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Cervical Cancer

How cervical cancer affects you

Being diagnosed with a serious illness can be traumatic and overwhelming, and reactions differ from person to person. Here women discuss how they felt when they were diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Many described a sense of shock and how normal everyday things became irrelevant. One said she found it became easier when tests and plans for treatments started. Some had suspected something might be wrong but they didn't expect the seriousness of it. Others who did not have any physical symptoms, or who had had normal smear test results, described their disbelief that they could have cancer.

 

Describes her initial feelings and explains that things got better once tests and plans for...

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
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When I was told that I had cervical cancer I actually, I can feel it even now, I can visualise the doctor, the registrar standing there, telling me, and I was making noises just like if you were giving me directions. I could hear myself saying 'Hmm, yes, hmm, hmm,' and I could hear myself doing this. The woman was telling me the most awful news and then as she kind of paused then the tears just spurted, but as she was telling me there was kind of nothing. I was just making the noises as though she was giving me some really normal information and I was just playing, playing along at listening. And then it suddenly hit me.

Were you there on your own?

I was at the time yes. One of the nurses was there and the first thing they said, which I would imagine they say to everyone is 'Do you want to tell someone?' or 'Do you want someone here?' But you see I know how I deal with things and as usual, no, I had to swamp myself, I had to have the curtains round me. I had to just lay there like a big wet sponge crying until it thoroughly sunk in and I suppose I had twenty-four hours like that. And it's the weirdest feeling and I'm sure anyone in that situation would describe it differently but I think shock, its shock, maybe we react in different ways but I cry. My initial thing was showing no shock. I was just making these strange noises, then I cried and cried. 

And all I know was that when I was told I had cancer I kind of cried for twenty-four hours, then I stopped for a few hours, then cried for another twenty-four hours, stopped for a few hours, and it dwindled. Then I was on this very practical roller coaster of doing things and people testing me and talking about it. Every single person I saw wanted to know the story from the beginning. And that really does help and it shows that, that one day you can't say it without crying, another day you can just about and then, then youcan say it and laugh. And you kind of see how different you've become.

A few said they did not feel too shocked when they were told because they had suspected it. One woman describes as having been on autopilot, feeling calm and treating the situation as something which had to be got through. A few who had had bleeding said that they were relieved that the reason for their symptoms had been found. One describes how receiving the diagnosis forced her to take stock of her life which resulted in the time of her diagnosis as being the most peaceful time in her life. Another explained that she never considered that she might die.

 

Describes the time between her diagnosis and treatment as the most peaceful time in her life.

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 43
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But the whole family rallied round and supported. But there was this incredible of sort of like lightness. I felt an incredible lightness of myself, emotionally and mentally. I felt almost liberated. It was really, really weird. And my family were saying "I'm devastated for you [patients name] and why aren't you, so why aren't you upset?" I said "I don't know, I'm just not, I'm just sort of just going with the flow of it and that's," I knew I just had to do that.

Why do you think that was, why you felt like that?

The whole thing of having something massive like cancer I knew it meant more than just the illness. I just had this inner feeling it wasn't just an illness. It was to do with my life, with my emotions, with how I treat people. It was all tied with all of those different aspects of what living is. And so I just felt well this is like an opportunity almost. It was, first and foremost I knew it was an opportunity for me to stop, for me to just sort of slow my whole life down. I had been working full time as a teacher and running a family, running a home and it was just an incredible time to just stop a lot of decision making, a lot of responsibility. 

So there was definitely benefits to it. I mean my boss at work said "Oh you're not coming back even to do the first couple of weeks of this term starting in September?" and I said "No I'm tired, I'm just going to stop," and I think he got a shock. But I was emphatic. I just thought no, I'm going to take this time. I know that my body is telling me I need it. And that's exactly what I did. Right up until the treatment started which was three weeks later, and even when I was going through treatment I just used to lie on the settee and read and look out the window and watch things growing outside. It was just the most, one of the most peaceful times in my entire life. 
 

She didn't feel worried and never considered that she might die.

