Diagnosed with Cervical Cancer in the Midst of COVID-19 Rebecca’s Emotional Story
“My life stood still on the 25th of March. Exactly 6 weeks after my Lletz surgery and two days after the lockdown was put in place. The last place I wanted to be was in hospital so it was agreed that I would have a telephone consultation with my consultant. I was told over the phone I had cancer.”
At 27 years old, yes you did read that right, twenty-seven! During the corona pandemic and whilst on lockdown I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. My life literally smashed into a million pieces.
After being in the first year for girls at school to receive the HPV vaccination, I believed I wouldn’t get cancer. We were sadly very misinformed at school. So when my first letter arrived at 25 years old, I chucked it in the bin. Something I will regret forever.
Fast forward to December 2019 I plucked up the courage to have it done. The smear (god I hate that word) is a distant memory as was the colposcopy that followed my abnormal smear result in January and then the LLETZ treatment (a treatment for removing cell changes in the cervix) under general anaesthetic in February.
My life stood still on the 25th of March. Exactly 6 weeks after my Lletz treatment and two days after the lockdown was put in place. The last place I wanted to be was in hospital so it was agreed that I would have a telephone consultation with my consultant. I was told over the phone I had cancer. Not the best way, but no one wants COVID-19 as well as cancer, right?
Everything suddenly moved so unbelievably fast. I was put into the care of Simon Butler-Manuel and his team at the Royal Surrey in Guildford. The next day I had an MRI scan and a few days later I had a PET CT scan and luckily the cancer hadn’t spread.
I went to a consultation with Kavitha Madhuri and she is the most lovely person and explained to me all the things I didn’t understand. I found out I was Stage 1 which is obviously great, but also grade 3 which means it was very aggressive. I also have neuroendocrine elements.
The worst part for me was the waiting. I was stuck in limbo waiting for a call to tell me I had 24-48 hours notice before my surgery, but due to COVID-19, I was to be put into a private hospital. Waiting for a bed with the possibility of 24 hours notice was the longest wait of my life. I had to repeat LLETZ and the lymph nodes were removed from my pelvis.
I am a very active person and I have a hard physically demanding job working outside. Having the lymph node dissection means my life has changed. I cannot risk getting any cuts to my legs due to the risk of lymphedema, so I have to be careful. Just simple things like always wearing shoes and not wearing shorts.
At 27 years old I don’t feel ready to start a family yet with my partner of 8 years so it’s pretty scary having to face the option of it being totally taken out of my hands. I want it to be my choice if I do or don’t want children. Not cancers!
I felt almost every emotion going. I was angry, I was sad, It was unbelievable. The whole thing was like one massive emotional roller coaster ride that I couldn’t get off. I couldn’t believe how differently a lot of people suddenly treated me.
I wish I could put into words what was happening in my head and how I felt but I just don’t think anyone can ever fully understand until you are sadly put into that position. I lost my passion for life and everything I enjoyed, I beat myself up daily for being so silly. For throwing those letters away knowing that I could be in a different situation now had I gone especially knowing I might not have to have had to go through a surgery which would change how I live my life. I mostly felt that I’d done something truly awful to deserve this. I wanted the ground to eat me alive, I felt like I was being tortured by my own mind. My life stood still and the cancer took over my life and mind. It consumed me. I was in a dark place mentally.
It’s very hard to go through something like this especially with the added stress of COVID-19 and not being able to see family and friends. All I wanted was to have my mind taken off surgery and cancer which had left me going crazy, locked away inside and feeling totally rubbish! I couldn’t even put my own socks on. Chatting over the phone isn’t the same and a hug can make the world feel a better place. But I was lucky to have truly amazing people all around me even if it was on the phone, from the doctors and nurses to my friends and family.
I am now lucky enough to say I am cancer-free. As soon as I had the call from Kavitha it was like my life started again, almost where I had left it. I’m a less stressy person now and I try to enjoy every single day. Cancer of any sort doesn’t just affect your body but your mental health too. It put a huge amount of strain on my relationship with my partner because I wasn’t me and became pretty awful company.
I want to thank every single person who has helped me through my journey, from the nurses holding my hand and telling me how brave I’m being, to Simon, Kavitha and the team for saving my life and giving me the chance to save my fertility.
Please go for your smear ladies, cervical cancer is something that is preventable and Prevention is better than cure! Less than 5 minutes of embarrassment and being uncomfortable will not kill you, but cancer can! Don’t let this disease control you, you control it! It doesn’t care how old you are!
Grab the bull by the horns and don’t look back!