A Kirkton mum-of-three who battled cervical cancer and sepsis before the age of 30 has urged women to attend their smear test appointments because “you never think it’s going to happen to you”.
In December 2018, Rachel Brown attended a routine appointment for a smear test.
The 29-year-old had been due a test just as she fell pregnant with her youngest son, Jax, and prior to the pregnancy she’d been having a smear test every six months as a result of previous irregularities.
After attending that appointment, Rachel was asked to go to the colposcopy unit at Ninewells Hospital, where she was told by Dr Kalpana Ragupathy that she would need a loop procedure.
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She said: “Dr Ragupathy didn’t think there was anything to worry about but then I got a letter in the February asking me to go in for more treatment. To save me worrying, they said I could come in for a chat.
“I was told that the results had come back and I had cancer. I had another loop procedure, that same month, and after the results were returned I was told that I would have to undergo a hysterectomy and lymph node removal.”
The surgery took place in April last year and, initially, it it seemed to have gone well.
“I had recovered quite well, but 11 days after the operation I was taken back into the hospital with sepsis. I was really ill and I didn’t begin to improve for about four days,” Rachel said.
“My children didn’t understand what was going on but they knew that I was really unwell. They would come to the hospital to see me and ask things like ‘are you going to be coming home soon?’
“I was really lucky that I was so supported. My partner, Jamie, was amazing. He took the reins and did everything; looking after the house, working and dealing with the kids and I literally could not be more grateful.
“My Macmillan nurse, Elaine, was brilliant. It was unreal the support she gave me and I still phone her and email her all the time.
“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t really know much about cervical cancer but Maggie’s Centre was great. I found out so much about the process.”
In the weeks that followed, Rachel was given the all clear and was told that there was no need for any further treatment.
Despite now struggling with lymphoedema, a side effect of cervical cancer treatment, she is grateful that she is able to enjoy life with her partner and their three children, eight-year-old Kodan, six-year-old Kade and Jax, aged two.
She added: “I would definitely say, for the whole three seconds that it takes to get a smear test, it’s not worth not going through it. It really isn’t a big deal and it saves people’s lives.
“I just wish I had gone sooner but I’d only had my last smear test in July 2016 which really isn’t that long before, but I guess you just never think it’s going to happen to you.”
Around one in four women living in Tayside are overdue for their smear test, according to information released by the NHS.
Women who have never had a smear or are long overdue for their smears are at an increased risk of cervical precancer and cervical cancer compared to women who have.
Lead colposcopist Dr Kalpana Ragupathy said: “An abnormal smear does not mean cancer. It means a surface change in the cells in the cervix that could maybe turn into cancer if left untreated.
“Precancerous changes precede cervical cancer by 10-15 years. Regular smear tests pick up these changes and treatment reduces the risk of cervical cancer by 95%.”