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 42
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Somehow it still didn't feel any different. I don't know it probably was not, I don't know it just, it didn't bother me all that much apart from the problem of having to go to a hospital, having to leave work for a while. Apart from that it was not something that really strike me as dangerous. And actually never, all along I never thought of death. It just it didn't occur to me that I have might have died. It was only probably years later when people of my age or younger they say "Oh I don't want to go to have a smear test. I don't want to go to the gynaecologist because I feel ashamed." And I say "Well if you see me alive now it's because I did the smear test." 

As I say I was never actually worried apart from practical things. It had never occurred to me oh I might have six months or a year or two years to live. It was just a problem that was going to be solved, end of story, nothing more than that.

Some women said they were frightened that they might die. A few were concerned about the effect on their children if they were to die. Another young woman diagnosed with advanced cancer who survived, explained that she had not been afraid of death and had made plans for it and that it was only later that she felt upset about not being able to have children. Some found that it was at night time that they felt most alone and were most upset.

 

Describes the range of emotions she felt when she was told she had cancer.

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 42
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That I was going to die. I did wonder why me, why this happened to me, I felt sorry for myself. But I've been able to deal with that fairly well because I remember about three or four years ago on television there was some celebrity. I think it was that woman they call The Green Goddess who'd had breast cancer, and I always remember her saying 'Don't think why me, think why not me.' and that really does work. Because the times when I've felt sorry for myself I don't say 'Why's this happened?' I say 'Why not me?' because 'Why not me?' you know. 'Why not me.' So yes it was the worries about that and about pain. If I was going to be in pain and then guilt, guilt for being ill and the effect on the children. Yes, it was them.

Can you say a little more about that guilt?

That if anything happened to me, that if I did die then I would be leaving the children and I think they need a mother. So I didn't, I don't want to hurt them. I don't want to have a bad effect on their lives. I don't know, their welfare is the most important thing. And I think it was how awful it would be to leave them, for them and for me obviously as well, obviously for me, yes.

Several women felt angry. One who had early stage cancer said she felt annoyed and was determined to get rid of it. Another felt angry that she had been going for regular cervical screening tests which had shown negative results.

 

She didn't want to accept her diagnosis and felt angry because she had gone for regular smears.

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 36
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I was angry and I felt it wasn't fair. Had I never ever been for a smear in my life I would've have thought well tough you've brought this on yourself and maybe if you'd been, you wouldn't be in this mess now. But when I'd been very diligent and it was just 18 months ago that it was totally clear, to suddenly have a tumour. I felt it was grossly unfair, I didn't want it.

It was the fact that I didn't want to hear it, I didn't want to think about it, I didn't want to accept it. I'd always been proper, I'd done the smear tests and everything has alwaysbeen fine and 18 months isn't very long from having an absolutely clear smear test tosuddenly having a tumour is what I felt. So it was sort of a not believing and not wantingto accept.

Some described the double blow they felt when they were told that they not only had cancer but they would no longer be able to have children. One woman in her twenties explains how it affected her.

 

Her initial fears were that she would not be able to have children then later felt scared that...

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Age at interview: 28
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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And I think my initial thing was actually God I'm not going to be able to have children, not I'm going to die. It was God I'm not going to be able to have children, this is all I've ever wanted. And the doctor, the consultant who told me, my Mum had said "Oh that's what women were put on the earth for to have children," and the consultant turned round to me and said "Well I haven't got children." 

And I remember my Mum on the train saying to me "What a waste of a womb," that was our initial feeling God I'm not going to have children because I come from a family where it's a big catholic family and that's, I've got a job, my job is important to me but not nearly as important as family and all the rest of it were. So I think that was my initial fear actually God I'm not going to be able to have children and everything in my life is going to have to be different. No one is going to want to marry me, All my friends are going to be doing all these lovely things with their families and I'm going to be completely left out. 

