Thursday 18 October 2018

'It was a huge shock' - survivor Rachel urges women to keep getting smear tests

Rachel Fleming, from Crosshaven, Co. Cork who was affected by cervical cancer and was 25 when diagnosed. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Rachel Fleming, from Crosshaven, Co. Cork who was affected by cervical cancer and was 25 when diagnosed. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

RACHEL Fleming was just 25 years old when she went for her first smear test and discovered she had stage one cervical cancer.

“It was a huge shock. I would have considered myself to be pretty healthy. I wasn’t expecting it, especially with my first test,” she said.

“I could have gone another five years without thinking about it. I think it was all the promotion around the CervicalCheck programme that pushed me to do it.”

Ms Fleming, who lives in Crosshaven, Co Cork, with her partner David and daughter Zoe (8), urged other women to go for smear tests.

“If I hadn’t got the smear test, I would have been a lot worse. In light of everything that’s going on now, it’s good to get that message out there. I hope it wouldn’t turn anyone off getting a smear test.”

Ms Fleming had her first smear test in August 2015 and had no concerns after she was called back for a follow-up procedure, a colposcopy.

“I was still not too worried. I was called back a few days later, which naïvely, I still wasn’t worried about. It was then I was told I had stage one cervical cancer. But they were pretty optimistic as I had been diagnosed very early.”

Before undergoing a radical trachelectomy, a surgical removal of the uterine cervix, Rachel was able to have a number of eggs harvested and had embryos frozen to give her the chance of expanding her family in the future.

During her surgery, doctors discovered cancer in a lymph node and she underwent radiotherapy at Cork University Hospital.

“The second I was diagnosed, everyone I found was brilliant, all the doctors and nurses. I even had a special gynaeoncology nurse who was on call all the time for me.

“Zoe was only five at the time and was pretty oblivious to everything that was going on. But I was very, very lucky to have fabulous support from all my family and friends.”

Ms Fleming finished treatment three months later and had follow-up checks every three months for the first two years. She now has check-ups every six months. “It has taken its toll on my body,” she said.

“If we are to have more children it’ll have to be through surrogacy. We’re both still very young so it’s nice to have that option.”

Anyone with concerns about cervical cancer can receive confidential advice and support by contacting the Irish Cancer Society’s Freephone Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 (lines open Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).

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