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I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in April 2011. I had been experiencing a tiny amount of bleeding after sex and a bit of lower back pain but I put this to the back of my mind dismissing it as normal. It was only when I visited my doctor for a skin concern that she noticed I was overdue a screening.
I'd had a bad experience during my first ever smear test so I didn't go for another for several years. Every time I did go I received results showing borderline abnormalities which meant I should have been having more regular screenings to monitor these abnormalities. Unfortunately I just wasn't aware what this all meant; that screenings were a test for abnormalities that could turn into cervical cancer. I would receive letters through the post inviting me for my test, and because of that first experience I just ignored them.
Following the doctor's reminder, I had a smear which also showed a borderline result. I was then referred for colposcopy.
During all of this, I had had tests for an enlarged mole. I visited the hospital on a Monday for my skin results and was told I had skin cancer. On the Tuesday I was back in hospital for surgery and to begin chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
I was due to have my colposcopy appointment on the Wednesday and after all the treatment for skin cancer I just couldn't face it. My husband was the one that told me it was best to get it over and done with and so I went. When I arrived, the doctor asked me why I was limping, and on telling him I'd just had treatment on my leg for skin cancer, his face dropped. It was then that he told me he thought I had cervical cancer also.
In just three days I was told I had two forms of cancer, I went into complete shock and simply thought I was going to die.
Following further tests I was staged at 2B as it had spread to my lymph nodes. I had a radical hysterectomy, as well as having my lymph nodes and ovaries removed. I then started a further course of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy.
In December 2011 I had my first scan which revealed that there was no reoccurrence and they had gotten the cancer. I was also free of the skin cancer.
If I had known what I know now - that cervical screenings could save your life, could prevent you from developing cervical cancer and going through invasive treatment, early menopause and loss of fertility – I would not have hesitated to keep up with my screenings. I now have to deal with going through the menopause at such a young age, suffer bowel and bladder damage and now lymphoedema.
The side effects of treatment are far reaching. The lymphoedema made my legs swell, feel tight and sometimes make my skin very dry to the point it would peel away. Luckily I visited the doctor and it was diagnosed early which meant it was much easier to treat and prevent from swelling further. I now wear lymphoedema garments which are like stockings that go up to my thigh. I wear these all day and take them off during night time. I've also learnt a massage technique which helps to move the fluid in my leg. I have to now be careful about damaging the skin.
Bowel damage from treatment has meant I have had to go onto a special diet which excludes high fibre and high fat foods. If I were to eat these foods it would be difficult to control my bowel movements, which makes going outside of the home and travelling very difficult.
In the summer of 2013 I started physiotherapy for bladder damage. I've been told that most people go to the toilet, on average, every 4 hours. I was going every 30 minutes to an hour. This meant my bladder was becoming increasingly lazy and harder to control. The physio has enabled me to retrain my bladder and 9 months after treatment I am needing to urinate every 2 .5 hours. It's also helping to train my pelvic floor muscles which were also damaged through the treatment.
One thing that has been quite useful is obtaining an 'I Can't Wait' card, and a master key to disabled toilets across the UK, which means I can theoretically access any disabled public toilet or show private businesses and establishments that I have a genuine need to access a toilet quickly.