Meet Kate...

Kate, cervical cancer

When were you diagnosed and what with?

Diagnosed with Stage 1b1 cervical cancer in September 2015

How did you find out you had cancer?

Following a routine smear test at my GP surgery.

What did you think and feel when you were diagnosed?

I was shocked and scared, it was so unexpected.  I’d had no symptoms at all.  Going for a smear test was just one of those things you do, like the dentist or getting your eyes tested, I’d never thought much about what they were testing for.  There was a lot of information to take in, and lots of logistical things to arrange – I am a single parent, with no family close by, and my son was 3 at the time – so I focussed on dealing with the practical arrangements and tried not to think about the cancer too much. 

How did the people around you react?

Everyone was very shocked and upset; seeing everyone else’s reactions was overwhelming at times.  People were very keen to do their bit to help though, which was heart warming.  I stayed with my sister while I was being treated and my son stayed with my cousin.

What treatment did you have?

I had a radical hysterectomy (top third of vagina, cervix, womb, surrounding tissue) and removal of pelvic lymph nodes.  My bladder was damaged during surgery, so also had to have that repaired.

How did you feel through treatment?

In shock, mostly. It all happened so fast.  Scared of what was happening, of not getting better.  Overwhelmed by a sense of loss – of trust in my body, of a carefree life, changes in relationships with people.

What happened after treatment finished?

I went back home with my son and slowly tried to get on with life again.  I was physically weak, after lying or shuffling around with a catheter for a few weeks, and emotionally exhausted. After surgery I was given the ‘all clear’, so the expectation was that I would be back to normal in a few weeks. That’s what I was aiming for.  Then I started to realise that this expectation was completely unrealistic… and I felt lost and alone.

How did you get involved with Shine?

I realised I was going to need support to get better.  My friends and family had been great with the practical help, but they were not equipped to help me come to terms with my experience.  I found out about Shine at the Dimbleby Cancer Care advice centre, which is based out of Guy’s Hospital where I was diagnosed. At the time I didn’t really know what sort of support I was going to need, so I decided the best approach would be to try everything!  I went to my first Shine night out four months after my treatment.

What difference has Shine made to you?

I don’t think I was really able to understand what had happened to me until I met other people who had gone through a similar thing. After treatment I felt very sad and alone: people had been so supportive, but as soon as I was pronounced ‘cured’, they went back to their old lives.  I couldn’t do that, I felt shut out of my old life, but by connecting with people through Shine, I have found a new sense of belonging and the confidence to build a new life for myself.  I am so grateful to have my Shine friends!

How do you feel now about your experiences? What‘s been the biggest change you’ve faced?

This experience will never leave me; surgery left me with lymphoedema in my legs, which needs to be managed on a daily basis. Coming to terms with the changes in my body is going to take time, but I am getting there.

The emotional impact has also been huge.  It hits in waves, and often at unexpected times. I am a lot more anxious and feel a lot more vulnerable than I used to; I am learning to be a lot more gentle with myself.

I’ve come a long way in 15 months, though.  I feel a lot wiser, a lot more aware of what I want in my life, and am very motivated to make the most of the experience – for myself and others. 

Writing my blog has helped me process my experiences and connect with others by sharing it:

If you could give one piece of advice to yourself before your what would it be?

Don’t spend too much energy trying to get back to where you were before; but focus on what you have now, and slowly, gently build on that.  Trust yourself and be your own best friend.