Maresa’s Story

I was a single parent to three teenage boys. My life was busy juggling full time work and the needs of the boys. I always put myself last. This included medical check-ups.

A new medical centre opened across the road from my work so one day I popped in there to grab a script. They diligently took my medical history. One of the questions was could I state when I had my last Pap test. I couldn’t remember. Maybe 5 years ago, I answered. I was strongly advised to get tested. I walked away thinking that I was too busy to get a Pap test and anyway I wasn’t sexually active so I should be okay.

After numerous reminder letters arrived in the post from that medical centre, I felt frustrated and phone them. After stressing to the receptionist to stop mailing out reminders, she calmly advised that I should book an appointment. My good friend also threatened me to go and get tested so I reluctantly agreed.

I went to the appointment ready to squirm out of the Pap test in February 2016. The GP was so nice and friendly so I agreed to the test. During the test, I could see her facial expression change to one of concern but she didn’t verbally state anything. Two days later, I got a call from the GP. I had high-grade abnormalities and I needed to see a specialist as soon as possible. My heart sank and my head swam with a mixture of denial and fear.

Two days later I entered the specialist rooms. There were ladies with scarves covering their heads and a lady with super short hair. These people had cancer. I remember sitting down thinking I had no idea where I was.

I later learnt I was seeing an oncologist and this man was so gentle and so caring when I sat down in front of him. I really had no idea what he was saying and it occurred then that maybe I should have had someone come with me. I had a biopsy and left more confused than ever.

At this stage I kept everything to myself. I thought there was no need to worry anyone as bad things happen to other people. But I got a call from the specialist that the biopsy results were exactly as they thought, CIN3. The cells were bad and needed to be removed. I was scheduled for a LLETZ procedure the following week.

Still keeping what was happening to me a secret I went to hospital and recovered at home. Then I got a phone call a few days later. The pathology report showed cancer Stage 1a and they had not cleared the margins. The race was on. Next step was a hysterectomy with ovaries removed. My head was a mess and I was struggling to keep control of my life. I entered a weird denial stage. I believed it was all a mistake.

That very day of that dreaded phone call, I mentioned my left leg was hurting. My specialist didn’t muck around and sent me straight away for ultrasound. He was concerned about a blood clot resulting from my procedure a few days ago.

The ultrasound took nearly two hours with different doctors coming in to check the screen. Nothing was said to me except that I didn’t have a blood clot and to go home and wait for my specialist to call me. By now it was early evening and I was mentally exhausted.

The next morning my life was about to change but I didn’t know it. They had found another tumour. It was about 4cm and in my left shin. I was now spinning and mentally trying to detach myself from reality. I couldn’t go to work as I couldn’t concentrate so I took that day off.

The next day my right leg started aching and I was trying to dismiss it but it was getting more painful as the day progressed. My son finally drove me to accident and emergency. And with a gentle hand of the doctor resting on my leg, I was told I had another tumour in my right thigh. My world sank.

My specialist had to hold off the hysterectomy until we got more information regarding the other tumours. It was now that I decided to tell family and friends. I was showing a brave front without tears. I was in shock. My friends and family cried with each phone call I had to make. By this stage I was living outside my body mentally. I had to do something to cope. So, I touched base with the Cancer Council Counsellors.

The MRI showed my new tumors were not secondary. We all breathed a sigh of relief. And a few days later I was in hospital getting my hysterectomy.

Today it’s been just over a year. I can’t work anymore. My tumours in my legs turned out to be Nerve Sheath Tumours that are nicely intertwined with my motor nerves making walking a very painful thing to do. I was told I had these for years. For the past five years I have suffered terrible leg pain but I put that down to being unfit. I didn’t think I warranted a trip to the GP.

I’m on hormone replacement therapy and the patches work well for me. I live on a cocktail of medication for my leg pain and see a psychiatrist to deal with all the new adjustments I’ve had to make. I still can’t believe what I’ve been through in the last year. My whole life has changed. My neurosurgeon is still working out whether surgery to remove my leg tumours is an option. Either way my future is one of pain and leg weakness and the reality that I may never work again.

I have learnt one thing through all of this. I was the most important person to my boys but I chose to put myself last. I now understand that my health is a priority. Looking after me, is just as important as looking after my boys.

My tips for Australian women about cervical health

Whether you’re sexually active or not, you should get a Pap test. Busy mums need to put themselves first. They are the most important person in their children’s lives. Take someone with you to important medical appointments. Seek a mental health plan from your GP.