Claire calls for better cervical cancer screening as she opens up about her diagnosis
A young woman fighting stage four cervical cancer has embarked on an awareness campaign amongst her peers to alert them to the potentially deadly condition.
Claire Holmes (27), from Lisburn, was devastated when she was told she had cervical cancer in May - six months after she first went to the GP with abdominal pain.
Currently, women aged 25-49 years will be invited for cervical screening every three years but campaigners, now including Claire and her fiance Ryan Hegarty, argue this isn't regular enough.
While Claire was tested routinely for cervical cancer, she feels the three-year gap between the tests is too long.
Along with her partner, she is calling for more frequent testing and a lowering of the age limit for women undergoing their first test.
It was during the three years between screening tests that Claire began to experience pain in her lower abdomen.
She first attended her GP last October, returning again in January, but cervical cancer tests weren't part of the early investigation.
She said: "I have no doubt that if they had investigated further in January that I would have had, whilst the same diagnosis, a different staging.
"Cervical cancer is staged 1-4 with 4 being the worst, so I am keen to get my message across to all girls, no matter what age, when it comes to your health and your body be persistent with doctors."
Ryan, who is fully behind the awareness campaign, said her determination was inspirational.
"Claire was up to date with her smear tests, which she had when she was 25, but from October last year she had been going to her GP with abdominal and back pain.
"With the symptoms she was having then, a simple test at that time would have been ideal, but it wasn't until May this year that Claire was finally diagnosed with cervical cancer," he said. "Claire was being treated for suspected kidney stones from January but then she was bleeding so much she was sent to A&E where she actually saw a gynaecologist who suspected it was cancer.
"She got a biopsy that confirmed it was stage four, which was a shock."
Ryan added: "Claire is a really positive person and she has managed to stay positive throughout her treatment. We even managed to climb Slieve Donard, which was something she really wanted to do, and we are just back from Strandhill in Co Sligo where we also climbed Knocknarea and she just nailed it, she is so inspirational."
One of the innovative events the couple hopes will increase awareness of the illness was the Brave to Shave day held last weekend at Bow Lane Hair salon in Lisburn, where three members of staff shaved the heads of 60 people.
Ryan said: "This is not something either I or Claire or, I think, a lot of young people give any thought to because you don't imagine it is ever going to affect you, but it is something people need to be aware of and that's what we are trying to do.
"I felt I just had to do something - I know there are many people fighting different cancers but I feel that the screening for this disease needs reviewed.
"I also understand women to be nervous of having this test done - I can't stress enough the importance of early diagnosis.
"The more we as a group of family and friends can do, the more media presence we can achieve and, therefore, if it makes one young girl go to the doctor then I feel we have been successful."
Julia Graham, owner of Bow Lane Hairdressing, added: "Claire is a family friend, I was obviously keen to help and show my support for such a good cause, but as a member of the business community in Lisburn I have been overwhelmed at the support for this local girl."
Ryan has set up an event page called 'Fighting Cancer' on his Facebook page, which he can be contacted through.