A routine appointment that could save your life

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Emily Birrane with her daughters Fina, 1 and Baya, 3 Emily Birrane with her daughters Fina, 1 and Baya, 3

THIS week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. Emily Birrane who was recently diagnosed with cervical cancer tells her story in the hope that she can raise awareness into this disease.

MOTHER of two Emily Birrane was diagnosed with cervical cancer last year and is now urging all women to keep their routine smear tests and young girls to take up a new vaccination in the fight against the disease.

Emily was diagnosed at the age of 28 and is currently in remission. She remembers clearly receiving the news she had dreaded. “On Wednesday June 23 I received the phone call that changed my life forever. I was on a delayed train journey to London with my two young children, husband and parents when I got a call from the colposcopy nurse informing me that I needed to attend Gloucester’s Royal Hospital urgently the following day.

“The nurse never said the big ‘C’ word but we both knew what she was talking about. My body began to shake and I had to pass the phone to my Mum as I couldn’t speak,” explained Emily.

Emily, who lives near Tetbury, was officially diagnosed with cervical cancer on June 24. “It’s a date I shall never forget,” she said.

Cervical cancer is caused mainly by the sexually transmitted virus HPV (human papillomavirus).

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Each year nearly 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK and 1,000 women will die from the disease.

After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women aged 35 and under.

It is estimated that early detection and treatment through cervical screening smear tests can prevent up to 75 percent of cervical cancers from developing. Despite this, numbers of women attending for smear tests fell in 2009-10.

The UK’s national HPV immunisation plan aims to vaccinate all girls up to the age of 18 and is more than 99 percent effective in preventing cervical abnormalities associated with two of the main cancer causing strains of the HPV virus.

Emily’s journey began when a routine smear test (her first for three years) found moderate cell changes to the cervix that required further examination with a colposcopy.

She had also noticed slight bleeding after intercourse but put this down to having given birth to her second child five months previously.

The colposcopy revealed cervical cancer that was in its early stages, but of an aggressive nature.

Emily managed to remain positive during the early days of her diagnosis. “I spent a lot of time on the phone telling family and close friends about my diagnosis and staying positive and reassuring them.”

However, there were dark days. “There were times when I would let my mind wander, particularly when I was alone. I started thinking about death and most importantly my little girls. All the moments in their lives that I would miss.”

Fortunately an MRI revealed that the cancer had not spread, but a radical hysterectomy (complete removal of the uterus, cervix and top section of the vagina) was required, removing any chance Emily and husband Kevin had of adding to their family.

Six months on and the impact of the illness is fading, although will never be forgotten. “I not only have to live with the consequences of the operation I have had but will always have to live with the possibility of this devastating disease returning. The fear of the big C is always there, waiting to rear its ugly head.”

She attends day therapy sessions at Cotswold Care Hospice for counselling and received help and advice from charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Emily now wants to throw herself into raising awareness of this disease and fundraising.

“I can fully understand why women fail to attend their regular cervical smears,” she said. “But as always I have to remind myself that if I hadn’t had mine, I might not be here.”

CERVICAL CANCER: THE SYMPTOMS*

There are usually no symptoms with abnormal cells in their pre-cancerous state and sometimes also no symptoms with early stage cervical cancer. However, there are some recognised symptoms associated with the disease.

These include:

Abnormal bleeding: after or during sexual intercourse, or between periods

Post menopausal bleeding, if you are not on HRT or have stopped it for six weeks

Unusual and/or unpleasant vaginal discharge

Discomfort or pain during sex

Lower back pain.

(If you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms or are concerned about any new symptom you should make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible. Remember, these symptoms can be associated with many other conditions that are not cancer related.)

* Information from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

For further help go to www.jostrust.org.uk or call 020 7936 7498.

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