Age at diagnosis: 24

Diagnosis: Recurrent metastatic cancer

Stage of cancer: Not applicable

Cervivor School Graduation: 2018

In Memoriam
Laura Brennan
September 30th, 1992 – March 20th, 2019
(26 years old)
With Cervivor, she lives on.
End Cervical Cancer

How my story begins: The first sign that something was wrong was irregular cervical bleeding.

As a sales rep, I was always on the road so it was tough to find time to go to see the doctor. After a few weeks, I decided to go to a General Practitioner (GP) on my lunch to finally see what the story was and had a Pap smear. A week later, she rang me to tell me that it looked like it was a bacterial infection, possibly from a retained tampon, but the results of the smear were not yet back. She asked me to pop back into her in Cork. But I’m based in Clare so I told her I’d check in with my local GP.

When I went to my GP, there were lots of clots and loads of bleeding and when she did an internal examination of my cervix, there were signs of a large growth on my cervix. I was urgently checked into hospital and was given an ultrasound. It showed up a growth so I was given an MRI and sent on to the clinic for a biopsy. The head gynecologist was called down to meet with me so I knew it had to be bad news. I asked him if there was any chance that it wasn’t cancer and he just told me that he didn’t think so.

Telling my family and friends: I rang my family straight after and broke the news that I had cancer. I had an appointment to get the results from my biopsy a week later. Before the appointment, I had told my parents that I had stage 2b cervical cancer. I would need chemotherapy and radiation and I’ll lose my fertility, but I’m going to be fine. So there was no shock when the gynecologist gave my parents and me the results that I had stage 2b cervical cancer. My parents were more shocked at the fact that I knew it before it was even confirmed.

My treatment: In January 2016, my treatment started. I had external radiation Monday to Friday, received chemotherapy every Wednesday for 5 and a half weeks and then to finish it off, 3 sessions of internal radiation. I was very lucky. I used to receive my radiation first thing every morning and then get into my car and continue my job as an area sales manager. I then optimized my day in the chemo day ward by catching up on admin and phone calls. I was determined to not let my diagnosis get in the way and it didn’t. I flew through treatment with a smile on my face. I remember going in to my incredible radiologist oncologist for my weekly checkup. He understood my outlook to having cancer; the nurses, however, didn’t. They would thoughtfully advise me that I should go for counseling. They couldn’t understand how a 24 year old women was ok with having cancer, how I was ok with losing my fertility, how I could deal with the bladder and bowel issues that treatment brought and not complain. I had to reiterate that having cancer wasn’t the end of the world. I may have lost my fertility but I could always adopt and how incredibly lucky I was that there was a good chance my cancer could be cured.

How I felt after treatment: Two months after finishing treatment, my scan gave my family and me the good news. I heard exactly what I wanted to hear. “Laura, there’s no evidence of disease in your body. The treatment was a success.”

I did it, I had beaten it. I bought a house, and moved in with my new puppy, ready to start my cancer-free life. Looking back on that time, I remember talking to people about having had cancer and always referring to it as a blessing. Cancer taught me what mattered, cancer showed me who really cared. Cancer put everything into perspective.

Where I am today: After 2 months of being NED. I went back to my consultant complaining of chronic back pain. This was a lie - I felt fine but I knew something wasn’t right and I couldn’t expect my consultant to send me for a pet scan for no reason. Luckily, he trusted me and sent me for a PET scan. I had just started a new job. I sat down in my consultant's office a week later for my results and he said a sentence I was so used to hearing but for the first time I didn’t want to hear it. He said “Laura, you’re right. The cancer has metastasized to distant lymph nodes at the top of your chest.” I nodded, not surprised and said, “Ok doctor.” He asked me if I understand what this meant and I said that I did and that it was no longer curable. He then asked me how I wasn’t upset and I answered with the answer I still revert to today. “Children are dying everyday, people leave there houses in the morning get in crashes and within second their lives are taken. I have cancer but I’m here today. I have no reason to complain or be upset."

In November 2017, I started on palliative chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was tougher then my previous treatment but it was manageable and I was able to even go and get a part time job as I was bored out of my mind not working. But For the first time since being diagnosed with cancer, I looked like what is portrayed as someone with cancer. I had no hair, steroids bloated me everywhere and I’d lost all the color in my skin. Despite this, cancer couldn’t change the person I am in the inside. It did, however, land me in the hospital after my 5th infusion with a serious infection. I needed multiple blood infusions but after 5 days, I was allowed go home.

A month later, I finished my chemotherapy and got the result I was hoping for. No new growth and in certain areas, it was slightly reduced. I was delighted. I was going to be on Avastin while my cancer remained contained. During this period, I had so much fun. I went on multiple holidays and advocated for HPV vaccination at every opportunity I had, including TV talkshows, radio shows and newspapers.

After 6 months of living the dream on Avastin, I had my scan. I knew there was new growth and when I met with my oncologist, she confirmed this. I now had a 6cm tumor in my lung and she suggested I start on pembro or else it was highly likely I would deterioarate quickly. I had my first infusion of pembro 2 weeks ago. So hopefully it will work and my condition will improve and I’ll get to see another year at least.

How I will try to help others: I will try to help others by helping anyone with cervical cancer in any way I can and by advocating for HPV vaccination at every opportunity - because if I had got the HPV vaccine, I more then likely wouldn't be in this position.