'I want to go public and to tell people how important it is' - Mum-of-four gets second chance

Mother-of-four Emma Maye had a hysterectomy just weeks after her smear test results alerted medics to abnormal cells, writes Áilín Quinlan. Now she is making a public plea to remind women to get screened after her shock diagnosis

Emma Maye who had a hysterectomy after receiving her smear test results, pictured at her home in Foxrock. Photo: Frank McGrath

On September 13, businesswoman Emma Maye contacted this journalist - from her hospital bed.

Two days earlier, the mother-of-four had undergone a hysterectomy following abnormal smear test results, and now she wanted the Irish Independent to help her punch home a crucial message to other women: Don't ever postpone your smear test.

Emma also wanted to publicly ask whether women should have yearly smears, rather than having the test done every three to five years as is currently advised.

She is now questioning whether she would have needed a total hysterectomy (surgical removal of both the uterus and cervix, or neck of the womb), had she had a yearly, rather than three-yearly, smear test.

Emma, whose children are aged three, four, seven and nine, had a routine smear test last April, but could never have anticipated what was to happen when the results came back in mid-June.

"Mid-June to mid-September is just 12 weeks. In that time I have gone from getting my smear test results to seeing a gynaecologist for a number of procedures, to being referred to an oncologist, and getting a total hysterectomy," says the 42-year-old CEO of Ardale Property.

On September 5, about a week before the hysterectomy was to take place, Emma from Foxrock, Dublin posted the following message on Facebook.

"Next Tuesday I will be going in for a hysterectomy - over the last eight or nine weeks I have gone from going to the gynaecologist to an operation for biopsies to a cancer gynaecologist, to be told I have to have a hysterectomy and maybe treatment after.

"I have severe pre-cancer cells - it's so important to get a smear done. I was always so good at doing them, and on time.

"Yes, I'm scared, yes, I can't believe it but yes, I have four gorgeous kids and am very lucky.

"I do wonder if I'd had, and all women out there, were offered yearly smears, would this have saved me from having a hysterectomy?

"If you haven't got your smear or keep putting it off, I hope my post will make you go and do it.

"As the doctors said, if I hadn't got my smear, this would be a different story I'd be writing."

The response to her message was phenomenal - the Facebook post was shared more than 250 times and the feedback to date has been "immense," says Emma.

One woman even contacted her to say she hadn't had a smear test in 20 years, but after reading Emma's Facebook post, she had immediately had one.

"It's been huge," she says, adding that she has been contacted by women in the UK as well as Ireland and has been and inundated with responses and queries.

Emma's journey began last April, when she had a routine smear test.

"I've always been so good to get my smear test organised and there was a lot of controversy at the time, with Vicky Phelan (the woman at the centre of the Cervicalcheck scandal)," she recalls, adding that the publicity around Phelan's case had "really focused my mind."

Two months later, in mid-June, Emma received a phone call from her GP.

"She said I had had an abnormal test result.

"I presumed that I'd go back and get re-tested but my doctor said I had to see a gynaecologist."

Emma contacted a recommended gynaecologist, and was initially told, that, depending on the contents of the letter which was to be submitted by Emma's GP, she might have to wait until September or October to be seen.

However, things moved much faster than the mother-of-four anticipated.

"My doctor sent in the letter and the next morning I got a phone call from the gynaecologist's secretary saying that I was to come in two days later."

However, she had one-week holiday booked, so she postponed the appointment.

"I saw the gynaecologist a week later and she explained that she had to do an investigation.

"The following week I had a colposcopy (an examination of the cervix) and two biopsies, one each from the womb and the cervix, (a biopsy is a procedure involving the extraction of cells or tissues for examination).

In mid-August Emma was called in to discuss her test results with the gynaecologist.

The specialist explained that tests had revealed that Emma had severe pre-cancerous glandular cells in her cervix, and told her she needed to see an oncologist.

"I felt kind of numb when she told me and was quite shocked," Emma recalls.

"I left with the news and strangely didn't tell anyone for a few days; not my mum or husband.

"I didn't want to worry anyone, although I was so panicked myself inside. I confided in two people and their reaction made me realise that it was serious."

The following week she saw the oncologist.

Following an ultra-sound scan, Emma was advised to have a full hysterectomy, in which the uterus and the cervix, or neck of the womb, would be removed.

She had the operation on September 11 and is currently awaiting the results of more tests, following which her doctors will decide what the next step should be.

"It was really weird to think that I had gone from a routine smear test to a hysterectomy in just a few weeks," she says now.

Within 48 hours of having the operation, Emma contacted this reporter.

"I decided to go public and to tell people how important it is to get your smear test and also what can happen.

"I never knew that a smear test could end up with a hysterectomy or that this is what can happen in terms of what the smear test can do for you.

"My doctor asked me 'What would have happened if you hadn't had the smear test?'

"If I hadn't gone and got my smear test, it could have been a very different story."

Now Emma wonders whether women should have an annual smear.

"From my experience over the last few months, three years seems too long to wait to have the test.

"Everyone has been worried," she says, adding that people, including the nurses who looked after her in hospital, were shocked by the speed at which things happened.

"It's good that I've been looked after so fast, but I had never heard before how things can go so fast from a smear test to a hysterectomy. I decided to put a message out on Facebook to warn other women,"

"I cannot emphasise enough just how important your smear test is.

"The reason why I am going public is to emphasise the importance of getting the smear."