MY mum died of Cancer. The Cancer that ‘ended’ her, the one that the doctors felt to be the most aggressive was lung Cancer. But when she died, she was riddled with Cancer and the Doctors believe that it started with cervical cancer that went untreated.
My mum was 59 when she died. My mum had a fear of Cancer that almost consumed her at times. Her mum, my nan, died of Cancer aged 41. Every female that has died in my family on my mums’ side has been due to Cancer. All the men on my mum’s side of the family that have died have been due to Cancer except one who died in a car crash, not many people in my family make it past 60. My mum always spoke about dying young and from Cancer. It was something she feared. Due to that fear she obviously lived the healthiest lifestyle she could.
Did she fuck.
She ate poorly, drunk heavily until I was born, smoked from the age of 13 and the year before she died she was smoking about 60 a day and if she could get them fags from abroad, the ones with sawdust and all sorts in, she would smoke them too. She worried about everything. She never exercised. Her cholesterol was so high I had to ban cheese in the house. Sorry Mumsy if your looking down as I write this, I’m just saying. If I mentioned the smoking she would say “My mum died at 41 and never smoked a fag”.
When my mum turned 50, she decides that she would no longer have smear tests. Said she was too old. I have no idea where she got that idea, if she read it or made it up, but that was what she decided. My mum, like me, struggled with that intrusive kid of medical treatment. She also had a phobia of the dentist. She also suffered abuse most of her life. So, I guess the second she thought she no longer had to go thorough smear teats she was like…. that’s a bit of me…. not doing that again. And not long after I copied her. Just didn’t go for my smear test. There was no information out there that I ever saw that told me why I should go. Not really. No one talked about smear tests. Not my friends, family. It was not on TV. Nothing. So, I dint go
When my mum died, I mean like 10 minutes after she died, I went outside and had a fag. I sat on the floor and smoked a fag. And then another. I needed to get my head straight. I just watched my mum die and I was smoking. Just saying that out loud now shocks me. What was I thinking! I was also drinking.
I found out I was pregnant very soon after my mum died. I gave birth to my daughter and, as always, my self-care was not good. When she was about 2, I went to the doctors to get my pill changed. I had moved from London to Kent whilst I was pregnant. I sat with the nurse whist she did blood pressure and what ever else they do and then she said “Oh, there seems to be a mistake, it says here that you have not had a smear test in over 8 years” she said indicating to the computer. I just shrugged and said, “I don’t have them anymore”. The way this nurse looked at me…If we had been in another time or place, she would have smacked me around the head. She just sat there and stared at me. She composed herself and said, “Excuses me, I didn’t realise you didn’t care about your children’s future” and she carried on writing. I pulled my screw face and said “What? What’s that supposed to mean” she calmly turned to me and said “You can die from cervical Cancer. There are thousands of people dying of it right now. Leave children behind. And your refusing to have one”. I didn’t know what to say …I blurted out “I don’t like them”. The nurse, she threw her head back and laughed a proper belly laugh and then just stopped dead and said, “No one likes them, but no one likes being dead either”. This nurse was savage! All the other times nurses had suggested that I have a smear I had got out of it or just not turned up. “I….am the victim of abuse…It makes me feel…” I started saying. The nurse, she said something that has been said to me a million ties since but had never been said before she stopped me and said “No, you’re an abuse survivor. I can see here from your records some of the trauma you have been through…now pop your knickers off and get on the table”.
Just like that.
So, I did, and I hated it and I got emotional and this lovely nurse (slightly savage) but lovely, she was so gentle. I went home, feeling very sorry for myself. At about 4 that afternoon I heard the letterbox go. One of the boy’s came and said there was a letter. Strange, postman comes in the morning. The front of the envelope just had my name handwritten. I told one of the boys to run to the door and see who had posted it. He came back and said that the only person he could see walking up the hill was someone in a white coat. Like the ones the lady in the chemist wear.
I opened the letter. I scanned it. I scanned it several times…. abnormal cells…. results…. tomorrow…. I didn’t really understand but I went back the next day. It was a different nurse this time. She was not very good. She just sad abnormal cells happen all the time. Nothing to worry about
3 days later, at about 4, the door goes again. I walk and see a letter sticking out. I take it and open the door. There is a, what looks like a receptionist maybe, walking away from my house very quickly.
I open the letter and scan again. I am not going back again. Fuck that…scan…Urgent referral…. left untreated could turn to Cancer…. Colposcopy ….…. Pre-cancerous cells…. LLETZ…. Large loo excision ….
I still have the letter. I could read it a million times and I can still only focus on one word. Cancer.
