It’s the sixth most common female cancer and 70 new cases are discovered each year in Northern Ireland, some in younger women like Jade Goody. But two local survivors tell Jane Hardy there is life after diagnosis
‘I just want to tell Jade it’ll be all right’
Rhonda Moore (32), married to Clayton and mother of Emily (2), was the first woman in Northern Ireland to give birth after a diagnosis of cervical cancer. She says:
"Seeing the story about Jade Goody in the headlines has brought it all back to me. I do feel sympathy for her and I just want to tell her it’ll be all right.
I was told I had cervical cancer on June 9, I think, in the afternoon. I was 26, nearly 27 at the time and didn’t know what was coming. It was at the doctor’s surgery in South Tyrone. I’d been to have minor surgery — they scraped away some of the cells of the cervix after I’d had a few smear tests. Then I got a letter telling me to come back and get the results.
Dr Sidhu told me the news and I just went into shock. I went home and told my husband Clayton, then I phoned my mum. There were a few tears, yes. I didn’t know what to think. Clayton and I had only been married in April and one of my first thoughts was ‘Am I going to be able to have children?’ That’s the difference between my situation then and Jade Goody’s now. She’s already got children which is definitely a plus for her.
So one of my first questions to Dr Sidhu was ‘Can I have children?’ She had already spoken to consultant Dr John Price of the City Hospital about my case. And because I was young, they thought I could have this new operation, the trachelectomy (where two-thirds of the uterus is preserved and tissue repairs are made).
I saw Dr Price a few weeks later and had the operation on September 1. It was all pretty quick.
I was nervous as I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. They didn’t know if the cancer had spread. Then, when they found out it hadn’t and I could try for children, I was over the moon. But, of course, there were still no guarantees we’d have kids.
Clayton and I kind of didn’t talk about it, we just got on with things and thought whatever happened would happen. When I became pregnant, it was marvellous and scary at the same time. Scary because I’d been told there was a greater chance of miscarriage. So for the first few months, I was very careful and kind of walked on eggshells.
I still feel Emily’s a miracle — you kind of think ‘She’s mine and I can’t believe it’. She’s a very lively little girl.
Now we’re adding to our family. I’m going into hospital on September 10 to have the baby. It’s amazing — I’d hoped I’d have more children but, after Emily, we thought we’d see what happened. I’ve had very good medical treatment and look after my health a bit more now. I go for check-ups every six months. If I hadn’t had the smear test and had got pregnant without knowing I had cancer, then it could have spread through my body and I might not be here today.”
‘I had no sickness ... nothing at all’
Alison Hayes (38), mother of Jonathan (3) from Dungannon, is married to Alastair and works with him in the family fuel business. She says:
"It happened just before Christmas last year. I felt really fine and now I understand why cervical cancer is called the silent killer. I had no sickness, no tiredness, nothing at all.
My smear results had been coming back slightly abnormal since I had my wee boy in December 2004. Then in August 2006 I went for another smear test and it showed further abnormalities, so they suggested I have the cells lasered off. That scared me, so I went to see a doctor privately, and she said there was nothing to be worried about but that I should not have the procedure if I wanted another child. There was no urgency at that stage.
Last summer I went to her for a check-up and she said that things had got slightly worse and that I should definitely have the cells removed. That happened on December 5 last year.
Everything went well, and she said she would see me in six months’ time. But on December 12 — it’s a date I will never forget — I got the phone call to come and see her immediately. I was going down the motorway to work, but phoned my husband Alastair and turned around to wait for him at Craigavon and we went into the hospital together.
Words cannot describe what it was like. It’s unbelievable when you get a cancer diagnosis. I’d always thought It can’t be me, it’s always someone else. Plus I felt totally well. The news was that my cancer had been there for a while but was slow-progressing. I was told on the Wednesday and on the Friday I went for an MRI scan. I saw the consultant the following week who said that the best solution was a radical hysterectomy. I thought it was a small price to pay for me to be around for my family. My son Jonathan’s only three and a half.
From the day I heard the diagnosis to the operation was only three or four weeks, which was fantastic.
The worst thing is the waiting. People said Christmas was a terrible time for it to happen but I had a Christmas party to plan for my son, who was born on December 27, so I kept busy. We even had a Santa.
I went to the Ulster Clinic, which was fine, then had to wait a long week for what they’d removed to be analysed. That was dreadful. Fortunately, it turned out no further treatment was required.
The Jade Goody news has reminded me of my illness, but it’s always in my head anyway. I think, Well, aren’t I lucky?, since having the smear test really saved my life. This year, to try and give something back, I did the Race for Life with my sister and a friend and I managed to raise £12,500.”