'Unfortunately, we found cancer cells.' The only five words I will remember from that 30 minute hospital appointment.
On 9 February 2016, exactly one week after we celebrated booking our wedding and my work promotion, my world closed in around me. I was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer.
How do you process that, you may ask? You don't, well, I didn't anyway. I just sat there blank faced and nodded. It wasn't until I was presented with a Macmillan book on Cervical Cancer did the enormity of the situation hit me.
It was quick and I was beyond lucky. See, I’ve always been a strong believer in smear tests. Probably influenced by mother and that fact that my Grandma campaigned for them back in the day. I’ve had a good few bikini waxs and they have felt a hell of a lot more intimate than a smear, so it never phased me.
Like most women, I've had a few 'Shit, I've got abnormal results' panic moments. So around April/May last year, I had a smear. Abnormal. I thought nothing of it and had no symptoms of anything untoward. Back again in November for the next one. Christmas came and went and I got engaged. Prosecco, happiness, future planning and then the letter hit the mat.
I'd been called in for a colposcopy at the University Hospital of Wales on 20 January. A relatively straight-forward, legs in stirrups, kinda moment ensued. A small section of cells were taken for testing and I was slightly uncomfortably on my way.
Weeks passed and I waited for results.
On 9 February, my future mother-in-law and I went to the hospital for what I thought would be removal of said cells. A LLETZ treatment, where they use a small electric current to remove them.
Oh, how wrong I was. There it was, those five words: 'Unfortunately, we found cancer cells.'
We both left in shock, unable to communicate at all. We even went shopping in the hospital concourse to give some normality to the situation.
I cried. I was angry. I cried again. I felt sorry for myself. I cried. I thought 'why me?' I was on an emotional rollercoaster and someone had forgotten to install any brakes.
I rang my fiancé at work and couldn’t hold it together. How do you say, 'so, how's your day going? Oh yeh, I've got cancer.' It's such a huge bloody word. CANCER. It has so many meanings and stirs so many emotions.
The initial procedure
The next day, with his hand in mine, we bravely ventured back to the hospital. I felt sick. Sick at what the consultant would say. Sick at the thought that there were cancer cells just there on my cervix. I wanted them out and soon.
My consultant was calm and clear. The next step was to investigate further so they could stage my cancer. We came out feeling hopeful. Nine days later, I had my overnight bag packed and I was walking into C1 Ward.
My fiancé waited at the hospital all day. He couldn’t sit on the ward with me so we sat in the little waiting room with a paper, the smell of hospital breakfast and bleach in the air. Nearly five hours later, the nurse came to find me and I was ready to get into my highly attractive robe and compression socks.
My procedure lasted around twenty minutes and I came around shortly after in recovery. They had taken a cone shaped section of tissue from my cervix which would hopefully remove all the cancer cells. I was released the following day and recovered at home on the Saturday with copious amounts of tea and ginger biscuits.
Fast forward three weeks and my results were back. Hand in hand, we ventured back to see the consultant. Good news – they seemed confident they had removed the cells. Bad news – the area was larger than they original thought and my chance of it spreading to my lymph nodes had gone up 10 per cent. They also didn’t get the clear margin of tissue they wanted. SHIT.
We tried to celebrate the good but the bad was overwhelming. Practically six weeks to the day of my first op, I was back in theatre. This time for a Radical Trachalectomy. In non-medical terms, it's removal of the cervix and in my case, the surrounding ten lymph nodes.
I’ve always wanted children, not a huge family but maybe one or two. I took it for granted, I think most of us do. You just expect to be able to have children. And now, at the age of 29, this was all at risk. See, I had to sign a consent form before I went into surgery. If things didn’t go to plan, they would have to perform a hysterectomy. My mind had turned; it wasn’t focusing on the cancer, it was my looming infertility.
I woke up hours later in recovery, off my tits on morphine. My consultant was there and I can’t even begin to describe the emotion of being told the operation went to plan. Yes, I was missing my cervix and ten lymphs but the chance of conceiving and carrying a child was still within my reach, even if our chances had been lowered.
The all clear came on the 27 April. Those words all cancer patients want to hear. I expected fireworks, a marching band and streamers but we just walked out of the hospital with this weird feeling of elation and overwhelming emotion of what we’d been through. It was like a dream, neither of us sure if all of that had actually just happened. We laughed. We drank cocktails. We ate tapas. We celebrated that weird, mind-fuck that is life.
So here I am, 19 weeks post op and almost fully recovered. I still have my 5 key-hole scars on my stomach but they are fading every day. I still have slightly numbness in my right thigh. I still have the memories of the last six months but what I don’t have is cancer.
I’m having check-ups every 3 months for the first year but it’s nothing really in comparison.
I was lucky to have caught it when I did. I don’t want to think about what could have happened otherwise. Those smear tests saved my life. If I can help just one lovely lady, take that step and make that appointment to get tested, then all of this will have been worth it.
And now this bad-ass, cancer survivor definitely must get back to a little something called wedding planning.