But I think as time went on it suddenly got to the stage, the fear set in of actually God this is actually cancer. I couldn't just, this could actually be more than me not being able to have children. This could actually be me sort of dying from this and just getting really sick from it. So I think it all becomes relative doesn't it. Your initial fear is one thing and actually as the sort of reality of it sinks in and perhaps as you're further down the line of getting towards your treatment and all the rest of it your fears become slightly different.

Several described feelings of relief that their cancer had been caught at an early stage and treatment could be given. A few described feeling a second shock when they were told that they needed more extensive treatment than first test results had indicated. One explains the panic she felt when she was told after her hysterectomy that cancer cells had escaped from her lymph nodes and she would need radiotherapy. Another describes how she felt when her examination under anaesthetic showed that her cancer was more advanced than hoped and she would need radio-chemotherapy treatment rather than surgery.

 

Describes the panic she felt when she was told she needed further treatment.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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And when he sort of sat me down and said 'Unfortunately it had spread,' you sort of panic again then. Because once they said 'its spread' you think I'm gonna die. You start all over again, you feel like you've gone backwards and you think God it's starting all over again, its bad news again, every time I heard something it was bad news. So I said ' Well what does that mean?' He said 'Well unfortunately now you're going to have to have radiotherapy depending on where its gone because obviously,' he says, 'we don't know,' he says 'if it has spread but its got out of the cells of one of your lymph glands and it has escaped.' He says 'Its broke through and escaped so therefore that's suggesting that it has, so we need to be sure and give you some radiotherapy. 

Which I got really upset about because I thought well hold on a minute now I've just gone through this great big operation which lasted four and a half hours, which is a little bit less than what he said. He said I might have to have a blood transfusion, all kinds of things, all kinds of things like that and it's a huge scar I've got. And he's saying now I've got to have this radiotherapy, I wish I'd plumbted for the chemo and the radio, because he said it was the radiotherapy which could cause all the damage where you may need a bag on and it affects your sex life and all these kinds of things. And I thought I've just had this great big operation that's going to take me three months to get over or whatever and now I've got to have the radiotherapy. 
 

Describes her feelings when she was told her cancer had been found to be more advanced than...

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
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So although in one breath they're telling me it is worse than they thought. It certainly hasn't got any worse than that at that point. So I look at it, I wasn't happy obviously and I was very upset because I'd learned to cope with the fact that I had the tumour and that no way could they ever say they could cure me. But then to be told 'Well it has movedon a step,' is bad news in anyone's book. No one can say they're pleased with that. 

So I was very upset when they said that and it took her a while to kind of bring me back down again to think about it logically. And as she explained the treatment I'm having is the perfect type of treatment and there's no guarantees obviously, and I knew that already. But when I sort of flew off the handle a bit and was upset and I said 'Oh well what's the point if its this bad?' And she said 'It's not that bad because its gotta be, we wouldn't give you treatment,' and believe me they are quite blunt aren't they when they talk about these things. She said 'You know you wouldn't be having this particular treatment if there was no chance whatsoever.' So therefore I kind of have to be hopeful but realistic, that's the only way I can describe how I feel.

Several said they just wanted the cancer to be taken away and it was not until after their treatment that they experienced a range of emotions.

 

She wanted to start treatment as quickly as possible and it wasn't until after her operation that...

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 39
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I'm one of these people that's 'Right, OK what are we going to do then?' I didn't, I didn't fall apart at all, I thought right OK what have we got to do. Do I, can I go to work, silly things go through you head, can I go to work, I've got to do this and I've got to do that and lets just get on with what, what's got to be done. I just wanted to get over it, I just wanted to sort it out and get rid of it. And because he told me that we caught it fairly early I just wanted to get on with it really. 

The whole cancer thing didn't really settle in till, coming to terms with such a big thing until after, way after my operation. I just wanted to get everything out of the way and then I kind of thought about the type of disease I had. Until I sat down and had time when I was recovering to really dwell on things I didn't worry about it. I didn't worry, I just wanted to get what needed to be done, done and out of the way.

Last reviewed July 2017. Donate to healthtalk.org

‚ÄčLast updated July 2017.

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