• Lea

Interview with a Cervical Cancer Hero

Lovely Donna, firstly, tell us a bit more about yourself💜?

We had the pleasure of speaking to Donna and hear more about her journey from a clear pap smear to being diagnosed with cervical cancer, going through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. Donna is happily married, has three boys and lives in the Uk.

How did you find out that you have cervical cancer stemming from HPV🔎?

After having given birth to three boys, having more discharge to me was normal. In June 2020, the discharge increased and I assumed I had an infection. Thinking it was bacterial vaginosis, I was prescribed antibiotics. The discharge went away, but blood clots started to appear. Big ones too. The dates didn’t add up so the possibility of a miscarriage was ruled out. A message to my doctor opened up the floodgates to a journey no one anticipated.

The initial examinations such as my up-to-date smears, internal and external ultrasounds all came back clear. No signs of HPV or any mention of cervical cancer. But after having bled twice during sexual intercourse, I messaged my doctor again. With the ongoing pandemic, we have an app in place, where you can email your doctors and they assess whether you need to have an appointment or they can prescribe something over the phone. Having had the possibility of talking to doctors during my lunchtime, especially as a teacher, I voiced my concerns right away. Otherwise, I probably would have held out a bit longer, which is scary in itself. So I can’t praise our doctors at the NHS enough!

I was at the hospital within 2 weeks since I received the clear ultrasounds in July 2020. August 17th, I was at the hospital for a colposcopy. Initially, they thought I needed an Ectropion (Cervical ectropion, also known as cervical erosion and ectopy, is a common condition caused when cells from inside the cervical canal, known as glandular cells (soft cells), are present on the outside surface of the cervix (neck of the womb)). The nurses were going to scrape these extra blood cells off that they thought had developed. But during the treatment, one of the nurses asked if she could do something else while she was at it. Ultimately, she performed a biopsy, I did not know this at the time. The bad news came right after. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I had a six centimeter big unwanted guest in my cervical area. As soon as the cancer word was voiced, in my head I was thinking, am I gonna die? Many scary questions were to follow. At that point we did not know the stage, or if it had spread. So I had to have an MRI and a PET scan to get it diagnosed as Stage 2B as luckily it had not spread.

What was your knowledge about HPV and cervical cancer before having been diagnosed with it?

When you think of cancer, I would always think of breast cancer at the time. Check your breasts, but cervical cancer was unknown to me. Like the renowned TV series ‘Miranda’, I’m very British when it comes to talking about things like this! I even find it hard to say to word sex which my friends laugh about!

My knowledge about HPV evolved around the pap smear. I always thought that a clear smear means you've not got cancer, but it's not like that anymore. And I think we've got to realize that there are tests to things and 98% chances, it's great, and it'll pick up the HPV. But those remaining 2%, who have cervical cancer without HPV, can have a devastating effect. My family has always been cancer free and had positive pap smears, so I thought I was in the clear as well. Throughout my life, I regularly went to the doctor, did my smears and trusted in the results.

How did this diagnosis influence your life🔍 and your mental wellbeing?

Before the diagnosis, I didn’t even take paracetamol for headaches etc.. and just got through and I was and still am afraid of needles.

So moving from this to suddenly weekly chemotherapy and blood tests was a huge change. I didn't even know what chemotherapy really was.