As a cervical cancer survivor I worry for those missing smear tests in lockdown

When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 28, I felt absolutely numb. 

My heart was racing, and I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. My first thought was ‘people die from this, I’m too young to die’. I kept thinking ‘please don’t have spread – give me a fighting chance to beat this!’

I had always attended my smear tests. I had had abnormal results since my first smear test, so I was monitored more closely. Then last year they found that I had high-grade cervical cell changes. 

I had a biopsy, plus treatment to remove them. However, two weeks later I got the results from the biopsy and I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. 

I was given all the information booklets to take away with me, but couldn’t look at them the first few days because it just seemed so surreal. I couldn’t quite believe what was actually happening to me. I went straight back to work the very next day to keep my mind off things.

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It was staged at 2b, which thankfully meant it could be treated, but I had to prepare myself for everything that came with it, like losing my fertility. 

My partner and I always thought we had plenty of time to have children, but cancer doesn’t care about your future plans. Treatment meant that the option to have children naturally would be taken away from me. 

After getting that news, I just broke down. I remember thinking how I will never experience the whole excitement and journey of pregnancy and giving birth to a child.

I felt really robbed of something so special, and totally helpless.

Before starting chemotherapy and radiotherapy I had IVF and froze my eggs to try and preserve some sort of fertility. IVF was difficult, with daily injections and appointments every few days. It constantly reminds you that the choice has been taken away from you.

My chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment started in January 2020, and it lasted six weeks. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to put my body through, mentally and physically. The side effects are something you don’t expect, especially at such a young age. The tiredness affects me the most. Just walking up the stairs still feels like a marathon. 

If you’re young, fit and healthy, you just think ‘I’ll be fine’. I was always active, always ate really healthily, yet it still happened to me.

Just as I finished treatment in March, the UK lockdown was announced. I was gutted. The only people I had seen since January were my family, who were taking me to appointments. When you have chemotherapy, your immune system is weaker, so you are advised to put distance between yourself and others.

I always tried to stay positive throughout my treatment. I felt that I had been given a second chance at living life and had vowed not to waste it. Concentrating on actually getting my life back and all the amazing things I planned to do got me through the worst days. So when everything was cancelled – nights out, holidays, spa days – I felt really deflated. 

I feel like I’ve been in lockdown since January, and who knows when it will end. All I know is that I’ve been told to shield for the foreseeable.

One small mercy of the lockdown is that people understand a bit of what I was going through. Everyone is in the same boat as me now, and it’s not just me who has to stay home.

The lockdown has also affected my care. I was supposed to have the first review of my treatment in April, but this was cancelled, which is tough. You’re left in limbo, wondering whether or not the cancer has all gone. I’m trying not to think about it too much as it would drive me completely insane.

I know everyone has a million things on their minds right now. But cervical screening probably saved my life

I’ve had my follow-up appointments postponed, which is one thing, but there’s also about 600,000 people who have had a smear test put on hold during this crisis. When I first heard this, it deeply worried me. These tests are vital in helping prevent cervical cancer. Without them, I fear that women may be having their diagnoses postponed until the cancer is more advanced. 

I understand that the government is trying to keep everyone safe, but it can be a really difficult time for women who have had appointments cancelled, especially if they have had cell changes in the past like I had. Thankfully, cervical cancer is usually a slow-growing cancer, but this won’t stop many women from feeling anxious. The mental toll of waiting is enormous.

Two women every day are diagnosed with cervical cancer – people won’t stop getting cancer because of coronavirus.

I’m really grateful that I was diagnosed when I was, and that my treatment wasn’t affected. I know that not everyone going through cancer right now will have the experience I did. 

Even when smear tests are rescheduled, coronavirus may make some women wary about going to their doctors. They’re not the most popular appointments at the best of times, so I can only imagine how much extra panic a pandemic would bring to someone weighing up whether to go or not. But those tests really are life saving. 

If you’ve had yours cancelled, please do go once they are back up and running again. If your GP doesn’t get in touch with a new date, chase them – you won’t be pestering.

I know everyone has a million things on their minds right now, with everything going on. But cervical screening probably saved my life.

It means my cancer was caught early, and I will have many more years to hug my friends and family once the lockdown is over… whenever that may be!

If you want to know more about smear tests, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has lots of information and can support you if you are worried about attending.

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