Sunday 25 September 2016

‘I had to leave my life in Abu Dhabi and fly home after I was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 24’

Published 19/08/2016 | 14:41

Aoife Harrington was diagnosed with cervical cancer age 24.
Aoife Harrington was diagnosed with cervical cancer age 24.

An Irish woman (26) has opened up about the moment she was told she had cervical cancer which turned her life in Abu Dhabi upside down in an instant.

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Aoife Harrington was teaching in the UAE when a routine cervical smear lead to a diagnosis which forced her to return home for intense chemotherapy and radiotherapy in 2014.

Speaking to The Anton Savage Show on Today FM, Aoife said: “I got my screening in Abu Dhabi. I was teaching over there for a few years and some of my friends were going for routine smear tests so I thought I’d go along even though I was only 24 at the time. I thought I’d go for a check up and hoped that nothing would come of it.

“I was called back in a few weeks later to say that I had an irregular smear test and that I would have to have more tests.

“I wasn’t too worried. I was going on holidays the week after to Jordan with my friends and I just wanted to go in and get everything taken care of. They told me I’d have to have a simple procedure and have some abnormal cells removed and that would be it. Unfortunately after my cells were biopsied, they found out that I had cervical cancer.”

Read more: 'Me and my dad joked about going through therapy together... he passed away six weeks later' - a young Irish woman's harrowing story

Aoife’s dad happened to be stopping over in Abu Dhabi on his way to Papua New Guinea the weekend that she was diagnosed and he helped her book her flights home to Mayo, where she decided to undergo treatment.

“My doctor was really, really nice and he actually called me in at the weekend so I should have known that there was something wrong. He sat me down, and I had brought my friend with me and he asked if he could talk in front of her. He said 'I’m sorry to tell you that I have bad news, you actually have cancer'. I don’t remember anything after that.

“My dad actually works in Papua New Guinea and he was actually flying over there at the time. He had a stopover in Abu Dhabi and he just happened to be there that day so we actually drove up and collected him from the airport straight after I got the news and he stayed with me for the weekend and got my flights home sorted. I just decided to go home and start my treatment at home. The first thing I wanted to do was get home.

“I had to go into work and tell them I was leaving and pack up all my stuff. I was so naive at the time. I thought I’d be back by the end of the summer. I didn’t end up going back obviously,” she said.

Read more: 'Women put themselves last, they put everybody else first' - Irish GPs stress the importance of regular smear tests

The teacher revealed that she had to face fertility treatment ahead of chemotherapy and radiation, in order to preserve her hope of a family one day.

“They decided that before I started my chemotherapy and radiotherapy that I would have surgery to have my ovaries transposed, which moves them upwards in your body, away from where the radiotherapy would be.

“After that I went to the Hari Clinic in the Rotunda, which is the fertility clinic, where they extracted my eggs so that they could freeze them for use at a later date. We actually ended up freezing embryos because my partner and I didn’t get many eggs from the extraction. They said I would have a better chance freezing embryos rather that eggs.”

Read more: What happens when you get a smear test? A step-by-step guide to cervical screening

After undergoing treatment, which included three sessions of brachytherapy, an internal radiation therapy, Aoife has recovered and has returned to university.

“It’s all good now apart from the fact that my bones are quite weak. I have osteopenia. I actually fractured my pelvis one day when I was just out walking because my bones were so weak. Now I take Vitamin D and Calcium tablets, and hopefully I’ll get back up to full strength. I’m back to studying and doing a Masters. I hope to return to Abu Dhabi now when the Masters is done, that’s the hope anyway,” she said.

The Irish Cancer Society are currently raising awareness about cervical cancer and the have two free information events about the HPV Vaccine coming up later this month in Galway (23rd) and Cork (24th). For more information visit www.cancer.ie

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