Location: Cardiff, South Wales UK
Diagnosis: Cervical Cancer (Stage 1B1)
Well, where to start.
I was just a normal girl in her late teens living life to the fullest when I started experiencing some health problems, such as unexplained vaginal bleeding and abnormal discharge. I was, of course, slightly alarmed but decided these symptoms could simply be down to the normal stresses any young woman may go through, such as my body settling into a new routine with my contraceptive pill. I decided the best course of action was to try to get on with my life and hope these symptoms would eventually ease up and go away!
Fast forward to my early twenties and these symptoms had very much become a part of my day-to-day life. I simply couldn't leave the house without a stash of tampons and a pack of paracetamol. After so many years I decided enough was enough, I wanted my life and my energy back, so I started visiting my GP for some answers.
Unfortunately I am one of those people who can officially say my doctors failed me. Time and time again I visited my GP with the same symptoms and I was continuously told that I was fine, often that it was in fact my contraception that was causing the issues and I would simply need to get used to it. I knew that this couldn't be the case and I couldn't rest being told that my symptoms were down to such trivial excuses. I decided to ask my GP to allow me access to a smear test. At this point I was showing all the main symptoms of cervical cancer and I felt strongly enough that I had good reason to ask for this seemly simple procedure. My GP turned me down and advised me that as I was under 25 years of age I simply could not have a smear test.
I was told not to be worried as I was "too young for cancer".
I trusted my doctors opinion and left my appointment hoping my gynaecological issues would magically fix themselves. After all, the female reproductive system can be quite unpredictable, as I had been told so many times.
Finally, after numerous visits, a GP agreed to examine me. This led to an urgent referral being sent to my local gynaecology department. In November 2016, I was diagnosed with stage 1B1 cervical cancer
Typical treatment included a full hysterectomy and this by far was the most heartbreaking part of my diagnosis. I was yet to have any children and freezing my eggs at this point simply was not an option for me. Thanks to my wonderful consultant, a surgical plan was drawn up to remove my cancer whilst leaving my fertility intact and I can excitedly say I am now two years cancer free!
I now realise just how important gynaecological health is.
We need to open up the discussion around gynaecological issues and encourage women not to be embarrassed or ashamed – it is only human anatomy of course! I am now trying to turn my diagnosis into something positive by sharing my story.
I hope any female who may be putting off her smear test might read this and finally find the courage to attend.
You really don't know just how privileged you are to be allowed access to a medical system that can actively save your life until you're thrown into it yourself. Get to know your body and educate yourself on what is 'normal' for you.
One piece of advice:
Know that you are not alone. Cancer can be so isolating, especially at a young age, but there are many charities and social media accounts that can help you connect with others who understand. Reach out and never be ashamed to ask for help. Thanks to this difficult part of my life I have met the most incredible bunch of people – for that I will ALWAYS be so thankful!
I would also like to advise any women who may find themselves in the same position as myself and looking for further help and information to head to Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust and The Eve Appeal, whose websites I found extremely beneficial during and since my diagnosis.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Brave Collective. While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information.