Hello old friend! Apologies for the delay – I could sit and list the excuses of why I have neglected you but to put it simply: life got in the way! Several people have asked when I would get back on the FUCancer wagon and update my blog. To this I always reply ‘when I get the urge’. I must admit I didn’t think that moment would occur whilst sat on a sun drenched Cretan balcony on day 1 of a holiday which has felt long overdue.
So why the sudden need? What did I find so compelling that I allowed myself to be dragged away from the turquoise view and honeysuckle scent? The shocking news that attendance at cervical screening is at its lowest in 10 years! http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-37285353 (Yes, I admit that checking BBC news whilst on holiday is not the best way to relax and unwind) But seriously ladies? Have a word with yourselves! As someone who ALWAYS attended screening when invited I find it really difficult to understand why someone would neglect it. The fact is Cervical is one of the few cancers which can be prevented and if caught early has a high survival rate. I can only assume the reasons or excuses people use to put off a potentially life saving check up which literally takes minutes. Opposed to my ranting it would perhaps be more helpful if I gave an insight as to what life is like for me now as a cervical cancer survivor:
– Radiotherapy literally killed my ovaries which catapulted me into an early menopause. Alongside hot flushes, mood swings and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, it also destroys your libido!
– Imagine someone kicking your lower back which after a while leaves a dull ache. That is the pain I have had on and off for the last two years since going through treatment.
– Another fun side effect of treatment is how on some days I just need to walk the dog and it feels like I’ve ran a marathon! My energy levels are unpredictable, unreliable and on occasions: unavailable!
– The menopause, the pain, the fatigue I knew I was singing up for it. The doctor makes you sign several documents to show you understand and accept that cancer treatment has devastating consequences. However, it was only recently I discovered it is now impacting my oral health. Two fillings & two extractions in the last 6 months which is largely a result of the change in my saliva. The change is a result of what? Chemotherapy and my hormone imbalance thanks to menopause.
– It is not surprising that cancer also had a negative impact on my mental health. Low confidence, panic attacks and stress have all come and gone over the past two years. Without the support of Maggie’s I dare say it is something I would still be struggling with.
– And for those who need it spelling out, the worst of these side effects is the fact I can’t have children.
So – there you have it! I would not wish my experience on my worst enemy. How many more reasons do you need to prioritise your smear? Protect yourself. For FUCancer sake – get it done!!
The twenty fifth of January signals the launch of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. According to Jo’s Trust* more than a fifth of women do not attend cervical screening in the UK. In light of this I want to share my experience. This is not a scaremongering tactic. I am sharing my story because I am someone who has always attended a cervical screening appointment when prompted. I take a proactive interest in my health. I know that if I can get cancer, anyone can. Unfortunately it is one of life’s lotteries which is out with our control. However, we all have a responsibility to better our chances against cancer. Wether it be looking at what we eat, our physical activity levels or lifestyle choices – there is plenty we can do to protect ourselves.
Between January and April I developed several key symptoms related to cervical cancer.
– Abnormal bleeding between periods
– Passing blood in my urine
– Achey pelvis
– Discomfort during intercourse
– Persistent cystitis
Of course I had no idea that the source of my problems would be cancer but I did know that something simply wasn’t right. I visited my GP on four occasions before I was finally referred to the hospital. Initially the GP prescribed antibiotics and on the third visit I was told that ‘unfortunately some people suffer with chronic cystitis and there is little they can do’. Thankfully, I was adamant that something was not quite right. I knew in myself that something was wrong. I dread to think what the situation would be now had I not been so persistent with my GP. I was finally referred to gynaecology where the doctor found my tumour almost immediately. Following a series of tests and various type of scans it was confirmed I had stage IIb cervical cancer and within three weeks of being diagnosed I began treatment. My treatment was a gruelling process which left me feeling physically and emotionally drained. The multi-pronged attack of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Bracytherapy had the desired effect so I am one of the lucky ones. Although I am beyond the side effects of treatment I have been left with irreversible damage. The nature of the treatment has left me unable to have children. At the point of diagnosis I wasn’t even in a position to consider freezing my eggs. Cancer stole the opportunity of me ever carrying my own child.
In light of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week I want to share my story with the hope that someone in the 20% changes their mind and prioritises attendance at their next invitation to a cervical screening. It scares me to think that over twenty percent of women would choose to ignore a simple process which could help prevent the experience I have endured. I have learnt that we are each responsible for our own health. I am proud of myself for having the confidence to challenge my GP when I identified something was wrong.
Whilst reading this if you know or suspect your friend, daughter, sister, mother or auntie is within the 20% then please share my story. At the very least let’s help spread the message that cervical screening saves 5000 lives a year. Don’t have the fear, get a smear!!
*For more information regarding HPV, cervical screening, or cervical cancer please check out Jo’s Trust using the link below.
Working in sport development, it is probably no surprise that my favourite subject at school was PE and Games. I was never very academic. Mathematics, science, even foreign languages were a challenge. That being said, I did enjoy school. I particularly enjoyed my time spent with the English department. I was never a huge reader. Even now I have an endless list of books I want to read. A list which I rarely seem to make a dent in. But I did love reading Shakespeare and exploring the subtext. My time spent studying English at school helped secure a love of writing. As a teenager I kept a diary. On occasions I find myself revisiting these and reliving memories from my adolescence. I shudder at the thought of anyone reading them but they do supply a few giggles. Since graduating university I have not maintained a diary but I have continued to satisfy my love of English by trying to learn new words. In all honesty, this is partly fuelled by my competitive streak and a love of scrabble too! Today, I learnt a new word:
Hypophrenia; A feeling of sadness, seemingly without cause.
This is a word I can relate to. A feeling I find myself experiencing frequently. I have a great deal of things to be happy about; I’m getting married in less than 90 days, I have a new job, everyday when I come home I am greeted by an elated puppy (and Parsnip!) and I have overcome cancer. Fantastic, right? I am a very lucky girl? You bet! So why do I simply feel sad sometimes? I don’t know why but hypophrenia is a frequent visitor ever since I found out I was in remission.
I have just completed my second full working week. It may not sound like a huge achievement but I am quietly raising a glass to myself. In a world where normality no longer exists I finally feel like I’m blending in. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t think about cancer or reflect on the scars it has left – physically and emotionally. But I do feel stronger.