Signs of Cervical Cancer: How I Knew I Had Symptoms

A cancer survivor who experienced severe vaginal bleeding that felt like “someone just popped a balloon” before undergoing grueling treatment to remove a large vascular tumor in her cervix wants to send the positive message to other women that the diagnosis of cervical cancer is “not a death sentence”.

Joanne Painter, who lives in Northampton, was diagnosed with stage 2 cervical cancer when she was 38 years old after noticing unusual vaginal discharge and then having abnormal, heavy bleeding for several months.

The mother-of-two, who is the founder and director of a natural green cemetery and a humanist funeral celebrant, said the bleeding was so severe that at times it felt like “someone just popped a balloon or tapped”.

The now 43-year-old said doctors had repeatedly told her not to worry and had initially been misdiagnosed as cervical ectropion – when cells grow from inside the cervical canal to the outside of the cervix – but Joanne knew her symptoms should not be ignored.

After pushing for a diagnosis, Joanne received the news in February 2018 that she had cervical cancer and said she was “stunned” – but now, as a survivor looking back at the past five years, Joanne wants to raise awareness of the importance of early detection and “staying positive”.

“You know your body better than anyone and if something isn’t right don’t get fobbed off by a practitioner or a doctor, or whoever says ‘oh it’s fine’… go ahead and get screened and get vaccinated, if you can, and don’t take no for an answer,’ Joanne said.

“Obviously, the sooner you can get a diagnosis, the better your chance.”

Cervical cancer is a cancer found anywhere in the cervix – the opening between the vagina and uterus – and it currently kills two women every day in the UK, according to the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

A cervical screening, known as a Pap smear, checks the health of the cervix and is a test to help prevent cancer, but in Joanne’s case, the results of her previous Pap smears were negative prior to her diagnosis.

After noticing unusual discharge at the age of 38, which she described as “very watery”, Joanne contacted her GP to make an appointment.

She said the doctor “wasn’t very concerned at all,” but just days later she started having vaginal bleeding, which gradually got worse.

Joanne initially likened the bleeding to a “light period” and was initially diagnosed with cervical ectropion, but when she started bleeding through her pad onto her clothes and sometimes spent up to an hour on the toilet, she knew “this isn’t right” .

(PA Real Life)

(PA Real Life)

It got so severe that during a trip to the theater with friends, she said she felt “this ‘pop’ and blood running down (her) legs”.

On another occasion, during a trip to Australia, she bled “almost the entire 24-hour flight” and “bleeded all the way to the plane seat”.

Joanne said: “The spotting turned into really heavy bleeding; I could sit on the toilet for 20 minutes straight and it was like someone had just popped a balloon or turned on the tap, and it was just dripping, dripping, dripping.

“Then I started thinking, ‘oh, this doesn’t seem right’, and at that point I felt really, really tired.

“I had a four-year-old and a seven-year-old, I worked full-time, so I just attributed the fatigue to that… (but) of course I was losing quite a lot of blood, so that led me to go back to my doctor.”

Joanne was referred to a genealogist at Northampton General Hospital, but her husband Neil, 48, a contractor, rushed her to hospital earlier because she started bleeding through her clothes while eating.

She said doctors initially dismissed her symptoms again, but after staying overnight to try and stop the bleeding, Joanne was told by a gynecologist the next morning, “I’m really sorry, this doesn’t look good.”

(PA Real Life)

She was told she had cervical cancer and after a biopsy was taken and she had several scans and an MRI it was revealed that she had a 6cm vascular tumor in her cervix which required treatment rather than surgery to clear. remove.

“I was totally in disbelief, to be honest…I remember just sitting there speechless,” said Joanne.

“I wasn’t really upset, I think it was like, is this really happening?

“Then, within about half an hour, a Macmillan nurse appeared on the bottom of my bed and introduced herself, and I think that’s when it hit me — the reality of, oh my God, I actually have a Macmillan nurse sitting at the foot of my bed, that’s not good news.”

Joanne explained that the news was even harder to hear because she had lost her father to cancer nine years earlier, but despite her fears, she knew she had to stay positive.

“I sat there thinking, my dad died of cancer, now they’re telling me I may have cancer, and I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old, and I have to get through this because I can’t be there for my kids ,’ Joanne explained.

“So very quickly this overwhelming need to survive just came over me.”

(PA Real Life)

Joanne believes her positive attitude was fundamental to getting her through her treatment, which included six weeks of chemoradiation followed by three weeks of brachytherapy — a type of internal radiation therapy, which Joanne says left her insides “black and grilled.”

The mother-of-two explained that she wasn’t losing her hair because of the type of chemotherapy she was undergoing, but that she felt “awful” at times.

She said she suffered from severe exhaustion, chronic diarrhea, and felt “a bit hungover,” as if she’d had 20 shots of tequila. faced, especially for her children.

“You can’t dwell on it, you just have to get on with it,” Joanne said.

“You never want (your kids) to see you upset and you never want them to think you’re that bad, so go ahead…

“I never felt like I needed advice, I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me; I never wanted to be defined as ‘Jo who had cancer’, so I was like, get on with this, get through it, it’s not that bad.”

Three months after her treatment ended, Joanne went back to the hospital for a check-up and received the “wonderful” news that the tumor was gone.

(PA Real Life)

While Joanne said it took “a long time to recover” and described the after-effects of her treatments, such as going into menopause, as a “train accident”, she emphasized the importance of having a good support network, exercise and “being kind to yourself” during rehabilitation.

Joanne is also a “true believer in the law of attraction and propagating it to the universe,” and she said writing affirmations helped immensely.

“These things take time, so people probably just need to know that (they’re) not going to recover and feel absolutely 100% afterwards and life goes back to normal,” she said.

“I think there is a bit of a life adjustment and just accepting the new you; this is now “the new me” and I’m different than before, but it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a little different.

Joanne gets regular checkups every few months and while she’s had “a few wobbles” over the years, she wants to encourage other women who may have been diagnosed with cervical cancer to “not go through that fear tunnel of ‘this is a death sentence’ ,” adding, “You have everything to live for.”

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs from January 23-29 and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching its biggest campaign ever, #WeCan End Cervical Cancer, to work towards a day when cervical cancer is a thing of the past.

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