We hear from Vikki who has shared her story and journey with cervical cancer to highlight the importance of "talking and facing what you have been through" after going through a cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment.
At the age of 27 in 2017, I felt like I had the world at my feet. I had just started a new relationship, I had a successful career and juggled life as a mother to my two children whilst working full time. It was the first point in my life that I was truly happy.
I had been having smear tests every 6 months after getting an abnormal result, shortly after the birth of my son in 2012. My previous smear test had been fine, however I started to have some light bleeding during sex so I went to get this checked out - I had just started having unprotected sex with my new partner so I feared that I had an STD. Whilst at my GP, they let me know I was due for my next smear test and I had it while I was there. I was told that my results letter would come in the post and forgot all about it.
Two weeks later I got my results, which said I required further treatment because I had severe dyskaryosis. I had an appointment at the hospital the following week for a cold coagulation treatment. At the appointment, I met my consultant who told me I would also have biopsies taken. I watched the monitor as my consultant started to take what I can only describe as a small white mass. It was unpleasant but bearable. He seemed happy that it was all gone and that he had taken biopsies, and told me I would receive a letter with my results.
Around two weeks later I got a phone call whilst at work, on the day before my 28th birthday. It was my consultants’ secretary. She was quite abrupt and she told me that we had the results and I should come in tomorrow. Her parting words was that I needed to take someone with me. I started panicking and I phoned my mum to ask her to come with me.
I didn’t know what to think. I remember feeling so scared and lost. I called the hospital numerous times to try and find out what was happening, but they couldn't tell me anything. I eventually received a call back from a woman called Fran who tried to calm me down. She advised me that it may just be further treatment I required, and that she didn’t know anything more.
"It would be up to 4 weeks to get an MRI scan to see if the cancer had progressed"
At my appointment the next day, I remember every word the consultant said: “We thought we had taken the cells away however after receiving the results of the biopsy we have discovered the cells are what we call cervical cancer.” I held my breath and I felt my mum next to me crumble. I did not want to be unwell. I kept the consultant talking so I didn’t have time to take it in. All I cared about was what happens next, and kept thinking about the next step.
He advised that it would be up to 4 weeks to get an MRI scan to see if the cancer had progressed, because I had just had the cold coagulation treatment and things would not have settled yet. Those 4 weeks were the most horrific time, having no idea about the extent of it. It felt like a dream. I cried every day and was totally terrified about what would happen next.
Luckily, my MRI found that there was no spread however the team told me that the cancer was developing quickly so I would need a hysterectomy. There was talk of chemotherapy if they were not able to remove it all too. I felt lucky that I’d already had children, but I still found having the choice taken away from me really difficult.
The operation came in November. I wanted to be the exception to the rule, I wanted to look great and feel great after a major operation. But I woke up in pain, on morphine, my legs hurt and I felt like I was unable to move. I was however pleased to discover that the keyhole surgery had been successful and I had 5 tiny incisions instead of a big scar, which I had been worried about. They were also able to keep my ovaries to stop me going through the menopause.
"I was so intent on getting back to my routine, being ‘normal’"
Coming home, the next few weeks were difficult – I struggled to sleep and was in pain. I had to inject my legs to prevent blood clots, and was generally feeling a bit helpless. Towards the second week, I felt a bit more like myself. At the end of the second week I got the phone call telling me that I didn't need chemotherapy or any further treatment. That day was like winning the lottery to me. Now I wanted to focus and get back to work. I was excited to get back to normal with everything.
However when I got back to work, I started to feel really stressed. I had taken on more responsibility with a bigger role, because I was so intent on getting back to my routine, being ‘normal’, going further with my career. I wanted to say ‘look at me I’ve had this huge operation and I’m fine’ and so I put all this pressure on myself to be fine. I had also put on nearly four stone at this point because of the operation and felt less like myself. I was becoming very angry and anxious.
I was convinced I was going through the menopause with how erratic my behaviour was and how bad my mood swings were. I was feeling angry at the world. My relationships with friends and my partner were breaking down. I spoke to my GP but my tests showed that I wasn’t going through the menopause, so I concluded that I was just losing it!
Things didn’t get better and my relationship with my partner fell apart completely, which caused me to have a total breakdown. It’s impossible to explain how I felt. It was the darkest time of my life.
I called 999 and told them how I felt. They wanted to send an ambulance but I didn't want neighbours to see me. Even at this low point, I felt ashamed and was deeply embarrassed with how I felt. I would only tell people how I felt that I thought could handle it, if they got upset I would feel even worse, so I just kept it all in.
"The moment I was honest about how I felt was the day I started to get better"
I went to hospital and was given the choice to be referred to mental health. There was no judgement, which surprised me and felt amazing. The next day I was recommended a counsellor and I called him straight away. My first words to him was that I was broken. He told me I wasn't and he could help.
I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I finally felt relief that there was a reason that I had been acting this way. The doctor told me that I had not dealt with or processed my cancer diagnosis, and I had to face up to it. I went to see my counsellor every week and every time I came out, I could feel my strength coming back.
I am nearly three years on and probably the happiest and the most appreciative I have ever been in my life. The moment I was honest about how I felt was the day I started to get better. I’ve taken steps to help me get better – I was really upset to have the choice to carry more children taken away from me, but I recently got a dog which has really helped me deal with it. I am still on medication to control how I feel, but even going back for my checks doesn't phase me as it’s like seeing my friends again after so long. I see Fran (my CNS) every 6 months and always look forward to seeing her and telling her how I am and I know that she loves seeing me also.
I want other people to hear my story not to scare them, but to emphasise the importance of talking and facing what you have been through. I want to urge you not to feel embarrassed about your mental health. Today I show you myself as a 31 year old woman with the world at my feet, once again. I don’t feel any less as a woman because of this and if anything I am more confident within myself because of everything I went through. Don’t be afraid to speak up. I once described myself as broken, but now I am truly happy. I don’t second guess myself and now take chances I would have hesitated with before. Life is too short to worry about the small things. I’m looking for love and I know I have so much to offer someone, and I walk around with the biggest smile on my face because of it.