Share Your Story – Laura Lodge
Cervical Cancer Awareness Week
Laura is a busy new mum, a nurse and at the young age of 29 diagnosed with cervical cancer after a routine smear test. Here, Laura tells her story, the importance of smear tests and her hopes of setting up a new charity to help new parents facing cancer.
“Aged 29 I had all I could ever dream of, I was newly married and pregnant with our first baby. Whilst being pregnant I was called for my routine smear test but due to being pregnant and current guidelines I was advised that I would have to wait until 12 weeks post delivery. No problem, I thought as I had no cause for concern, or so I thought.
Fast forward a few months and our first little boy had arrived. As planned 12 weeks post delivery I booked in for my routine smear. I have always been religious at attending them. Other than slight changes found in my first smear, which was put down to the contraceptive pill I have never had any issues. I never had any signs or symptoms to cause me any concern.
Three weeks after my smear test I received a letter informing me that abnormal changes had been found on my smear test and to not ignore any further appointments. This is where my life began to dramatically change. I was called to see a gynaecologist who looked at my cervix and said although he could see the abnormal cells under the microscope, they were not cancer but would need removing under a general anaesthetic. My life went into turmoil as I had my little boy who was only 14 weeks old and exclusively breastfeeding.
I underwent the procedure to have the cells removed and two weeks later I received a phone call asking me to attend the clinic the following day and to not miss the appointment. It was this day I was told I had ‘squamous cell carcinoma’ of the cervix, which was HPV negative. I was 29 years old, with an 18 week old baby and this was meant to be on my maternity leave. Subsequently I had MRI and CT scans and I was told I had 1b1 cervical cancer. We hoped to avoid a hysterectomy but due to the depth of the tumour, it was my strongest chance of achieving a cure. Three months after attending that smear test, and two weeks after turning 30, with a 20 week old baby, I underwent an extended hysterectomy and bilateral inguinal sentinel node biopsies.
I can honestly say it was the hardest period of my life, not just for me but for my husband and family too. We were new parents and just learning how to be that when we also had to deal with me getting cancer too. My husband and my family have been amazing and so supportive. The minute I was diagnosed I knew I wanted to be honest and open with everyone about what was going on. I never wanted anyone to be scared to ask me anything or assume things.
I struggled a lot with bottling my emotions. I did not have time to be emotional or grieve about the hysterectomy as I was determined to continue breastfeeding throughout my journey. I didn’t want to have to stop feeding unless I was at risk of causing my baby harm, it was the one thing in all of this that I remained in control of. It gave me a focus when I needed it the most as I couldn’t feel sorry for myself as I someone much more vulnerable needed me. What saddened me the most was that every healthcare professional advised I stop breastfeeding although they had no strong rationale why. As a nurse myself, I knew I would never cause my baby harm but I also wanted to do the best for my baby so I took to researching lots about breastfeeding, cancer, tests and surgery. Throughout my whole journey, other than one 23 hour radioactive period, I managed to continue to feed. I am saddened that healthcare professionals are not up to date with evidence and there is a massive lack of support, something in the future that I want to change and support.
I have benefitted from some specialist oncology counselling and it has helped me come to terms with the changes in my body image as a result of my hysterectomy and lack of ability to have any future children.
I am six months on from my surgery now and a present do not require any further treatment other than six monthly follow ups for the next 10 years. This also includes a vault smear to ensure the cancer has not spread. This is similar to a smear test but in the space they created following my hysterectomy.
I was saddened to read recently that the Jade Goody affect has now worn off and the uptake of people attending their smear test is at an all time low. Why do I think this is? I think people are either embarrassed of the smear test, so don’t attend or put it off as they don’t think cancer will happen to them or life is to busy and it’s not top of their priorities. I can safely say if it wasn’t for my smear test I might not still be here. I cannot stress enough the importance of attending your smear test when called or if you notice any symptoms. A few minutes of undignified discomfort could save your life.
As I’ve mentioned I never had any signs or symptoms of cancer and I was fit and well, but here are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer to look out for…
- Abnormal bleeding – such as bleeding between menstrual periods, after sex, after a pelvic exam, or after menopause
- Discharge – that is unusual in amount, colour, consistency or smell
- Having to urinate more frequently
- Pelvic pain
- Painful urination
My dream now is to set up a charity called ‘My Treasure Chest’. The reason for the name is because my son is called Chester, and he has been my absolute treasure throughout all of this. I plan to help women and men who have been diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy and with children up to the age of three years old. Having experienced the emotional and financial strain of having cancer as a new parent, I would love to help others. I also have a passion and drive to support women who want to continue breastfeeding as I did, as I have learnt so much through this journey. I would like to provide family breaks and treat days and ongoing support to these families.
If anything my cancer has made me determined to live life to the full and enjoy what I’ve got rather than craving what I don’t have.
My ongoing message throughout this is ‘never fear your smear’, it might just save your life.”