So in the words of the legendary Julie Andrews, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”. On 21st April 2015 I gave birth to my second son, a beautiful little rainbow baby called Noah. I had a homebirth and I can say with certainty it was the most incredible experience of my life. I came out of it feeling superhuman – leaping tall buildings in a single bound would have been nothing to me. And everything was wonderful, until it wasn’t.
Anyone reading this who has given birth will know that a certain amount of bleeding post-partum is par for the course. It normally subsides within a few short weeks and that’s the end of it. But in my case, it didn’t end. I was told repeatedly that it was probably hormonal and would stop in time. Five months later and that excuse was wearing thin with me. So I got stubborn and a little bit stroppy and insisted on further investigation. A very nice consultant obstetrician agreed with me and booked me in for an examination under anaesthetic. I spent a day in CUMH, had the procedure and was told to expect the results in about a a week. When I got a call two days later to tell me to come back in, I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. But even playing out the worst case scenario in my head I didn’t expect it to be cancer. But that’s what it was.
When Steve and I were led into a little room with comfortable armchairs and a box of tissues on the table we knew things weren’t looking good. And the doctor confirmed that when she told me the lab had identified cervical cancer cells in the samples she’d taken. Nothing on earth can prepare you to hear the word cancer and I’m not sure how long we sat there before we were able to speak again. It was a word I never thought would apply to me. I was 33 years old, had never had an abnormal smear test, didn’t smoke, hardly drank and was in perfect health as far as I knew.
Things moved very quickly after that. Two hours after getting the news I met with a gynae-oncologist who outlined the situation for me. They knew I had cancer but at that point they couldn’t say exactly how bad things were. So I was booked for a PET scan and an MRI and sent home to wait for the scans and deal with the news. I was lucky in that I only had to wait two weeks for the scans and got the results a few days later – for many people the wait is much longer. And then I was told that I had Stage 2 cervical cancer. That meant surgery wasn’t an option for me – we were gone past the point where that would be effective. So I was going to need radiotherapy and chemotherapy but the good news was that I had a 60-70% chance of total remission. The bad news was that the treatment was going to put me into menopause so there would be no more babies. We’d always hoped for a big family so that news devastated us. But I knew if I was going to get through the next few months I had to put those feelings to one side temporarily and focus on the treatment.
All of a sudden I had a whole team of people surrounding me – a Radiation Oncologist, a Medical Oncologist and an Oncology Liaison Nurse to name a few. And within a a few short weeks I started treatment. I had 33 sessions of radiotherapy (every weekday for almost seven weeks), five sessions of chemotherapy (once a week) and three sessions of brachytherapy or high-dose internal radiotherapy. It was hard but doable and I got through it without too many side effects. I never thought of myself as tough before this but with two little boys depending on me I didn’t have any choice but to get up and get on with it. They needed their mom more than I needed to wallow.
So I got through the eight weeks of treatment and before I knew it it was December and time to focus on Christmas. I started seeing a counsellor to try and make sense of everything that had happened and to start dealing with the fact that I wouldn’t be having more children. And I got on with my life. It was going to be March before my first follow up appointment and scan so in the meantime I went to counselling, got back to relative normality and tried not to think about it too much. And then in March I went for an MRI to see if the treatment had worked. I never thought that it wouldn’t, until I had to wait a week for those results. But to my indescribable joy, I was told that it had. There were no visible signs of the tumour and everything looked great. I would need checkups every three months for the next three years and wouldn’t be out of the woods for five years but it looked promising.