Claire found out she had cervical cancer after making love with her boyfriend. Her story which appeared in That’s Life magazine highlights the dangers of cervical cancer and the importance of smear tests to women under the age of 25. Below read Claire’s true life health story.
SEX SAVED MY LIFE
Trying for a baby saved 24 year old Claire’s life. She’ll never have more children now but is just grateful to be alive after her boyfriend found a tumour in a very intimate place…
With each thrust Matt took my breath away…and not in a good way. Forget orgasmic, this was agonising. There was a sharp stabbing pain down below that was making me grit my teeth.
You’re probably just bit tense, I told myself. Try to relax.
I glanced up at Matt. He didn’t look like he was enjoying himself either.
Suddenly, he frowned and climbed off me.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘It’s like there’s a hard lump of flesh on the lining of your cervix, or something. It just doesn’t feel right.’
Turning on the light we saw the sheets, and our bodies, were covered in blood. Not just a few drops but more than a period.
‘Oh my God!’ I gasped. No wonder I’d been in so much pain.
‘You need to get this checked out,’ Matt said, handing me a towel. ‘It’s not normal.’
I was concerned. For the past few years I’d been back and forth to the GP with ‘women’s problems’.
First, it was my periods. They were all over the place. I’d often miss one, then suffer terrible abdominal pain as well as backaches and mood swings.
‘It’s like I’m going through the menopause or something,’ I said. But I was only 22.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries.
It meant it could take me longer to fall pregnant. I already had a three year old, Lenny, from a previous relationship but I kept thinking ‘what if?’ so at the start of the year, Matt and I stopped using contraception.
‘If it happens, it happens,’ we decided.
Only the more we made love, the less I wanted to. It was just so painful.
I went back to the doctor but was told it was most likely due to a water infection or linked to my ovaries.
Then two months ago, I started bleeding after sex. Just a few spots here and there at first.
‘Do you think I might need a smear?’ I asked at my next appointment.
But at under 25, I was deemed too young. ‘The lab won’t process it even if I did the smear, your under 25,’ explained the doctor. It was the same all over the UK.
I remembered reading about campaigns to change it after Big Brother star Jade Goody died.
Still now after what Matt had felt, I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I may be under 25, but I wanted that smear. I called the doctor that same evening.
This time, she backed down. ‘The first time I can fit you in for a smear is in two days’ time,’ she finally said.
I had to wait nearly three weeks for the results. The smear had detected abnormal cells. I was being referred to a gynaecologist.
‘Try not to worry,’ Matt said that night in bed. ‘Come here and give me a cuddle.’
But we didn’t make love. Neither of us were in the mood after last time.
A fortnight later the consultant examined my cervix and carried out a biopsy.
‘Does it look normal?’ I asked.
But she couldn’t say.
It meant yet more waiting. I tried to carry on as normal for Lenny’s sake but it was hard. All the time I kept wondering if bad news was just around the corner.
The following week was Matt’s brother’s party. I wasn’t really in the mood but I agreed to go along anyway. Hopefully it would help to take my mind off things.
But less than an hour in I collapsed in agony with sharp cramping pains.
You’re bleeding again!’ Matt said as he carried me into the taxi.
I was taken to X Hospital where they carried out blood tests and an internal.
On discovering blood in my urine they kept me in for three days before finally sending me home with antibiotics for a water infection.
Then a week later, I was back at the hospital having another scan.
‘Hopefully we can move on from all this now,’ Matt said as he drove me home.
But I still couldn’t help worrying. And a week later, an official-looking letter fell onto the doormat. Turns out that they had discovered cancerous cells after all.
‘We need you to come back in for treatment straightaway,’ it said.
‘I knew it,’ I wept to Matt.
A week later they performed a LLETZ procedure to remove the area containing all the cells that could become pre-malignant or develop into cervical cancer. I was frantic. It was the first time the ‘c’ word had been used.
‘We’ll get through this,’ Matt promised. ‘At least they’ve picked it up early.’
But when we went back for the results it was bad news. This time the procedure had not been successful.
‘So what does that mean?’ I asked. ‘Do you need to do it again?’
‘I don’t think you understand,’ the consultant said gravely. ‘I’m afraid you have cervical cancer.’
It was too much to take in. My worst fears of the last four years had come true.
I looked over at Matt. All of the colour had drained from his face. And then I thought about Lenny waiting for us at home. How on earth could I tell him that his mummy had cancer?
‘Why?’ I wailed to Matt on the way home. ‘Why me?’
But, of course, there were no answers. Back home, I tried to act normal in front of Lenny but it was so hard. I could hardly sleep at night. Images of Jade Goody filled my dreams. Was I going to be like her? Lose my hair? Have to say goodbye to my boy? I needed answers.
Three weeks later, I finally got to see the cancer specialist.
He explained that there was a tumourous mass more than 7cm big at the neck of my womb. It had spread down into my vagina and pelvic tissues and was just centimetres from my lymph nodes. There was a small cyst on my ovaries too.
The tumour was what Matt had been able to feel when we were making love. The pressure it had put on my ovaries had caused the menopausal symptoms I’d experienced.
‘So where do we go from here?’ I asked. I still couldn’t believe this was my body, my life, we were discussing.
As the mass was too big for surgery, I needed radio and chemotherapy immediately to try and shrink it.
‘You’ll need to come in every day for six weeks,’ the consultant explained.
I thought about Lenny. Who’d look after him? Pick him up from pre-school, cook his tea, give him a bath?
Matt squeezed my hand. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be there for Lenny,’ he said, as if reading my mind.
Back home, Lenny kept me going. I had to keep strong for his sake.
‘When all this is over we’ll try again for a little brother or sister for him,’ Matt promised.
But there was more bad news. There was no time to save my ovaries and because I already had a child I wouldn’t qualify for IVF on the NHS.
‘I can’t believe it,’ I said.
I never wanted Lenny to be an only child, had always planned to have more children when I met the right man. And now I had it was too late. And I was still only 24.
‘And what about you?’ I sniffled to Matt. ‘I know you were desperate to be a dad.’
He took my face in his hands. ‘I’ve got you and I’ve got Lenny and to me that’s the most important thing. So stop feeling guilty and concentrate on getting better because right now, that’s all that matters.
It’s ironic really. Having unprotected sex might not have resulted in creating a new life but it will hopefully have saved mine by meaning that I finally got a smear test and my tumour was detected.
But I’m angry because I can’t help thinking that if there was routine testing for women under 25 then the likelihood is that it wouldn’t have come to this. Looking back, the symptoms and signs have been there for at least the last four years but were explained away as other conditions. It was only when Matt said he felt something down there that I knew I had to keep on until I was granted a smear.
So why was it such a struggle to get one? It’s crazy. I’m living proof that cervical cancer doesn’t wait until you’re 25 to make an appearance. Every woman should be entitled to a smear if they want one regardless of their age. And I’d tell any woman not to feel embarrassed if they feel uncomfortable down below or bleed after sex but to go and see their doctor straight away. It could save their life.
I’ve since found out you can pay for a private smear. It’s about £50, the price of a new dress. If I’d have known I would have done it years ago.
Cervical cancer may have robbed me and Matt of having a baby together and that breaks my heart but I won’t let it take Lenny’s mummy away from him too. I’m going to fight it all the way.