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Success story: Elaine's cervical cancer experience

April 2012

ElaineElaine Davies was 35 years old when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2001.

Although Elaine's last Pap test two years earlier had been normal, she was experiencing mid-cycle and post-coital bleeding and decided to go and see a doctor.

"At first I was told it was just hormonal changes, and when I asked for a Pap test so we could be sure, I was refused because I wasn't yet due," explained Elaine.

"I opted for private cover instead, and straight away my new doctor insisted I have another test."

This time, the results came back showing Elaine had abnormal cells on her cervix. She was diagnosed with Stage 2B cervical cancer.

"Eight weeks after my diagnosis I had a radical hysterectomy, which was followed by five weeks of radiotherapy when it was found the cancer had spread.

"A routine internal examination check-up about eight months later confirmed the cancer was still present. Unfortunately having more radiotherapy wasn't an option, and any chemotherapy would only be palliative at that point.

"I was given two options - do nothing and have a life expectancy of around 12 months, or have a pelvic exenteration. Doing nothing wasn't an option for me."

Elaine made the incredibly brave decision to have a pelvic exenteration, commonly referred to as a ‘pelvic clearance' in which all organs from a person's pelvic cavity are removed. In Elaine's case, this included her bladder, bowel and vagina.  Elaine's surgery last 18 hours, and she remained in hospital for two months.

"Obviously this experience has had an enormous impact on my life and the lives of my husband and children. I had both bowel and bladder bags for a while, although thankfully my bowel operation was reversed. I still have leakages from time to time which can be difficult.

"It's also been extremely challenging mentally and emotionally. My husband and I have two sons who were just four and six years old when I had the surgery, so it was difficult trying to explain to them what was happening. We tried to be as honest as we could, but of course it's confusing for them.

"One of my boys became less cuddly and affectionate. I thought it was just because he was getting older, and it wasn't until years later that he told me it was because he thought he might catch cancer. It reminds you of how difficult it is for young children to comprehend something like cancer - you think you've explained everything they need to know but often it's the simplest things that plagues them the most.

"I have been through a lot, but as long as I'm alive and can see my sons grow up, I don't care. You don't look back, you look forward, and somehow you find the strength you need. What other choice did I have? When people love you and depend on you, you have to do everything you can to be there for them.

"My message for other women is go and have a Pap test. Go and schedule your appointment today if you're due. If you have time to get your hair done, you have time to have a Pap test. It literally can save your life.

"I've lost friends who left it too late because they were too embarrassed to get tested. It's just not worth it."

Despite screening regularly prior to her diagnosis, Elaine was still diagnosed with cervical cancer. Although regular Pap tests can prevent up to 90% of cervical cancers, there are a small number of women who will develop the disease even though they are being screened every two years as recommended. There are usually no symptoms of cervical cancer in its early stages, however if you experience abnormal bleeding, discharge, pelvic pain, excessive tiredness, swollen legs or backache, you should see your doctor. Although these symptoms can all be caused by other common problems, they can also be signs of more advanced cervical cancer.

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