A Missed Opportunity

Our guest blogger, Elizabeth, has a tale to tell which we all should heed about how one wrong decision can totally transform your life and work prospects. Some might find this too distressing but we believe it an important message to pass on.

This is the story of what might have been the biggest missed opportunity of my 62-year old life. Ironically, it would only have taken a few minutes, didn’t require any qualifications and wouldn’t have cost me any money.

Life was pretty good in 2007. I was 50, had a reasonably well paid job, happy relationship, a mortgage free home and no real cause to worry about my health. So, in 2016, when I developed a yellow vaginal discharge I wasn’t especially concerned. However 3 months later the ‘infection’ hadn’t cleared up and the GP referred me for a.  Whilst waiting for my referral I had a vaginal bleed just like a period, not right given I was post-menopausal, and that’s when the panic set in.

The next I know biopsies are being taken and I received the diagnosis no one wants. “Squamous cell cancer of the cervix”. I had a radical hysterectomy, my pelvic lymph nodes were removed and 6 sessions of chemotherapy, 27 sessions of radiotherapy.   18 months later and cancer-wise, so far so good.  But the long-term side effects have not been so good.

The surgery caused a lot of nerve damage and I, very unusually it seems, now suffer from urinary retention. I have to constantly self-catheterise and the lymphoedema in one of my legs and lower abdomen means I have to wear compression tights/stockings which fit so snugly I have to use garden gloves to get them on and off.

Because of these side-effects I had to give up my job as they made it hard to function well in a demanding fast paced role. If I was younger, I would also have to cope with a premature menopause and infertility.

Perhaps the saddest part of the tale is that my cancer might have been prevented, had I kept up to date with my screening tests. So, if you haven’t guessed already, my big missed opportunity was not taking up my invitations for cervical screening.

I chose to start this story from the year 2007 as this was when, age 50, that I stopped going for screening. I gave myself reasons/excuses for not going such as: ‘it might be painful’, ‘it’s not going to happen to me’, I’m low risk’ etc. WRONG! With glorious hindsight, a minute or so of unpleasantness really is a very small price to pay for something that could prevent a cancer.

I’m not alone: 1 in 4 women, between 25 and 64 don’t get screened despite receiving reminders. Please ladies, don’t ignore or overthink it, just make the appointment and go.  Or, if you feel you really can’t face the test, how about making an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns – you can always ask to see a female doctor.

I am now passionate about raising awareness of the importance of cervical screening and the wonderful work of Jo’s Trust. Some women really do need an extra bit of support to go for their tests, I know I did.  Mutual support is effective and I encourage women, and sometimes men, to check if their partners, friends, sisters, daughters, nieces, mother etc. are getting tested.  That simple caring thing could prevent a lot of suffering, save a career  or even save a life.

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