Written by Sam Wonfor

Health

Cervical Screening Awareness Week: Cross that smear off your ‘to do’ list

As the campaign to raise awareness of cervical screening continues, Sam Wonfor talks to a young woman whose first smear saved her life.

Frankie Appleyard in a Jo's Trust T-shirt

Frankie Appleyard found the Jo’s Trust forums invaluable through her diagnosis and treatment.

In the summer of 2013, 26-year-old Frankie Appleyard had just moved house. She’d had a letter from her GP at her old address inviting her for a smear, but had filed it under ‘things to do’. Thankfully, her new GP was all over her medical records.

“I hadn’t received a letter at my new address and although I knew I was eligible to start having smears when I turned 25, it wasn’t the top of my priorities to get done.

I went to see my doctor and she pointed out I hadn’t had my smear test yet; so I had it done and thought that was that.

They called me in about a week later and said they had found some abnormal results. Again, I didn’t think anything much of it. I’d heard about other people this had happened to, and they’d all been fine when they got checked out.

And I felt fine.

I had to go for a colposcopy (a procedure to find out whether there are abnormal cells on or in a woman’s cervix or vagina) at the hospital so they could take a biopsy. They said I’d find out in six weeks. I really thought everything would be fine.

Everyone thinks they’re indestructible. Especially when you’re young. Cancer happens to other people. To older people.

Six weeks later, they invited me in to get my results and told me I had stage one cervical cancer. They said the tumour was about the size of a grape and was quite high up the cervical canal. It was hiding.

“I think I was in denial at first. I told my sister straight away, but it took a long time for me to tell anyone else. I think I thought that telling people made it real.”

After an MRI scan and an appointment with an oncology consultant, they told me I’d have to have a hysterectomy. But obviously at 26 and with no children, this wasn’t something that I wanted to do.

I knew that I wanted children in the future but I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, so it wasn’t something I was planning. But to be told that the chance to have children could be taken away from you is definitely a wakeup call.

I did loads of online research. Of course when you’re diagnosed with something, the first thing you do is get it into Google!

I found the Jo’s Trust website and found loads of information on there about different treatment options, one of which was a trachelectomy where they remove the tumour and some of the surrounding tissue, but not your uterus.

They gave me all the pros and cons of each option and made it clear that the one I wanted was more risky, because they couldn’t be sure that they’d get all the cancer cells. But it was a risk I was willing to take.

They removed the tumour, which had a certain number of healthy cells surrounding it and 11 lymph nodes, which were all clear, so I didn’t need to have any more treatment after that.

This had all happened between the beginning of July and October, 2013.

“Everyone thinks they’re indestructible. Especially when you’re young. Cancer happens to other people. To older people.”

I think I was in denial at first. I told my sister straight away. I called her from the hospital when I was diagnosed, but it took a long time for me to tell anyone else. I think I thought that telling people made it real. I waited around six weeks, I think, before I told my mum and dad. I didn’t want them to have to worry about it until I knew what I was dealing with.

My family were amazing. My mum had been treated for breast cancer three years before, so this was another blow for the family, but everyone was so supportive. My sister lived in York and I lived in Leeds at the time. She came to look after me for a couple of weeks.

I used to go on the Jo’s Trust forums a lot. They have different rooms for different stages. I was on there every day, even after I had my operation. There are loads of people sharing their experiences and it’s really helpful. You’ve never had to deal with any of this before so having that online community is so valuable.

I was single when I was diagnosed. About a month after my treatment I started seeing someone who I’d known for 10 years. That was nice to have someone who’d been around and by my side during the treatment. I had been concerned about having relationships in the future and how I would explain what I’d been through to a new partner. But I didn’t have to.

“They told me I’d have to have a hysterectomy. But obviously at 26 and with no children, this wasn’t something that I wanted to do.”

I’ve always had a positive outlook but going through this definitely kick-started me into doing things I’d wanted to do for ages. I’d always wanted to move to London but never got around to it. I moved to London.

I got a new job because I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. I wanted to make things happen and I found the confidence to do that. I was desperate to get back to a normal routine as soon as I could. I didn’t want to miss out on anything.

Up until now I have had to have check-ups with my consultant every four months. At the latest one, they said I can start going every six months. So that’s good. They do a smear test while I’m there and check everything is OK.

I’m still in no rush to have children, but when the time comes I think it will make it even more special, knowing that I came close to it never happening.”

www.jostrust.org.uk

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Written by Sam Wonfor

Journalist and mother-of-two who gets lightbulb invention moments while breastfeeding. Well, she had one. Loves dogs and the thought of exercise. Currently receiving treatment for a deep addiction to Malteaster Bunnies.@samwonfor