A young woman is fighting advanced cervical cancer after doctors brushed off her symptoms as growing pains. Around three years back, Kirstie Wilson, 20, from Bexleyheath, Kent, was diagnosed with the disease, after she had refused to trust the original diagnosis. She requested that she be referred to a specialist, subsequent to being dismissed by her GP thrice. Abnormal cells were detected after she finally received the crucial smear test.
She underwent surgery and was given the all-clear, but the disease has now come back with a vengence. Presently, cancer has spread to her liver and spleen and chemotherapy is proving to be a useless procedure — for shrinking her tumors. Miss Wilson nonetheless hasn’t given up. She has constantly been searching for medical trials —- and has even started on one last month.
She said: ‘I had all the symptoms of cervical cancer but because I was 17 at the time, doctors ignored my concerns.’ ‘I was bleeding inbetween periods and I was in agony, but doctors diagnosed me with thrush and growing pains.’ ‘You know your own body and I knew there was something seriously wrong when the pain and bleeding persisted.’
After a total of three visits to her doctors Miss Wilson was finally referred to a specialist. ‘I wish I had been given a smear test when I first visited my doctor, as it might have saved my life,’ she said. For all women aged 25-64 NHS has made available a free cervical screening test, every three to five years.
Basically this test is not meant to detect cervical cancer, rather it identifies early abnormalities which, if left untreated, could develop into cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb). A sample of cells is picked from the cervix, and is forwarded to a laboratory for analysis. People detected with abnormal cells are called back for further investigation and, if needed, treatment. Presently the test is not offered routinely to women who’re less than 25 — as cervical cancer is really very rare in young women.
Miss Wilson underwent a surgery called radical trachelectomy in May 2012 — after being diagnosed with cancer. Her cervix was removed but she was assured that she would be able to have children in future. She remained cancer-free for almost two years after surgery. ‘I had smear tests every three months and every time they came back normal,’ Miss Wilson said.
But in April 2014 she was again hit by the cancer demon when her stomach became abnormally bloated. Miss Wilson said: ‘I looked about eight months pregnant and I was struggling to breathe.’ ‘I knew something was really wrong when I couldn’t keep up and dance with my friends on a night out.’
She arrived at A&E the following morning with her best friend Amy — and had two litres of fluid drained from her chest and a further eight litres from her stomach. The biopsy report confirmed that her cancer had returned. She then underwent intense chemotherapy — that left her devastated.
‘I was heartbroken when I realised the chemo would make my thick blonde hair fall out,’ she said. She was given a ‘cold cap treatment’ — to ensure safety of her hair follicles. This involved freezing her head to -4C during her chemotherapy so her hair follicles weren’t destroyed. ‘My hair did still fall out in clumps, but it meant I kept a little pony tail at the back and my scalp was still mainly covered with thin hair,’ she added.
But three months after chemotherapy, Kirstie’s tumours weren’t seem to be shrinking —- moreover, she had become immune to the drugs. NHS was helpless because there wasn’t any other treatment that it could offer to Miss Wilson and she was told to make a list of things she wanted to do before she became too ill. My dad then in desperation started looking for medical trials in the UK, Germany and Chicago. A month later medical a trial at the University College London Hospital became available to her. The new trial ignited a ray of hope in Kirstie, and now she’s hoping for a miracle.
Miss Wilson has till now raised more than £6,000 for Cancer Research and Macmillan alongside her friends and family. She added: ‘I just wanted to give something back to the charities that have helped me.’
This month Miss Wilson is scheduled for another CT Scan —- that’ll show whether her new treatment is working to shrink the tumours. She says, ‘I strongly believe that no matter your age a smear test should be given on demand.’
THE CERVICAL SCREENING PROGRAMME – WHAT IS IT AND WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
Basically this test is not meant to detect cervical cancer, rather it identifies early abnormalities which, if left untreated, could develop into cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb). A sample of cells is picked from the cervix, and is forwarded to a laboratory for analysis. People detected with abnormal cells are called back for further investigation and, if needed, treatment.
Presently the test is not offered routinely to women who’re less than 25 — as cervical cancer is really very rare in young women. As per Cancer Research UK statistics, not a single woman under the age of 20 died from cervical cancer between 2009-2011.
The lower age of 25 was raised from 20 after an advise by the Advisory Committee on Cervical Cancer Screening (ACCS) who found that cervical screening in younger women did more harm than good. According to the committee cell abnormalities in younger women usually vanished of their own accord, and said that sending young women for further tests and treatment meant, escalating the chances of the woman having pre-term delivery if she went on to have children, and could cause significant anxiety.
In countries such as Italy, France, Belgium and Ireland cervical screening is offered from the age of 25, whereas in Scotland, women are invited to be checked from the age of 20, though it is due to go up to 25 next year. In Australia women are invited from 18, Greece from 20, and in the US two years after women become sexually active.
SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL CANCER
Typical symptoms related to cervical cancer are:
- Abnormal bleeding: during or after 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