By Jemma Atkinson, Customer Team Member and Post Office Sub Assistant – Straits Parade, Fishponds Food store
Cervical testing isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world to talk about, let alone experience, especially in the current climate. But it’s so important and it truly saved my life.
On 25 July 2005, my world fell apart. After a routine smear test, the hospital told me I had abnormal cells and needed to go into hospital to have it looked at properly.
After a further test, the doctor sat me down and told me he was really sorry, but it was bad news, I did have cancer and it had spread to my cervix and my womb and I’d need to have a full hysterectomy a.s.a.p. They’d caught it just in time. Little did I know it had been growing inside me for 18 months. I was told I’d be in hospital for an operation within a couple of weeks.
At the time, it was too much information to take in. I left the room and walked out in a daze, feeling numb and shocked – thinking I’m going to die. ‘Cancer’, I said to myself… ‘CANCER! What am I going to do, am I going to die?’ I didn’t want to die, I was only 25 years old.
I was a single mother of two boys under five. I couldn’t leave them, they needed me. We’d only just got back on our feet after being in a women’s refugee for five months after fleeing a violent relationship. What else could go wrong for me and my little family?
The next few weeks were horrible. I was facing a major operation on my own. My family lived hundreds of miles away and I’d only made a few friends after moving from the West Midlands. I felt so alone, scared and angry…. I kept thinking ‘I’ve got cancer… why me?’. I felt I’d been through enough already with my young boys, they need me more than ever now. But I knew I had to fight this, for my boys.
I was so scared that I wouldn’t see my boys again. I arranged for their father to take care of them for a few months, but I had to consider that this could be forever if I didn’t make it. I was told that, if my operation was successful, for a while I couldn’t even lift a kettle up to make a cup of tea, let alone pick my two year old up. I hugged and kissed them and told them that mummy loves them so much and that I would see them real soon, knowing to myself that this could be the last time I get to hold them and see them.
I was back in hospital within weeks for my big operation. I lay on the hospital bed looking up at the bright light on the ceiling, praying to God to let me live and to be here for my boys. Five and a half hours later, I remember being woken up by a nurse and feeling a bit groggy and telling myself ‘I’m still alive’ and asking myself if everything went OK, did they get it all out?… when can I see my boys?
Thankfully they did get all the cancer out and I was going to be OK. I couldn’t wait to see my boys, I’d missed them so much and just wanted to give them both a cuddle and tell them I loved them so very much. After a week in hospital I was discharged and shown how to get myself better. Having a catheter attached to me for months was the worst part of it. I couldn’t go to the toilet as normal, but that didn’t matter as I was so thrilled to be alive.
I had a long road to recovering fully from a major life changing event. I was in remission for five years and I’m happy to say that I’m now cancer free. I’m sharing my story because I’d like to encourage colleagues to have their smear test when they’re called up as it could save your life, just like it did mine.
If you’re wondering what happens during cervical screening, have a look at the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust website which gives you more information.
You can also access support (including a helpline, ‘ask the expert’, online forum and events) here.