RACHEL Boden had to have her womb removed after not having a smear test for 18 years.
Here, she relives how being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015 changed her complete outlook on life.
“As the consultant surgeon reeled off the months of invasive treatment I was facing, I struggled to come to terms what was being said. I’d just been for my first smear test in 18 years, and now I was facing a complete hysterectomy after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
It was all happening so quickly, and I felt so angry with myself for skipping my cervical screenings for so many years. Until that day, I hadn’t stepped foot inside a doctor’s office for nearly two decades.
I’d never been one to get ill and would soldier on even if I felt under the weather. So when I moved house in 1998, I didn’t get round to registering with a GP.
I knew it meant I was missing my smear tests and signing up was on my to-do list, especially after Jade Goody’s death in March 2009. But with a busy job and social life with my partner Chris, 53, it never happened.
However, in early 2015, when I was 47, I started to get my period every two weeks.
Before then, they had always been regular and initially I put it down to the menopause.
But when I passed a large bright red clot that August, I knew something wasn’t right. Not for one second did I think it would be cervical cancer, but I decided to visit an NHS walk-in centre to get checked out.
The nurse urged me to register with a GP for an emergency appointment and the following day I had my first smear in 18 years. As I lay there I felt so nervous and guilty for not having one sooner.
I realised it must have been something serious when three weeks later I was referred to King’s Mill Hospital in Nottingham for a further examination. I went to get my results on my own and it was devastating to discover that I was no longer the woman who never got ill: I had stage 1B cervical cancer.
It took a few minutes to register what the doctor was saying and I wished that I’d taken my health more seriously. I was scared about the future, but I knew that at least I’d finally done the right thing in listening to my body.
When I told my mum Carole, 81, sister Bridget, 51, and Chris they were upset, but they could see I wanted to be positive. I was shocked when the consultant advised me to have a hysterectomy.
Given my age, I knew that being a mum wasn’t going to happen for me, but the thought of being thrust into the menopause as well as fighting cancer was a lot to take in. Yet I knew I had no choice if I wanted to beat this disease.
In December 2015, Chris gave me a big hug as I went into hospital for my hysterectomy and to have the lymph nodes removed from my groin. The keyhole surgery took hours, but despite feeling groggy and uncomfortable when I woke up, I was relieved it was over.
Then I got the devastating news that my tumour was 4cm – twice the size doctors had thought. Plus, the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, which meant I would need a five-week course of chemo and radiotherapy. Lying in my hospital bed, I felt so low.
I gave myself a few hours to have a cry, then plastered on a smile. My friends and family had brought flowers and bubbly, so I had an amazing support network to help me get through it.
Thankfully I didn’t lose my hair during chemo, but it was gruelling nonetheless, wreaking havoc on my stomach. As Chris had to work, Mum would often come to sit with me during the sessions.
During my final chemo I was so exhausted from the treatment that I spent the entire time slumped in my chair asleep while she held my hand.
It’s been three years since my diagnosis and last month I was given the official all-clear, which was an incredible feeling. I still count myself as one of the lucky ones, even though I skipped my screenings for so long.
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Looking back, I wish I’d made the effort to go for my smears, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Now I tell everyone I meet about how important they are.
Thanks to me, Bridget has been for her first smear in 11 years and my dentist‘s smear managed to catch abnormal cells early after I warned her about the importance of not missing appointments.
My experience has changed my outlook on life. I take my health more seriously now. They might be a hassle, but missing a smear test isn’t worth it.”
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)
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