Cervical cancer affects younger people too, survivor says
- Credit: Big C
Before she had even had her smear test, Laura Woods knew something was wrong.
She had suffered back pain, unexplained tiredness, irregular bleeding, and was generally unwell.
But at just 30, she was relatively young to be diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer in March 2016, so the diagnosis still came as a shock.
Mrs Woods, from Oulton Broad, had two inconclusive smear tests before her third showed abnormalities.
And now she is speaking out to mark Cervical Cancer Prevention Week to show others they are not alone.
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After she was diagnosed Mrs Woods said it seemed like a lifetime before her treatment was to commence, but it was in fact two weeks.
She had an arduous amount of treatment including 25 sessions of radiotherapy, five sessions of chemotherapy and four sessions of brachytherapy therapy - where cancer is treated by inserting radioactive material directly into the affected area.
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Not every hospital in the UK has its own brachytherapy unit but because of the support of Norfolk and Waveney's cancer charity Big C, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital did, enabling her to have the treatment not too far from home.
Mrs Woods, now 33, said: 'It was a tough time. I also found it especially hard as I didn't have very many people I could relate to because of my age. I found it really hard. Everyone would stare and some people wouldn't speak to me and I have a sense it was because I was much younger. I'm not sure why, perhaps they found it uncomfortable. People think of cancer and they think of old people, but of course it affects everyone.'
The cancer had not spread but the treatment still took its toll as Mrs Woods dropped from 12 to seven stone in weight.
But she sought help from Big C. She said: 'I'd often pop in for a cup of tea. I also had massages there and would just drop-in at the centre after my radiotherapy sessions. It was a great respite for me.'
By September 2016 she had started volunteering at a Big C shop before taking on a paid role. Now she works part-time as one of the charity's support and information officers as well as studying for a degree in person-centred counselling.
She said: 'I want to break age barriers and promote Big C to younger people. I felt I was being judged by others on the ward and felt really self-conscious. I'm keen to help people my age too and think it's crucial to emphasise the importance of support and the drop-ins at Big C.'
Big C has launched a new women's support group at its Norwich centre, which is in the grounds of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).
The group is an opportunity for women, at any stage of their cancer journey, to support each other by sharing information, worries and issues in a safe and friendly environment.
Tonia King, area centre manage said: 'We have two similar groups in Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn which have been running for a year. The ladies who attend the groups find the support of other women who have also experienced cancer very valuable. The groups are well attended and open to ladies with a cancer diagnosis.'
The women's group at Big C's Norwich centre meets the third Friday of each month from 10.30am to 12.30pm. To find out more call 01603 286112.