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Hope after cervical cancer

Grandparents and children sharing tips and stories

From Susan Williams

Never in 3 billion zillion years did I think I would hear the "C" word being delivered in my direction. Sure enough, as the prophet of doom and gloom that I am, I had often wondered and worried that an ache or pain had been something more serious. That hangover, a brain tumour... you know the kind of thing but always brushed fears aside with the fact that I was young (29), eat vegetables (occasionally) and come on, cancer doesn’t really happen to anyone you know does it??! So, when I was told they had found some bad cells in my cervix, I was absolutely textbook in terms of my reaction. I sat, I listened, I even joked (humour being the only way to deal with imminent death of course) and then I did what all people do, rationalised the situation and totally buried it. But like the office cold, it soon catches up with you.

I went to see the consultant again, on my own, thinking we were just going to have a little, informal chat about those nuisance cells that they had removed and as he sat me down with a bunch of med students, it slowly dawned. He told me I had Stage1-Grade A cervical cancer and at this stage they were confident that they had removed all the cancer and as is usual in these cases, the full hysterectomy wouldn’t be necessary. WHAT!?! Hyster.- what!?! And more importantly the "C" word??!! Yep, it was then that the full weight of the situation hit me...Hit me like an underground train not stopping at the station or high speed juggernaut speeding through a deserted town. It blew the wind so far out of my sails that I lay adrift, helpless, in deep unknown waters.. Winded? I could hardly breathe with fear. At one point I felt like standing up and saying "I'm sorry Mr Doctor but I think you must have the wrong case file. I can't possibly have something this serious?" I also found it difficult to concentrate on the words he was saying, as my mind wandered off playing the cancer word association game i.e. tombstones, hair loss, sickness and game over...

And it was then that the darkness fell upon my life. I thought with cancer you should find out about it first, get sad and then be treated? ( NB. after my treatment for what I thought was just abnormal cells, I had gone partying to Ibiza) but I dealt with it the other way round ..No, luckily I had escaped the normal process but now I was playing catch up and I had had cancer and now it had gone? But had it? Had it? HAD IT???!! And to put it mildly I really couldn’t believe that I could be that lucky! I remember feeling a mixture of uncertainty and out of control. Now I had to trust in this one human being, sat in this specialist department in the hospital, telling me that this was the way it was but this was just a room right? And they were just people? Able to get things wrong. Like all clear cancer results!

I spent a week in total shock and found a newborn awareness of every breath that I inhaled and every minute that passed. Thinking my life would forever be defined by the "c" word, I wished I could go back to the days of worrying about the date who hadn't called me and how I hated my job, not about test results, all my hair falling out and was I going to die? I'm not even going to go there about how hard it is telling your mum and your mates. Breaks your heart all over again..

But just as the sun rises and sets every day, the world keeps turning and the shops keep opening. Even though you are now a person who has an intimate knowledge of the "C" word, you’re also the same girl who spends too much money in Topshop and fancies the new boy in graphics. After being diagnosed, feeling, shock, tears and pain then comes something else...The "F" word. It’s actually all you have left, to fight and to hope. Show me one person (even the biggest pessimist) who, when faced with cancer wouldn’t take on the alternative. Grab it by the hand and run.

It’s still early days for me and I now need to be monitored but at least I'm in the system. This is good for me but what about those who don't even know? If caught early enough, cervical cancer is treatable. Even though I still have trouble hearing and accepting that the "C" word is part of my life, I also want to shout it from the roof tops, to raise awareness and help others; to tell the woman I’m sat next to on the bus to have that smear she missed last year or the girl in front of me at the cash point to reschedule the appointment she missed last week... and the list goes on.

We need to stop thinking that it doesn’t happen to us because it does and it did¦but even so, there’s still hope.

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Updated: 28 September 2009