I called the doctors there and then, no answer, so I ran up to the doctors. The receptionist knew why I was there. They tried to pacify me but went and got the nurse in the end. She sat with me and tried to explain. Said I would be attending the hospital next week, she had just confirmed the appointment and a letter would be sent out. This was madness. It was all going too fast. I went home and didn’t tell anyone. All evening I just carried on. Then it was bath time for my daughter. I sat bathing her as normal, playing and joking. And suddenly it hit me. That something was wrong with me and I didn’t really know what it was. I replayed what the nurse had told me earlier. “Severe dysplasia” ….” Extreme abnormality seen before a cell would be described as cancerous”
And I started crying. In the middle of my daughter’s bath time. She stopped playing and just looked at me, shocked. My middle son must have heard and opened the bathroom door. He didn’t say anything but went and got my partner. He came up running, run in the bathroom, scanning his daughter with a worried look on his face, thinking something must be wrong with our daughter. When he realised it was something else, he just kept saying “What…what’s happened”. He took her and got her ready for bed. Then, when she was in bed, I gave him he letters.
I don’t have a good relationship with my ex, didn’t then to be fair. But the way his face changed when he read that letter, he lost the colour almost at once, his mouth just kind of fell open, I knew this was bad and not ok. He looked at me.
He googled the words a million times. I refused to listen when he tried to explain. I did not want to know. There was no point. I was going to die. I started making plans. Rubbish stupid plans for the kids. Where would the boys go? No dads to look after them. Would they go into care? …that would set me off crying for hours. I begged god…please don’t let my sons go into care. I couldn’t think straight.
The day came when I had to go to the hospital. I still had no idea really what was going on. I had no mum to hold my hand. My then partner had to stay with my daughter. So, I just rocked up to the hospital on my own. Like I was not fazed. Like this was all ok. I sat in the waiting room and a nurse came out and got me. She took me int a room with a man, the doctor. He started talking at me very fast…. Burning…lazar…. ultrasound…. results. I just nodded. He left to “Set up”. Now there were 2 nurses. They both just stood there looking at me, so I stood up. One said “This way please” so I followed her. There was a little cubical with a curtain and she said, “Go behind the curtain and take all your clothes off from the waist down” and she gave me a gown to put on. I nodded…yes Ma’am…. I can do that…I am all over this…. Let’s get this party started…. I went into the cubical, pulled the curtain around and burst into tears. Big hot tears…. with snot bubbles…like I was 4 and just dropped my ice cream. I heard one of the nurses say “Told ya” and suddenly the curtain was pulled back and these two nurses engulfed me. One was sitting next to me on the bed hugging me so tight and the other was sort of hugging the top of my head saying, “Come on girl your ok”. I cried for ages. Not a word said between any of us. Then they started to talk to me. One of them said they could tell that I had no clue what was going on. They said that this was serious and that I needed to try, and have it done whilst I was awake. They asked where my mum was (More tears) …. One went to call my partner.
I was led into a room; it was set up like I was going to have a smear test. I laid down and the doctor gave me a vaginal ultrasound.
Tell you what….I have been in some scary situations….I have seen some shit….but to lay on that table…..the doctor holding a vaginal ultrasound thingy literally looking at my cervix on a screen and for him to go……*long whistle….”Well that s not good”…is the most scary thing that has ever happened to me. Ever. I said, “What do you mean”!!!!!! He turned the screen round to me, the kind you would usually see your baby for the first time. He said…his exact words….” Your cervix looks like it has been snowed on it so covered in pre-cancerous cells, your going to have to be put to sleep”.
Fuck me. He could have said “Miss Houseman, this looks little more complicated than we thought” or something!!!!
The surgery was booked 2 weeks later. Once again on my own. This time the doctor performing the surgery sat with me. I was a mess. He was lovely. When he came to my cubical, I had books out everywhere. I was studying for my degree and brought the books with me. He came in and said “What’s all this”…I said “I’m studying for my degree, so I thought I would bring my books as I will be here for a bit” and he said “hmmmm….I don’t think you will need them”. I shot my head up…I can just picture my face…bottom lip gone, and I said, “Because I am going to die aint I”. Its funny now. Not then. Not for all the other people on the ward who heard me. He looked shocked and sat down and started speaking to me.
He said that yes…. this was a bad case…one of the worst…and they would be removing almost all my cervix. But he felt that was the end of it, that they had got to it in time. That I was a very lucky lady. He than gave me a red starburst! (Said I could have it after surgery)
I had surgery later that day and he came to see me after. Said it had gone well. That the other doctor was right to say it looked like it had been snowed on. Said I would need to come back for a check up to see if it had all been removed.
And ….at the check-up…it was all gone. I had a smear test every 6 months for a bit….and then once a year…and now every 3 years.
That was 2011.
I hardly ever speak about it (The whole thing still scares me) But When my daughter is of age then we will talk about it. And she will have a smear test at 16. And no one will tell me that she will not!!!! And she will attend all her smear tests…and I will bombard her with all the information she needs.
Jade Goody’s death has saved lives. Her beautiful sons have lost their mother, and nothing can ever replace that, but she did not die in vain. Her documentary has got people talking about smear tests again…..good…
Go get your smear test…NOW
Because that was a close one…even for me