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'a cancer diagnosis is hard to comprehend' Caitriona's Story

Caitriona was diagnosed shortly after the birth of her first baby. She had been suffering with pelvic pain and bleeding in the months following the birth.

After several visits to her GP and A&E feeling unwell, she was later diagnosed with Cervical Cancer. This is her story…

I had been attending a colposcopy clinic since 2012 as I had abnormal smears. It was suggested that I didn't need any treatment at this stage as I was young, fit and didn’t smoke plus I didn’t have any family so rather than complete invasive treatment they would monitor me for the next few years. The cells continued to stay abnormal, so they performed a LLETZ treatment in August 2015. I became pregnant with Ava in November 2015.

Then in February 2016, I had a follow up smear which showed abnormal cells again. As I was pregnant my follow up appointment was pushed back to later in the year. After Ava was born I was bleeding, experiencing night sweats, had pain in my left and right hip and pelvic region. At my post-natal six week check-up I mentioned this to my doctor who stated it was just pregnancy hormones especially as I was breastfeeding. No examination took place but I was told that things would improve.

Two weeks later there was no improvement so I attended a different GP who suspected it was an infection (I had a retained placenta after having Ava). A week later I still wasn't feeling any better, at this stage Ava was sleeping most of the night but I was the one that was awake with pain and night sweats, so the GP suggested that I attend A&E. I waited for 4 hours with Ava and her granny. When the attending examined me she was extremely dismissive and put it down to an over anxious, hormonal first time mum recovering from labour, so I was sent home. A week later I attended the colposcopy clinic per my scheduled appointment, the minute I was examined I knew something was wrong with the way the doctor reacted. She mentioned bleeding from the cervix which I knew immediately was cancer but I pushed it to the back of my mind thinking that it wasn’t possible as it takes years for cells to change, plus my sister who is one year old than me was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer 8 months previous, so I was thinking there was no way this could be happening…..48 hours later my fears were confirmed… I had cancer.

Paul and I were in compete shock. We couldn’t believe that this was happening to us. This was something that you read about in books or magazines, but we quickly had to accept that this was our new reality. After all the initial tests, I was eventually diagnosed with an aggressive mixed form of cervical cancer with node involvement. The treatment plan was intensive with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy. The team wanted my treatment to start straight away. I didn’t have the option to freeze my eggs so the choice of extending our family was taken away from us which we found heart-breaking and we still do to this day. I began my treatment on the 21st December 2016 which was also Paul’s birthday. Paul and Ava brought me to most of my appointments as did my sister and her husband. I received so much support from my family, Paul’s family and close friends that I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay them.

'Mummy's star has been great, because it provides so much support and it’s good to have other mum's with small babies to talk to and connect with. When I first got in touch, Pete called me, offering to help locate milk from a milk bank. I was breastfeeding Ava and my main concern at that stage was how she would manage when I was forced to stop feeding her once I'd started chemo. Pete was so understanding and helpful.'

There are other support groups out there, but for the most part I found that people attending the groups had their family reared and had already gone through menopause. While they offer support on so many different levels I found it hard that there wasn’t too many people who could feel my emotional pain of early menopause and the heartache that we could no longer provide Ava with a brother or sister.

Mummy’s star was great because there is a private forum where you can chat to mum's in a similar situation and they understand exactly where you are coming from. You can relate with each other. The support you receive is amazing. Even to this day I still continue to use the forum to discuss the side effects that the cancer treatment has left me with. Again, the forum is a brilliant place to discuss post cancer treatment. What Pete and his team do on a daily basis is wonderful and it has helped me, Paul and Ava in so many ways and it still continues to do so.

For anyone, a cancer diagnosis is hard to comprehend, as you are juggling with so many emotions on so many different levels, but when you have a small baby to care for it becomes mind blowing. However in saying that, when you have a small baby it does give you a whole new focus. Ava gave us strength we never knew we had. She made us smile and laugh every day. She filled our lives and our minds with all new things that a small baby brings other than just having cancer, going through treatment and knowing what it was doing to my body. She has been at my side every single day during this journey and I don't know how I would have managed had she not been around. She really is our little angel. Paul and I are so so proud of her xxx.'

Caitriona x

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