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22nd - 28th January 2018 is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, a time to raise awareness about the diagnosis and that it is preventable. To mark it, Marianne has written about her experience of treatment for cervical cancer, and how important it is to go for smear tests.

Marianne is 41 and lives in Northern Ireland, where she works as a legal secretary and also sings in a local wedding band. She was first diagnosed with cervical cancer in July 2017. She had a radical hysterectomy with lymph node removal which successfully removed the tumour.Marianne

I had been having abnormal bleeding along with lower back pain for a few months, but just thought the pill I was taking wasn't being as effective as it should be, so I wasn't too worried. I had not had a smear in almost four years, so a good friend and work colleague stressed to me several times to get one ASAP. I booked an appointment in May 2017, and the results came back as abnormal. I was then called for a colposcopy in June. In July I was called in to collect the results, which is when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer (also known as adenocarcinoma). I also had to have an MRI scan to define the staging of my cancer and the result of this was stage 1b1. The waiting for results is always the worst part and you worry yourself a lot during these times and think the worst. Nothing will ever really prepare you for being told you have cancer but you do accept it and manage to get on with your life.

My surgery was scheduled for September and I came through this successfully. I also had endometriosis and this was also taken away with my tumour. I was in surgery for around five hours. I tried not to let my experience with cancer get me down too much but I did have some very dark days where I would cry and feel desolate. Once I got this out of my system I felt better. Releasing your feelings helps a great deal and it's okay to cry and let it all out. I just got on with my life, and also shared my story on Facebook to try and raise as much awareness as I could for cervical cancer. I received a good response and lots of people shared my story and sent me well wishes, which also helped me a great deal. I did this to try and highlight how important smears are because it was my smear that caught mine so early on. I have since read that the percentage of women going for their smears is at an all-time low; this is a travesty because women need to realise how important smears are in detecting cervical cancer and to look out for the signs of this silent killer.

The aftermath of having cancer and major surgery has been up and down, but I would say I have handled it better than I thought I ever would. I went back to work after six weeks and this helped me a great deal because I felt I was getting my life back to 'normal', so to speak. I have found that I am more irritable and less tolerant of people and silly, meaningless things, and try to live my life a bit more than I did before. When you are faced with your own mortality your whole outlook on life changes considerably and you want to try and have more meaningful experiences, instead of obtaining material things that don't last. Memories last, things don't. I also try to have a more positive outlook and tell myself it could have been so much worse. There are people much worse off and I am one of the lucky ones! I still do have the odd bad day but I get through it and pick myself up.

I had my four month check-up on 9th January 2018, and told my doctor that I have been having abnormal bleeding again. I am currently awaiting the results of this. The anxiety of waiting for results is a bit daunting but you just have to get on with things and take on whatever comes. You cannot change things and there is no point fretting over something you can't change. You just have to stay positive and keep fighting.

My advice to all women would be please go for your smears; it is five minutes out of your day. Don't be embarrassed, because the nurses have seen it all and they are there to help you. Please also listen to your body and if you notice any changes, no matter how small, or anything that doesn't seem right, go straight to your doctor - it could save your life.


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