Experiences of radical treatment for cervical cancer
Looking at the bed sheets after sex with my husband, I noticed several deep red blobs of blood. I had been spotting in between my periods for weeks in September, but this really frightened me. I was 36, I'd had two boys, then aged four and six, and I knew something wasn't right. I had also been experiencing pains in my stomach rather like severe period pains.
There followed a couple of trips to the doctors, but none of the doctors I saw seemed to think things very serious, until finally in the December I saw a private consultant. He thought maybe there was an erosion of the cervix (raw patches of skin), but to be on the safe side, I should have a smear.
By the time I went to get the results at an NHS hospital, the bleeding had stopped and I was feeling confident. But after the consultant saw the results and examined me, he said: 'It appears you've got cervical cancer.'
You know how they say when you are in shock, the room seems to close in on you? It really did. He was talking to me but I wasn't listening. Afterwards it hit me. That night, at home, I remember thinking, I'm never going to see my children grow up. I just thought that was it.
I had an MRI scan and when I next saw the consultant, I was told I would need a radical hysterectomy.
There was a three-month waiting list, and so once again I went private, having the operation done two weeks later by the same doctor.
I felt so relieved afterwards. Once the cancer had been cut out, I thought, I'm fine. The consultant thought the operation had been a success, but when the results came back three weeks later they showed the cancer had spread into the surrounding tissue and now I had to have radiotherapy. I was gutted.
It's all about ups and downs with cancer, one minute you think, yeah fantastic, he's got rid of it, I'm getting over this operation, I'm walking around and driving, and the next it's bang, and, oh no, you're not.
Back on the NHS I began radiotherapy every day for five weeks, followed by three-monthly check-ups. It was on my last check-up, 11 months later that the final bombshell hit. My consultant gave me an internal physical examination, and felt a lump.
I was referred and told I was a good candidate for having extremely radical and rare surgery called pelvic exenteration surgery.
I just said, 'will it mean I will live?' He said he couldn't be certain but they would not do such radical surgery if they did not think it was a total cure. He explained I would have to wear a bowel and bladder bag. The alternative was 12 months to live. I was just so grateful to him for a chance to live and see my kids grow up.
On the morning of the operation, I changed my mind. I thought there were too many risks, I might die, and at least I could have 12 months with family. But my mother and husband begged me. My husband said he simply couldn't live without me.
My legs wouldn't move to get on the operation trolley, and I really had no idea if this was the last hour of my life. When I came round after theatre, I found they had removed my bladder and my vagina, but had managed to save most of my bowel.
I had my operation in 2003 and I am glad for every year that passes since then. I have to wear a bladder bag, and can't have penetrative sex. My bowel is so scarred I have to be careful what I eat. But I feel very, very lucky, and my boys joke about my bladder bag.
Looking back, I do wonder if things had been speeded up, and the doctors I first saw were more thorough, whether I might have been saved from such radical surgery.