Katie O’Brien, a stylist at David Marshall salon, Dublin, talked to us two years about her experience and why she’s spreading the word about cervical checks.
The main reason I wrote this article is to spread awareness to girls of my age and older. I didn’t have any symptoms but I had cancer. Early detection is vital. That’s why screening is so important.
In September 2013, I went for a routine smear test. I was 25 at the time. I had no reasons to go, I went because I had gotten that letter in the post from Cervical Check asking me to come in for my free smear test, given to every woman at the age of 25. Two weeks later, I had a call from my doctor to tell me that the smear had come back showing abnormal cells. My GP told me it was nothing to worry about, it was completely normal and it happened all the time. That really put my mind at ease and, after I spoke to a few friends who told me the same thing had happened to them, I stopped worrying.
My GP sent me to Holles St Maternity Hospital for another type of smear called a colposcopy. This is where a liquid dye is applied to the cervix to help identify any changes to the cells. While I was there I also had a biopsy. I hardly even knew what a biopsy was, I just assumed it was all part of the procedure.
Two weeks later I was in London with my boyfriend when I got a phone call from Holles St. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I was about to hear; they had found a tumor in my cervix. I had cervical cancer. So many thoughts went through my head; I was only 25 and had shown no symptoms whatsoever. Girls of my age don’t get cancer. There was no history of cancer in my family at all. How could this happen? I thought about my lifestyle, my diet, trying to find a cause but in reality I was just unfortunate.
Back in Ireland, I met with the doctors at Holles St, who explained what would happen next and how I would be treated. They took into account my age and knew that I wanted to be able to have kids in the future. They were absolutely brilliant. I’ve never met a group of people who have been so helpful and caring in all of my life. I was given an MRI scan to detect how serious the cancer was. The days after the scan were tough while I waited for the results which would basically tell me if I had to have a hysterectomy or not and would show how far the cancer had spread.
The results, thankfully, were the best I could have hoped for. I didn’t have to have to have a hysterectomy, chemotherapy or radiation. I had a cone biopsy, which removed a cone shape from my cervix and took away the tumor. It was all done under anesthetic in a day. It was a success, removing all the cancer and precancerous cells. I recovered over that Christmas and went back to work on the 6th of January. Ihad an operation (on February 11th) to remove lymph nodes. It’s mainly precautionary. They also put a stitch in the cervix for when I have kids in the future because I now have very little of my cervix left and it will just help to support my womb. I got the results of the lymph nodes and they came back clear. I’m now clear of cancer and on the mend from the last operation. I’ve come out okay now and my main goal is to now spread awareness.
The team at Holles St were incredible – Dr Donal O’Brien, Helen Craig and all the staff. I cannot thank them enough.
Editor: Katie wrote this article for us two years ago, she has since had a baby girl since and provided us with a postscript on her life since having cervical cancer.
After I had cervical cancer I had to go to Holles Street (The National Maternity Hospital) for a colposcopy (a smear test but more horrible) every 6 months for 2 years. My results back have been clear every time. I had one just the other day actually. I’m waiting on the results at the moment but I’m not worried at all. I don’t have to go back again until this time next year, so my check-ups are now yearly.
Last September I had a baby girl called Olivia by caesarean section in Holles Street. She’s now 4 months old and is doing great. My worry when I first found out that I had cervical cancer was that I wouldn’t be able to have children. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.
If I hadn’t gone for my first free smear test with CervicalCheck when I was 25, the cancer may have spread and things could have been much worse. I dread to think what could have happened if I hadn’t availed of it.
I would like my story to be as positive as possible. I urge ALL women aged 25 to 60 to attend for their regular smear tests with CervicalCheck.
I’d also like for us women to talk to each other more about cervical screening. Talk to your mother, daughter, friend, colleague.. Tell them that regular cervical screening is vital. Tell them that a smear test only takes a few minutes, is free, and really could save your life. Let’s look after each other.
This week is European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. Through CervicalCheck, women aged 25 to 60 can avail of free regular smear tests from over 4,700 registered practitioners of their choice. The Pearl of Wisdom campaign highlights these important messages and encourages women to check when their next free smear test is due, or avail of their first test if they have not yet done so. This can be done on www.cervicalcheck.ie or by calling CervicalCheck on Freephone 1800 45 45 55. Visit the Irish Family Planning Association’s website for more information.