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Cervical Cancer

Living with cervical cancer

Being diagnosed with cervical cancer can be a life-changing experience. Attitudes change, priorities change. Some young women can no longer have children and have to find ways to cope with a different future to the one they had hoped for (see 'Fertility'). Many find themselves looking at life through a whole new perspective. Those who are still grappling with their illness may find it hard to feel confident about the future. Those whose illness is behind them often describe the positive influence it had on their lives. None of the women interviewed were terminally ill and needed palliative care.

Many said that positive things had come from having cancer. Some had reassessed their priorities. Several said it had made them appreciate and enjoy life more. Others said that they no longer postponed things and made sure they enjoyed things more in the present rather than saving for the future. A few said that although some things had changed after their illness, they didn't feel that their life had changed dramatically.

 

Explains that having cancer helped her to understand the important things in her life.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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And I think on the positive side it's also in the very beginning you don't think it's going to be something that's positive but I wouldn't want to go through it again but I'm so pleased I've had it because it has changed my life. It's changed my life in a very positive way. It's meant that I've understood the important things in my life a lot younger than I ever would have done. I used to try and do full time work and look after my daughter and I realised that I actually didn't want to do that. That I wanted to make sure I just spent as much time as I could with my daughter. And I have had five very happy years, five and a half very happy years since and I know that I wouldn't have had those five happy years had I not had the illness. I would've been very much more focused on my work and trying to keep my CV looking good and I think it just helps you put things into perspective. You hear people say it but it's probably not till it really happens that, and it is that complete taking the rug from underneath your feet feel. That is horrible at the time but huge wonderful life learning and I think if people can hang on to the fact that it will have huge positive sides to it and keep that in mind that they'll actually probably be pleased they've had it. It will help them with the down days really.
 

Describes how she became more conscious of her health and her future and helped her to take a...

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 23
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I'm a lot more conscious now of food and the way you live your life. I mean not that I used to go out that much kind of partying and into pubs but now I'm more conscious if someone is smoking near me I will make an effort to move away from them and I'm quite conscious about that kind of thing. And just really that your life is really short and it's something like this which is, I'm seeing it now as a wake-up call for my life because to really know where I want to be and want I want to do now. I was at university but I'm going to have to repeat my year next year, but I was also working part time and my part time work was actually taking sort of more importance over my university job just because you get obsessed with the money side of things and paying for rent at university and that kind of thing and now I'm like no my studies are really more important. And in a way, I wouldn't have wished this to happen but in a way it's almost a wake-up call, it's a kind of you can put things in, put priorities and everything straight in your life. Because like what is important to me and your family are important to you and it's not money it's not anything like that it's your health and you only have that one body and to sit there smoking a cigarette and things like that. I'm not going to start saying to people don't smoke or anything like that but it's certainly important and you have got to really think about your health. Really it is so important. 
 

She wanted to enjoy more things in the present rather than always saving up for the future.

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 42
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I went back to see the counsellor nurse at the hospital and we talked for an hour and that was very helpful because I said about wanting to do more for myself. She said 'Yes its, its so awful when you see women who have waited, have put things back till retirement and then they're not going to live long. You know, if you want to do it, do it now.' So I'm going to Nepal in March for two weeks. I'm going with a girlfriend I used to go to school with and we're going to Nepal. And I'm going to do a bit of trekking which I'm a bit worried about because of my leg but I've got that support stocking now. I'm going to go cycling in France with my husband. I've stopped the AVC [saving plan] and I buy, I'm trying to buy something every couple of months I bought like, I quite like Poole pottery and other things. You can't take it with you can you? And I think I got too hooked on this middle class saving, saving, saving. Yes, I want the children to go to university and, and pay for that but equally I want to spend some money, money on myself and, and then also I thought oh if I die there's not gonna be enough money, but then when I stopped to think about it, well my pension would pay out twice my salary. The mortgage would be paid off. How much money does your family need? So its helped. It did help talking to that nurse and thinking about doing things now. 
 

Having cancer gave her a different perspective and made her more assertive though in most ways...

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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Everything doesn't change just because you've had cancer or a disease. You don't sort of suddenly wake up and you change your life completely. Things still go on as normal. You still, and its quite hard after you've had cancer because a lot of people expect you to be positive all the time and they get very fixed on that, that you have to be positive. Because there's a link that if you're positive after you've had cancer that you've got a better prognosis. And sometimes that can be a little bit irritating because people want you to be happy and cheerful all the time. Well you may not have been happy and cheerful before you had cancer. You were gonna have days when you were down, you were like that before you know. And you still have to do the mundane things. You still have to go to Tesco's, you still have to clean your house, you still have to go to work. But on the positive side of things it does give you a different perspective. Maybe things you got worried about before you think well maybe they're not quite so important but I still sometimes find that I still, I don't prioritise. I still get worried about things that are not important but my personality is not going to change overnight. You know I can maybe realise is it really important that I clean the house today so things are not gonna change dramatically. I found that afterwards I was definitely more assertive. Whereas before I would maybe think oh I don't like to make a fuss or, I did think well no, I'm going to say this or I do feel that this isn't right. So that was good definitely.

