Michelle’s Story

  • 7 years ago
  • Location: QLD
  • Age: 44
Read more stories from women with cervical cancer.

My story begins 10 years ago. I was having a glass or two of wine with my best friend and the subject of Pap tests came up. Her mother in law had passed the year before from cervical cancer and she had realised it was time for her two yearly check up. She asked how long it had been since my last test and honestly I couldn’t remember, but estimated approximately 7 years ago. As you can imagine she went mental with me. I explained, or should I say tried to worm my way out of the situation, by confessing that like a majority of females I despise the whole experience. I come from the days of a hard faced nurse coming towards you with a gigantic metal object, one size fits all by the way saying “spread your legs” and I swear to you thrusting this thing into you with no consideration much less bed side manner!

So dignified, not!

However I made a promise and booked myself into a female doctor that came very highly recommended. That day I was physically sick (pathetic I know) but I had had so many bad experiences. I have to say the doctor I saw was amazing. I explained my anxiety, which was clearly evident from the sweat pouring off me and tears in my eyes. She talked me through the whole process, there was no oversized large metal object but a more dignified smaller apparatus and she took her time reassuring me all the way. Great, I thought what was all the fuss about. I dusted myself down and off I went to continue with the rest of my life until I was due in 2 years time.

The very next day I received a call from the surgery asking if I could come in this afternoon as it is urgent. I must admit I wasn’t overly concerned. I attended the appointment and was advised that I had a very high level of abnormal cells but not to worry as it wasn’t cancer, I just needed to see a gynecologist for possible further treatment. Again I wasn’t overly concerned as I had heard that it is quite normal for females to have abnormal cell readings and a high majority of the time there is nothing to be concerned about. I put it down to my age, I was 35.

I had an appointment at Pindara with a fabulous gynaecologist who advised that they were going to carry out a procedure to remove the abnormal cells and all would be well. The biggest mistake she made was her answer to my question “do I have cancer”. She advised “no it was just abnormal cells”. The procedure was carried out 2 weeks later all very uneventful and again I left with no concerns.

Then the call came 2 days later. I had just finished teaching a fitness class and was meeting a friend for coffee. It was the doctor asking if I was on my own and if I was driving. Nothing registered and I innocently replied that I had just parked up to meet a friend for coffee. She apologised and said that she had news for me and we had to move quickly. Still nothing clicked. The doctor proceeded to tell me in what seemed one long breath that I had cervical cancer. I needed a full radical hysterectomy, I was having MRI scans on Monday and was seeing my specialist at Greenslopes Hospital on the Thursday. She apologised again for having to tell me over the phone and if I had any questions I could call her anytime and details would be emailed to me.

Honestly I had no idea what any of it meant and certainly didn’t know what a radical hysterectomy was. All I knew and heard was the word cancer. I immediately called my husband at work and hilariously said to him “are you on your own or driving” as that’s all that would come out of my mouth, I was just repeating the doctor. He advised that he was in the office as normal and asked what was I going on about? Word for word I blurted out the exact same sentence as the doctor. I was on auto pilot or as I know now, in shock. Obviously my husband was devastated and advised he would come home straight away. I asked him not to as I needed time to process things, however I did ask him to collect our son from school and take him out for his tea. I knew I couldn’t face my little boy who was 6 at the time.

That night my husband brought our son home fast asleep in his arms and put him to bed. I went to my son’s room a short time afterwards and sat in the door way, just staring at him fast asleep. All I could think was that I wanted to bring up my son, I didn’t want anyone else doing it. I wanted to see him married happy with children, something my own mum had been robbed of as she died at 42 years old I was 20. I was devastated and sobbed my heart out. My husband who is my hero and my rock picked me up off the floor and held me. He told me “we will fight this, you are going to be okay and you are not going to die”. Of course, my biggest fear.

From the next day onwards, I fought. I had the best oncologist and the best care. I had stage 2 and a nice size tumour that thankfully had not spread. I had my procedure, as well as an additional procedure to move one of my ovaries for safe keeping in case of treatment. I was one of the lucky ones as my tumour and lymph nodes were removed with no need for further treatment.

Mentally was a different story and that’s why I wanted to share. At the time everyone was amazing and supportive (as you would expect) but in time people move on with their lives as is right. Please don’t take that the wrong way, I will explain. When you the patient are going through the initial journey it really is a blur. You are just surviving day by day trying to find things to take your mind off what is to come, you’re not really in the moment. At least for me, I know I wasn’t. It didn’t really hit me until a couple of months after my procedure, at which point everyone else had moved on with their lives. I would break down in tears, I was mourning the loss of my womb and not being able to have more children. Losing things that made me feel like a women, I was empty. Things would go through my head like ‘what if I hadn’t had the Pap test, I would be dead’. Also the guilt of not having to have follow up treatment, I felt like a fraud. Please don’t get me wrong I was so extremely fortunate and would never wish to have the follow up treatment. My specialist likened my feelings to survivors guilt. I have lost so many amazing women in my life to cancer and long term illness. I felt like a cheat. Crazy I know. I explained to my friends and family that whilst their journey with me had ended, mine felt like it had just started and I needed time to adjust, assess and reflect on what had happened.

Given time and the amazing support of my family and friends, I have moved on and am leading an amazing positive life cherishing and grabbing at every opportunity that arises. I now have a friend in the UK who has just been diagnosed with inoperable stage 3 cervical cancer. I owe it to her and others like her to spread the word regarding the need for regular Pap tests and the need for girls/women to have the vaccinations available. It is vital that we continue to tell our stories and promote the fantastic work that ACCF does to help prevent more women from having to take our journey.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

My tips for Australian women about cervical health:

Please please please have regular Pap tests. I know it’s not that dignified and every woman hates them but that test literally saved my life and many others like me. Let’s not have anymore children growing up without their mothers, if caught early it can be treated. Make sure you get the ACCF Pap test reminder on your phone and nag your friends if they haven’t had their test done. My best friends nagging definitely saved my life!