I want to share with you a chapter of my life where at the age of 29 I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Backtrack a year and a half to when I was 27 and experiencing a lot of abnormal and irregular bleeding. As with many mothers with four young children and a husband, our focus is not on our own health and well-being, but on the health and well-being of our family.
At 28, a local GP in NSW assured me that my abnormal and irregular bleeding was nothing to be concerned about and that he felt I was going through early menopause (at 28!!). So, my health took a back seat until 12 months later when, after moving back to South Australia, I visited our family GP. My first pap smear was performed at age 29 by my family GP as a precautionary measure. The results came back positive showing CIN3, and within a week I was seeing a gynecologist at Flinders University Hospital where they performed a LLETZ procedure. After the LLETZ procedure, my blood vessels collapsed leading to further intense blood loss and involving a further four more procedures over a nine-week period.
My journey with cervical cancer was more of an emotional journey than a physical journey; one filled with uncertainty about the future yet one powered by the determination to get better. My diagnosis came at a time when my Dad’s passing away from terminal brain cancer was still fresh in my mind, as was the recall of seeing both my grandparents passing away from breast, lung, and stomach cancer some years earlier.
We can all identify that there are a lot of negative connotations associated with the word ‘cancer’ but it is good to remember that cancer is ONLY a word, it is not a sentence. One saying that we can all identify with is,
“You’ll never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
Reflecting on my journey, cancer not only impacted my life and the life of those around me, but it also directed me into a different career path. I wanted to learn how to help myself and those around me and this led me to where I am today with my specialties being in health promotion, nutrition, and Complementary Medicine.
With a postgraduate in International Health and Development and currently completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Public Health, I am looking to focus my attention more on International Health, assisting women in developing countries in food security, access to essential medicines, access to health education, and access to cervical cancer screening.
In 2022, I will be celebrating 20 years cervical cancer-free and my take-home message to everyone is this; we need to rethink the way we see cervical screening as not being something we dread but as a lifesaving intervention.
Cervical Cancer is a preventable disease, and I would like to encourage every woman to take that initial step in disease prevention and book in for cervical screening.
Don’t be scared to put yourself first.