pelvis. My doctors told me that if they hadn’t found this, I would have had about 6 months to live. I just could not believe this. I had just been living my life, working, being a mum, doing all the normal things and yet this was happening without me knowing.
My son was only 4 at the time, and I wanted more children. I went to Liverpool Women’s Hospital to try and freeze my eggs, but when they looked at my scans the doctor said it was too life-threatening to do this. I wasn’t prepared to be facing the menopause and infertility at just 23.
Treatment was tough – the chemotherapy made me really tired, but wasn’t as intense as the radiotherapy on my body. I lost a lot of weight and I went into the menopause. My partner deserves a lot of credit as my mood swings due to all the hormonal changes were intense! Your body is going through what a 50-year old person would be going through, at such a young age. Because I was so young and active it was a big clash. I think more people should be educated about what the menopause involves as I thought it was mainly that my periods would stop - I thought it would be the only good thing that came out of this whole experience! But the night sweats and the mood swings were really intense, it caused osteoporosis, and I ended up being really forgetful too.
At the time, my twin sister was pregnant and we turned her baby shower into a fundraiser for Jo’s, complete with the pink t-shirts! It was a very stressful time for my family, as we were both in hospital at the same time. My treatment was happening at the same time as my sister was giving birth, so my mum was going from one side of the hospital to the other! My family were so supportive and were always there for me, and have been ever since.
After treatment you can feel really anxious – you’re so used to going to the hospital every day and then all of a sudden it stops. I’m almost 5 years in remission but have not had a scan since finishing treatment – and due to Covid I’ve not been examined with a speculum for about a year. If you can’t see inside me, how do you definitely know that I’m cancer free? There is so much anxiety.
Cervical cancer being caused by HPV can make you ask some really difficult questions. I felt a lot of guilt and I sometimes blamed myself for having had it – was it something to do with my lifestyle? Was it my fault? I know now that it isn’t, and have learnt much more about HPV since my diagnosis, but these stigmas still exist. I was so young when I went through this and it was really upsetting to see everyone else being so much older than me. I was really pleased when I went to the Christie and I was able to meet people around a similar age through Teenage Cancer Trust – we would go for meals and socialise which was brilliant. However, I think it’s really important to be able to speak to people who specifically have cervical cancer too, to know that you’re not the only one who has these thoughts. This is why I’m sharing my story.