I've never missed a smear test but I got cervical cancer at 29 and had to have a hysterectomy
JUST seven months after welcoming her first son, Laura Lodge saw her dreams of expanding her family ripped apart when she was forced to have a hysterectomy at the age of 30.
The mum-of-one, from Aylesham, Kent, says the realisation she can never have another child is even more devastating than battling stage 2 cervical cancer.
The 31-year-old nurse initially refused to have the invasive op, but soon realised seeing Chester, two, grow up was more important than giving him a baby brother or sister.
Laura, who's never missed a smear test, is sharing her story exclusively with Fabulous Digital following the news nearly a third of women are risking their lives by skipping check-ups.
She's advising other young women to consider paying for a yearly check – before their dreams of having kids are dashed…
In 2012, I had my routine smear test and it picked up some abnormal cells, which of course worried me.
But the doctors at Medway Maritime Hospital said this kind of result was quite common, and they’d prefer to ‘watch and wait’ rather than treat it.
The body’s quite clever at dealing with these things on its own, they said, and it might be related to me having been on the contraceptive pill.
I got called back for my next smear at my GP surgery a year later, which seemed to indicate that everything was fine, and was put back on the three-year programme.
I was very relieved and didn’t think anything more about it.
I told the consultant that Chester needs his mummy and on June 15, 2017 I had a full hysterectomy. The sense of emptiness I felt after that operation was crushing
My husband Ryan, 30, a bin man, and I fell pregnant, which was amazing news – we’d always wanted to start a family.
I then got a letter saying my next smear was due, but I couldn’t have it done while pregnant, so we scheduled the test for 12 weeks after the due date.
Chester, now two, was born in November 2016, and I had my smear in March.
When I got the results, I somehow knew it was going to be bad news – and went into full-blown nurse mode.
I sat there silently, not crying, but also unable to get any words out.
Holding Chester and with Ryan next to me, holding my hand, I felt completely numb.
Having just become a mum and holding this precious baby, my world had fallen apart.
The doctor told me I had stage 2 squamous cell cancer.
They’d try removing my cervix at first so I could have more kids, he said.
I was transferred to Maidstone Hospital, where the consultant asked me about having a hysterectomy.
Immediately I told him there was no way I’d have this, there had to be another option.
But he stressed the cancer had spread to the tissue surrounding my cervix, so removing my uterus would give me the best chance of survival.
You can help us spread the message by joining in on social.
We're asking women to share a photo with a pair of knickers and the hashtag #CheersForSmears tagging the women they love in their life, to remind them to get tested on time.
Cervical screenings save 5,000 lives every year – but let's make that number higher!
Please make sure to also tag @fabulousmag and the charity Jo's Trust (Twitter: @jotrust, Insta/FB: @joscervicalcancertrust)
I was given two weeks to make my choice – the worst two weeks of my life.
I’d stay up late at night, staring at Chester, wanting now more than ever to give him a baby brother or sister and make our family complete.
But I also knew he needed his mum to be there for him for every milestone.
Unable to sleep, I started blogging on my website The Big C And Me as a form of therapy, often doing a late night feed while I typed into the early hours.
Not once did I cry, channelling all of my emotion into my writing.
Ryan and I knew there was really only one choice.
If I had the extended hysterectomy I had an 80 per cent chance of survival at the five-year mark.
Without it, I had a tiny fraction of that. I told the consultant that Chester needs his mummy and on June 15, 2017 I had a full hysterectomy.
The sense of emptiness I felt after that operation was crushing. I didn’t need any chemotherapy or radiotherapy because everything had been removed.
I had counselling with the Macmillan Cancer Support therapists, but I found it almost impossible to grieve for something I didn’t have.
Putting that into words in my blog, with all the words of encouragement from strangers, was the only way I managed to get through each empty day.
I feel angry about my smear tests. Why wasn’t I offered yearly tests after those first abnormalities were picked up?
I felt so frightened about talking openly about my feelings, knowing how lucky we were to have Chester, feeling ungrateful for that blessing and actually having a family.
But at the same time I was going through this nightmare.
My two sisters and both my best friends fell pregnant, which reinforced my own feelings of loss.
It was only then, about a year-and-a-half after my hysterectomy, that I finally cried.
It came out like a river that I was worried would never stop.
Why do the NHS-only test every three years?
IF they have no prior concerns about a patient, the NHS only test for cervical cancer once every three years (or five years from the age of 50).
This is because yearly testing can pick up minor changes – which then go back to normal.
Over-testing leads to a risk of patients having invasive treatments for conditions which don't need to be treated.
If you develop new symptoms which are worrying you in between tests, you should always see your GP.
Ryan and I have looked at surrogacy, but that’s too expensive for us, and we know the adoption path is very long and tricky.
The more I start looking at those options, the more I’m reminded about this hole in my heart, this gap in our family and our future.
Dealing with cancer was nothing compared to this.
With cancer you feel people will understand, there’s something tangible to fight against, but losing your future is so much harder.
Cervical cancer: the stats
- Each year here in the UK…
- 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
- 5,000 women’s lives are saved by cervical screening.
- 870 women die from cervical cancer.
- 99.8% of cervical cancer cases are preventable.
- One in 142 British females will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in their lifetime.
- 25-29 years peak rate of cervical cancer cases.
As a nurse I’m religious about prevention, and I feel angry about my smear tests.
Why wasn’t I offered yearly tests after those first abnormalities were picked up?
At the very least, if the NHS funding isn’t there, why did nobody sign-post me towards private options?
I would pay anything to turn back the clock and relive those choices, but of course I can’t.
Smear tests are so inflexible. With a screaming baby, or a full-time job, I know so many women who can’t make specific times and then end up missing their smear.
The more I start looking at those options, the more I’m reminded about this hole in my heart. Dealing with cancer was nothing compared to this
Laura's friend Dr Sophie Sotter, of Illumiate Skin & Wellness Clinic, offers private smear tests to all women, of any age, whenever they want them.
She said: "These statistics are frightening. Laura is a close friend of mine, and had a hysterectomy at 30, which isn’t right.
"I want to do all I can to avoid anyone else having to go through that.
"It’s shocking that uptake of smear tests is at an all-time low."
Fabulous previously investigated why nearly five million of us in the UK are avoiding our smear tests.
This Fabulous writer had a smear test live on camera to show what it’s REALLY like (and, ladies, don’t worry about getting a bikini wax beforehand).
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