Some women said they had become more assertive, compassionate or tolerant towards others, less worried about bills and day to day things or more willing to put themselves first. One explains how her attitude to life has changed.

 

Describes how she feels happier than before she had cancer.

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 30
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I'm quite positive about the future. I'm studying and so, I'm studying criminology and so I'm busy with my studies now and at this moment my worry is not cancer, it's my studies. And I do feel very positive. I think, I don't know I don't think cancer will come back, or if it comes back I'll fight it again. So I'm very positive. I do feel very happy. I feel happier than before. And I don't complain about little things like bills to pay or because it's cold or because it's raining, I do feel much happier. And I feel much healthier as well. I don't know why but I feel stronger than before.

Can you say a bit more about that? About how you feel and the effect its had on your life?

Yes. It makes you think different. I used to grumble another bill to pay, always cold and raining, oh why is everything wrong with my life and now I don't anymore. Like I said I used to live in another flat and when they wanted to sell it. I say 'OK we have to move yeah but its not the end of the world. But I knew for a fact that if it was before the cancer I would go oh why, why, why has this happened' I would grumble and grumble. 

I feel more relaxed now, I don't know I feel a very relaxed person now. I feel very happy. I just, what shall I say, I love life now, I'm happy. I might not be rich, I might not have nice house, nice car but I'm happy. I wouldn't change my life. I'm very, very happy.

Many women recalled being extremely worried about any symptoms they had after treatment which they feared might be a recurrence. Some said this worry had lessened over time. One young woman explains how she feels about the future one year after her treatment.

 

Explains how she worried about every symptom after her treatment but felt supported by her GP.

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Age at interview: 46
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 36
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There were still nagging doubts, I'd be a liar if I said there weren't. Even now sometimes I sort of think oh I wonder what if. I became very aware of every ache, pain, itch, lump, bump, you name it, and I probably went backwards and forwards to my GP more during the first couple of years after that than I'd ever been at all in my life, including the times when I went during my pregnancies for ante natal and so on. I'd sort of feel a lump and I'd think well has that always been there or is that new, is it something to worry about or not? And I'd go to the GP and particularly when my new GP was there, I said to her one day "You must think I've turned into a hypochondriac." And she said "I'd rather you came to see me 100 times or more and me be able to say to you "That's okay, it's nothing to worry about, it's just whatever or that's okay," than for you to sit at home and worry and get yourself, work yourself up into a major stress, or to ignore something which could be important." She said "So don't worry about it, come as often as you need to," and she was great. So that was good.
 
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One year after treatment she copes with fears of recurrence by thinking positively.

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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I don't think about it on a day to day basis now and I think to myself, I think the radiotherapy's sorted it out. So hopefully it won't come back. And that's how I view it. I think I'm fine and that's all you can say. You can't think oh well I'm fine, what about in another year. You can only go on a day, well I feel fine now. So if it did come back I would have to deal with it, I'd have to deal with it. There's nothing else you can do. You have to deal with it and say well right, what'll happen now and I would have thought it would be chemo and radio, whatever, but I don't think I'm gonna die, I don't think I'm gonna die. I think these things are very curable now and think calmly, definitely think calmly rather than panicking straightaway.

Some said that they had felt very anxious before and during their check-up appointments but several had found these appointments had got easier over time. One woman always planned a treat immediately after her appointments which she said made them easier to deal with. In contrast, a few said they had not been worried before check-ups because they felt very well, had no symptoms and were taking part in all their activities again.

 

Explains that having check-ups has got easier with time.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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The first couple of times I went back I was quite anxious and I suppose being in the same place, it just brings back all the memories of being there and how scared you were and I think you're sort of quite relieved when you go home. I've just been actually, I go every year just after Christmas and I've just been and the more time goes on you know it becomes better, much better.

What happens at the check-up?

They just do a smear, ask if you're feeling OK. I think I had a scan once. I'm just trying to think, I think I've had a scan once. And might sort of do an all over the body type check. But now because I suppose its five or six years they generally just ask me do I feel OK, have I got any problems, do I feel OK. And do a smear and that's it and then I wait for the results.
 

Explains that she was not worried prior to check-ups because she feels so well.

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 51
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How did you feel before you were going for your first three month check-up?

Very positive, I felt well you know I felt, I was playing tennis again, I felt very fit, I felt well so very positive yes. And every time I go in there I just sort of breeze in and I would be astounded if they told me there was a problem actually. It would probably knock me back quite hard because I feel fine. I'm not getting any symptoms of anything and I feel well.
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Last reviewed July 2017.

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