Location: Inverness, United Kingdom

Age at diagnosis: 33

Diagnosis: Cervical cancer (unspecified)

Stage of cancer: II

How my story begins: I was suffering with excessive bloating, lower back and abdominal pain for a few months (around November & december 2022), which was getting progressively worse. My GP thought I had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) triggered by stress. It just so happened I was going through a bit of a stressful period at work, so I accepted this, in the hope it would eventually settle.

I was due for my smear test in January 2023. At the appointment the nurse said I bled slightly which made her make me a follow up appointment with my GP for a second opinion. Around a month later I went to the GP for follow up and she could see a discolouring no at the neck of my cervix. As a result of this she thought it best to refer me to the colposcopy department in the hospital for a closer look at my cervix. The appointment was in March. They took a closer look and said they believed I had high risk cells and we should have these removed. I was then booked in for the cells to be removed later in the month. When I got home that afternoon my smear results came back to say that high risk cells had been detected on my smear, however the ball was already rolling and I was booked to have the cells removed.

In April I was out to sleep to have the cells removed. However when I woke up the consultant said she wasn’t able to remove the cells as she believed they had progressed beyond that. She advised me she had taken biopsies of various parts of my cervix and surrounding tissues. At this point I was hysterical thinking the worst. Asking all sort of questions - do I have cancer? Am I going to die? Will I lose all my hair? Unfortunately she wasn’t able to answer any of these questions.

Around a week later a gyne consultant phoned me and asked me to go into the hospital for a meeting. He advised that the samples came back inconclusive and he wanted to take further biopsies. I was taken in the following day to be put to sleep and have biopsies taken. He also referred me for an MRI scan. The consultant was fantastic. He answered all my questions and was able to advise me on what would happen based on all sorts of different scenarios.

Around a week later they called to confirm the results had come back and cancer was detected. I had cervical cancer. By this time I already had a fair idea and had started to mentally prepare myself for this outcome.

Life before my diagnosis: I was someone who had such a good life; lots of friends, a supportive family. I enjoyed my work as a primary school teacher. I loved to socialise, go running and lift weights at the gym. During holidays from work I would love to travel and visit new places.

How I felt after diagnosis: At the initial cell removal/biopsy appointment I was shocked. I just wasn’t expecting it. I was nothing short of frantic. Devastated. Hysterical. It was awful. I think what made it worse was none of my questions could be answered nor did we know for sure. We were left in a state of limbo. Assuming the worst. My mum and aunty were with me. After the procedure the consultant came to speak with me and I will never forget the moment my mum grabbed me and looked into my eyes and said I was going to be ok, while I was on my hands and knees hysterical. Blabbering a million questions, I don’t even think I was making sense. I think my mum just desperately wanted to calm me down and naturally wanted to reassure me. My world changed forever on that very moment, on the 19th April 2023. I'll never forget it.

Telling my family and friends: Thankfully my mum and aunts were with me so I didn’t have to tell them. A blessing in some ways as I genuinely don’t know if I could ever find the words to tell my mum such awful news. I want to protect her the way she has always protected me. Telling my partner and brother were just awful! My heart sinks thinking about it. I suppose in some ways we could only tell them what happened and what was said. At that point it wasn’t confirmed. We had to wait for the biopsies and scans to come back to confirm everything. Maybe in some ways that was better as there was a bit of time to process and prepare. I told my closest friends only because they knew I was going in to have cells removed and they knew I was anxious about it. Naturally they asked how it went. Rather than spin a web of lies I knew it was important to tell them the truth. I was grateful to one of my best friends who went on to tell our closest friendship circle. I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words! It took me a long time to say the word ‘cancer’, never mind ‘I have cancer’. I felt like if I said it then it would be real and I just didn’t want it to be real.

My treatment: After many scans it was confirmed I could go ahead with fertility treatment to preserve my eggs. Currently myself and my partner, Timmy, don’t have children but would like to in the future. We were advised that after cancer treatment this would not be possible. I was lucky enough to do one round of egg retrieval. It was an emotional and hormone driven time. We were trying to process and get our heads around so much in such little time. We knew nothing about egg retrieval but we knew this would be our one and only opportunity to preserve eggs for the future. If it wasn’t now, it was never. It was a taxing process both physically, emotionally and mentally but I am so glad we did it and I am so glad we were given the opportunity! So on the 5th of June, my 34th birthday, they were able to retract 14 eggs to be frozen for the future.

In early July, I then went on to do 25 rounds of radiotherapy, 6 chemotherapy’s and 3 rounds of brachy therapy.

How I felt after treatment: After treatment I felt like I was living in this strange parallel universe. A bit like I was here, but not here. Here in body but not in mind. Maybe a wee bit like being in an intense version of jet lag. Physically and mentally exhausted. I was incredibly weak & tired.

It wasn’t long before the symptoms of an early menopause kicked in. It ramped up fast. It came on as a result of the intense treatment so close to my ovaries. It was horrendous. Something I am still navigating today.

What was most difficult for me: I think the most difficult thing for me was all the needles. I have a serious phobia. As soon as I think about them or see them I get overwhelmingly hot and feel weak and uneasy.

Menopause has been a vicious beast and I have found it incredibly difficult to navigate. I was so nieve and just didn’t know what to expect, therefor was so underprepared. I got all sorts of nasty symptoms. Anxiety, seriously low mood, serious irritability, heart palpitations, insomnia, itchy skin, headaches, fatigue, forgetfulness, brain fog. I genuinely wouldn’t believe it unless I had experienced it first hand!!

The other thing I found incredibly difficult was that for me, the goalposts kept changing. I believed I would go back to myself shortly after treatment. I left hospital in mid/end August after brachytherapy. I knew I would need a couple of weeks to physically recover but I thought I would slowly go back to who I was, my old life! I couldn’t be further from the truth. Menopause hit. As did all the short and longer term side effects of treatment. Such as, bladder issues, bowelnissues, skin issues, weight issues, swollen hands. Changes to my sight and hearing! The list goes on. It has been such a long and gruelling process: it can be hard to stay positive at times

What I did to help myself: After that first appointment where I was hysterical I made the decision that I needed to work hard to not react like that again as it was just awful. Awful for everyone involved.

I began to explore anything and everything that made me calm. I spent an obscene amount of time in the bath listing to podcasts or music. I always had someone with me, being alone was when the negative thoughts of dying would creep in. I tried mindfulness, meditation, walking, reading, painting, drawing, sound baths, cold showers, breathwork, stretching, exercising, being outside. Lots of selfcare. Some of these things have become habit. Some I do less frequent. They all have their place and work at different times and in different scenarios.

Where I am today: I am currently waiting for my next scan to see where I am in terms of the cancer and what the plan will be going forward. My last scan unfortunately wasn’t all clear. I pray the next one is! Until then I don’t really know what to expect or what will happen next.

What I want other women to know: You are powerful. You have got this. You matter. Keep up with your routine check ups. Put your health first. Any changes or anything you are worried about - report them to your GP!

How I will try to help others: I will try to educate myself on all things female health, with a particular focus on cervical cancer, hormones, menopause and fertility/surrogacy. I will try to share my knowledge and raise awareness along the way.