Updated: Thursday, 13th August 2020 @ 11:08am

'Smear tests take seconds, cancer is forever': Rochdale mum reveals harrowing cervical cancer journey

'Smear tests take seconds, cancer is forever': Rochdale mum reveals harrowing cervical cancer journey

By Helen Le Caplain

“I feel butchered. I am now infertile and going through the menopause, but I’m one of the lucky ones.”

This is the startling admission 39-year-old business analyst Becky Sherry made when recalling her harrowing experience of surviving cervical cancer.

The Rochdale mum-of-two endured a radical hysterectomy last year involving the removal of her womb, ovaries, cervix and half of the vagina, followed by surgery to remove 34 lymph nodes from her pelvis and the lower part of her stomach.

And now on the anniversary of her life-saving operation, which coincides with Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, Becky is urging women to be in tune with their bodies and attend vital cervical screening tests. 

Becky had never had any problems with her menstrual cycle until November 2011 when she started to have irregular periods.

She attended a cervical screening which didn’t reveal anything untoward, but it was from that point that things got worse.

Becky became a regular fixture in the GP’s waiting room where she would sit in excruciating pain, and often in tears, desperate to get some answers about the pain and abnormal bleeding.

“I ticked every single box in terms of symptoms and was losing litres of bright red blood but the doctor didn’t listen to me and would say it might be something to do with my hormones or age,” she explained.

But convincing her GP that it wasn’t her age or hormonal changes causing the symptoms proved to be another story.

She continued going back to the doctors regularly suffering from pain, severe blood loss, anemia and extreme tiredness and in December 2012 decided enough was enough.

“I was in absolute agony and knew something wasn’t right. I went back to the doctors upset and was told I needed to calm myself down.

CAMPAIGNER: Becky (left) manning the stand with best friend Louise Hassall

“I sat there and said that I wasn’t leaving that doctors’ surgery until I got a referral.

“Who knows how long it would have taken to get an appointment, but I suddenly remembered I had BUPA cover with work.”

Becky contacted them and was seen by a doctor and then a gynecologist, who delivered the life-changing diagnosis on December 12 – her brother’s 40th birthday.

“I could tell from her face when she examined me and heard my symptoms that it was cancer,” Becky said.

“It was all surreal; I actually thought ‘thank God for that, someone is actually listening to me’. It was a relief in a way getting the diagnosis as I was always feeling tired.”

The gynecologist said from the symptoms alone she was able to diagnose it was cancer and that a biopsy would merely confirm its size and whether it had spread to other organs.

Becky said: “Christmas and New Year went by in a blur, I spent the whole time worrying about what size it was and if it had spread everywhere.

“I also knew that I had symptoms for 13/14 months, I just wrote myself off thinking ‘this has been in my body for this long it won’t be good news'.”

However Becky’s results came back in the January revealing she had a stage 1B2 tumour, giving an 85-90% chance of survival, which was 3cm in size but hadn’t spread to any other organs or tissue.

She was wheeled into theatre at St Mary’s hospital in Manchester on January 24 and had major surgery under the skillful hands of Mr Ali.

Following the operation Becky should have undergone a course of chemotherapy but was very ill and was rushed back into hospital with septicemia, blood clots on the lung and a blocked bladder.

FUNDRAISER: Becky (left) embraces a fellow runner after the Oldham half marathon

Becky was never well enough for chemotherapy so it was decided to pursue a 20-session course of radiotherapy at The Christie.

“I was so sick and weak during that time and the radiotherapy causes bowel and bladder problems too – you’re cooking for a long time after!”

But despite the gruelling experience Becky maintains that she has been fortunate.

She said: “It was a belt and braces operations to make sure that nothing was left, I’m one of the lucky ones as all the lymph nodes were clear after the radiotherapy and chemotherapy."

Becky’s cancer diagnosis not only affected her but her entire family too who have proved to be a tower of strength for her.

“My husband Barry has been brilliant, in fact the whole family has. I’ve had amazing support,” she said.

“We didn’t tell the children at the time until we knew exactly what was going on.”

However the decision to protect her children from the diagnosis proved to have devastating consequences.

When Abigail, then 6, and Joe, 12, came into the hospital room to visit her after the operation she was getting checked over by a doctor.

Her husband asked if he should take the children out but the doctor insisted it was fine for them to stay.

Becky explained: “Just as he was leaving he forgot that the children were there and didn’t know anything about it and said something along the lines of ‘well I reckon we’ve got all of the cancer out now’.

“My son Joe heard what was said and turned around to me and said ‘I can’t believe you didn’t tell me’.”

“He now has to have counselling to deal with the after effects of that.”

Although Becky has been given the all-clear,and now has check-ups every three months, the shadow of the disease still lingers over her.

Along with the knowledge of knowing she can’t have any more children the former gym-goer is also suffering from lymphedema following the removal of the lymph nodes.

Becky explained: “My leg swells up like an elephant and around the lady parts it comes up like a grapefruit – this is the grim reality of it.

However in the midst of all the surgery and radiotherapy Becky and her family have also experience some happier times.

The Willow Foundation,a charity founded by Arsenal legend Bob Wilson who lost his daughter at a very young age to cancer, planned, paid and arranged the weekend of a lifetime for the whole family to London.

She said: “They are amazing. They kept me going while I was having treatment, and it was something I really looked forward to.”

TRIP OF A LIFETIME: Charity-funded mini break to London

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is the only UK charity dedicated to women, and their families, affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities and have also proved a great support to Becky.

She explained: “The charity has been a lifeline for me. The helpline was there when I finally fell apart and broke down.

“They put me in touch with Louise Hassall, who I now class as one of my closest friends, who runs the Manchester group.

“We meet once a month at the Alexander hospital in Cheadle  it’s priceless meeting other ladies in the same situation.”

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is campaigning to raise greater awareness during Cervical Cancer Prevention Week 2014 which runs from January 19-25.

The week will focus on information about symptoms, causes of the disease and ways to prevent it.

In the UK 20% of women do not take up their invitation for cervical screening and could run this risk of not catching the symptoms early and undergoing treatment.

Becky is now urging all women to know their bodies, their rights and attend smear tests.

She said: “Cervical screenings do pick up the majority of people’s cancers but unfortunately mine did not.

“I’m now infertile and going through the menopause. I think even any small symptoms such as back pain, irregular bleeding, or anything different should be taken notice of.

“I left it for 13/14 months and I got used to it thinking it could be because of my age or my hormones because that’s what my doctor had said.

“Go with your gut feeling, how you feel and what’s normal for you and if there’s any change stand up for yourself.

Smear tests take a few seconds; cancer is with you for the rest of your life if you survive. It’s not worth ignoring it.

For more information about Cervical Cancer Prevention week visit http://www.jostrust.org.uk/  

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