How my story begins: Before my diagnosis, I was busy!! I was working full-time for an insurance company, stressful job. Running about after my young nephew and caring for my mum whose health was in decline. I had just discovered the joys of hill walking and had started to explore Scotland's mountains. Just got a 10 month old puppy to train and take hill walking. Our previous dog had passed a year previously at age 16. I was single, no relationship for some years.
I was at a networking lunch in September 2016 and got into a conversation with a lady client whose daughter had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer via a smear (Pap) test and was struggling with the treatment. I realised that I was overdue for my smear test and so I phoned my gp the following week to make an appointment with the nurse. Turns out, I hadn't had a smear for 6 years( in Scotland, we get tested every 3 years so I missed 2 tests). I had the test in October 2015. It was extremely painful, which was new. I never had a problem before so I was worried. I received a letter advising abnormal cells about 1 week later and was called to see a consultant to have a colposcopy carried out. Saw him in November 2015 and he started to explain everything. Then he told me my abnormal cells were severe so all I could think about was the worst! Colposcopy was absolute agony, tears streaming down my cheeks. He couldn't carry out lletz treatment but took some biopsies. I had to go in to hospital for lletz under general anesthetic on 21st January 2016. It was delayed slightly because of Christmas holidays. Worst Christmas ever, spent the whole time thinking it was my last.
I was called back on 5th February to be told I had adenocarcinoma and CGIN (glandular cervical intraepithelial neoplasia), suspected to be stage 1b. He had found a tumour right on the edge of the tissue he had cut out with the lletz. Long wait to heal before I could have an MRI to determine next stage - 7 weeks of torture waiting.
How I felt after diagnosis: Numb, disbelief, couldn't believe it was happening. Always had clear smear (Pap) results. No one in my family had had cancer. I was terrified I was going to die. For the first time in my life, I had to actually think about my future seriously.
Telling my family and friends: Very difficult. My mum had been ill for some years and was now going downhill quite quickly. She suffered periods of time where she didn't know who she was or what was going on so I was unsure if she really understood what was happening. My poor sister now had to deal with me being sick as well as watching our mum decline. I had to try and not talk about it so not to upset them so I leaned on friends for support. My main source of support was Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust and their online forum.
My treatment: After the MRI, it was determined there was no spread. Treatment was decided as radical hysterectomy, including lymph nodes and ovaries removed. All of it was done laparascopically.
How I felt after treatment: Post-op was awful, such pain. I had a catheter in for 10 days and I hated it. My bladder was so swollen, it was agony. I hated having to be dependent on anyone for simple things. I have always been fiercely independent. My mum was in hospital now and my sister and her 5 yr old son had to move in to look after me.
I also struggled to get my head round how serious it had all been because I didn't have chemo or radiation. In my head it couldn't be that bad if I was only having surgery, but the surgery was heavy going and my body has been forever changed by it...
What was most difficult for me: The catheter and total lack of independence. I also couldn't drive for a minimum of 3 weeks. I begged my doctor to allow me to drive but she refused. I had to take 3 buses to go visit my mum in hospital and they were so bumpy it really hurt my still swollen bladder and surgery scars.
My doctor told me I needed to deal with the cancer but I suppressed it all because I was so worried about my mum. i stopped being able to express emotion; I needed to cry but it just wouldn't happen.
What I did to help myself: I knew of a local cancer charity through friends that provided complimentary therapies and counselling so I went there for support. I also took a stress management course there that taught breathing techniques and mindfulness, which really helped.
My life after cancer: I had to return to work end of June 2016, a phased return for 2 months then full time as my sick pay was coming to an end. By now, we knew my mum was terminal so I was working all day, then going straight to see her in hospital. I was very fatigued and struggling to fit back in at work. I had lost all confidence in my capabilities.
I developed severe pain in my left leg and hip in October 2016, which made me limp, and I had to use a walking stick some days. I was checked out for blood clots and lymphedema - all clear so more X-rays and MRIs. They suspect it is damaged nerve or tendon.
My mum sadly passed away in November 2016. I wasn't coping at work at all and thing were getting on top of me. Things came to a head on my birthday in February 2017 and I felt like I was having a breakdown. I was diagnosed with anxiety and started taking medication to help.
Where I am today: I am slowly learning my new normal. Still suffering from anxiety. Hip and leg issues have stopped me from getting back to my hill walking, but I am slowly getting back to some flat walks. I really miss going up my hills though. I am attending an orthopaedic consultant to see about the hip and leg. I am now on 6 month checks with my cancer doc.
I am worried about future relationships, about having to tell them about my surgery and how it has changed me.
What I want other women to know: Regular cervical cancer screening is so important. I had no symptoms other than tiredness, which was put down to working too much.
How I will try to help others: I am involved in fundraising for the cancer charity that helped me. I have also helped Jo's cervical cancer trust by telling my story to the media for cervical cancer awareness week in January. If telling my story helps one person, it's worth it. If the lady I first met hadn't told me about her daughter, I wouldn't have gone for my test and I dread to think how bad it would have gotten by the time I next was invited for a test.
Any additional information you'd like to share: I used to get really angry when people would say I looked great. I know they were trying to be nice and be helpful but it used to feel like they were downplaying everything! It's such a difficult thing to go through.