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Emma-Jane's sister Claire was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018 and sadly passed away a year later. She shares Claire's story, tips for coping and her own experience of cell changes.
My sister Claire was incredibly strong and positive, she had this stiff upper lip and was very outspoken but in a good way! She was really funny and an incredible loyal friend, daughter, sister, granddaughter and a doting mother to Zachary and fiancé to Lee. She was very generous, kind and very determined. She found out she had cancer in August 2018.
She had emigrated in 2014 to Australia and in September 2017 she gave birth to my nephew Zachary. She had a coil fitted shortly after. When she came on a trip to the UK in July 2018, she was experiencing some bleeding. On the flight home it got much worse and she was taken to the nearest hospital where she had surgery to remove the coil and stop the bleed. It was a few weeks later at the post op appointment further tests led to her eventually being diagnosed as having stage 2 cervical cancer. It was incredibly aggressive and not long after she was told it was stage 4b as a spot was found in her lung. She started intense radiotherapy, chemotherapy and brachytherapy to help reduce the size of the main tumour and all was going well so she booked her wedding for February 2020 as a celebration of life.
In August 2019 she started getting different symptoms, such as losing the use of her one leg, ear ache and being a little off balance. It took a while before anything showed up on any of the tests she had but after she suffered severe headaches she had a brain scan. I remember being at work and I had a phone call from her out of the blue where she told me the cancer had spread to her brain. Unfortunately the tumours were in a difficult place which meant they wouldn’t be able to be fully removed. They later said this was a rare and very aggressive cancer to have spread so far. She had surgery to try and give her more time with her son and also another course of radiotherapy but soon after we were told there was nothing else they could do but make her comfortable.
My younger sister and I flew to Australia to spend time with her and join our parents who were there already. We spent the last week of Claire’s life with her, sleeping by her side in hospital. She peacefully passed away on the 30/10/2019, a date that will stay in my heart forever. My sister was a warrior and fought so hard right to the end. When she died, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was playing on the radio in her room and that night the sky was amazing with one bright star and a perfect moon.
If you’re going through the same thing, ask questions and make sure you have all the information you need. Don’t be afraid to ask for support or to accept it if it’s offered. Jo’s are there for you. I write down memories of my sister so I will never forget them and I can share them with my nephew when he’s older. I have also started a family tree book, it’s a great way to get the family involved.
A few months later in February 2020 when Claire should have been married, I fell pregnant. We had been trying for two years so it was a bit of a surprise as we were due to start fertility treatment in the May. It was such a strange time as me and my husband were excited but it didn’t feel right sharing our good news almost, as everyone was still grieving and not to mention Covid struck!
To make it even more complicated, when I was about 26 weeks the midwife asked if I had ever had treatment for cell changes and it reminded me I had, eight years ago when I was 26. I’m so pleased she did as they found I had narrowing and a shortened cervix, and was at higher risk of premature labour. I had regular scans and medication throughout the rest of my pregnancy, which was stressful but the hormonal medication worked and I didn’t need a cervical stitch. Please tell your midwife if you experience the same just in case there’s an issue and they can support you like they did me. Knowing the option of a stitch was there was a comfort. Going through cervical issues so soon after we lost my sister was really hard for my family especially as it was in the pandemic and we weren’t able to be together. I got support from my husband, my closest friends and family but I also found knowledge is power and research helped me feel better equipped to understand what would happen at each stage. I also joined a Facebook group with other expectant mothers who were in a similar situation which I found really helpful as I didn’t feel alone.
I gave birth in November 2020 and called my daughter Esmé Claire after my sister.
As a result of all that’s happened to us, I want to say whatever your experience or fear, there is support out there, you aren’t alone. At every smear test, I still have that dread that something could be wrong, it’s only natural to be anxious after everything that’s happened. Even thinking back to my HPV and cell changes experience I remember it being really difficult. It felt like a really negative label, and feeling like a dirty person for having unprotected sex. The more we talk about it the better.
Claire always went for her smear tests, they can’t stop every cervical cancer but they can stop lots. So please go get your jab, go for your smear test and listen to your body and seek help if you think anything is wrong.
Someone once said to me after losing my sister “it’s a blessing to get old” and it’s stuck with me. Losing someone so young makes you realise it really is true.