When Lauren Young started bleeding heavily in 2018, she thought she was just having an irregular period.
The young woman from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, was late for her smear test. Life had got in the way and, when she started bleeding, her appointment had to be delayed even further.
In her late 20s at the time, Lauren struggled to believe it when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
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“I left it a little bit later than I should have,” Lauren says as she speaks about getting the letter through to book her smear test. “It wasn’t too long, but I was obviously late. But then I was trying to book my smear test and I couldn’t get it because I kept bleeding.
“At first I thought it was just an irregular period. I thought I was just getting confused. Sometimes your cycle changes. I booked it and I spoke to the lady and she said: ‘Perhaps come back.’ By that point, I’d already gone to an out of hours doctor and was on the cancer pathway.”
Lauren had initially seen a doctor because she was having a pain in her side, an entirely unrelated issue it seemed, but she mentioned at that appointment that she was still bleeding.
“She asked me to take a urine sample. I literally gave her a tiny little bit because I couldn’t go to the toilet and then and she could see that there was blood in my urine. I didn’t realise it at the time but, if I’m looking back, there was blood in my urine.
“All I was noticing was my spotting. I would have blood in my underwear and that to me and that was ringing alarm bells, but she could see blood in my urine. From there on, every time I went to the toilet, there was blood.”
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Lauren was referred to a doctor, who carried out an internal exam before she had a colposcopy, a procedure used to look at the cervix which is often performed when a cervical screening finds abnormal cells. Lauren was stunned when she received her diagnosis on November 23, 2018, and she was told she had cervical cancer.
She says: “I think, like anyone, you would never imagine it would happen to you. When I was googling my symptoms, cancer is always on there somewhere but you always just sort of brush past that. You think: ‘Well, that’s not it.’
“People assume that they would know if they had something like that sooner. I thought I would have more alarm bells ringing. It’s really important to follow up on any symptoms or signs, like I didn’t know that lower back pain was a symptom and I suffered from lower back pain for a long time.
“I was shocked. I was absolutely shocked. I actually thought they’d got it wrong. I just thought: ‘No. This is not right.’ I was expecting them to say they’ve got it wrong.”
It was a very quick process after that. She had surgery less than a month after receiving her diagnosis.
“It’s very scary,” Lauren says as she speaks about those weeks leading up to surgery. “It feels so alien, but you’re just like: ‘I need to get this out of me now.’ Everyone around me just couldn’t wait for that surgery.
“You’re currently living with that inside you, but you’re also dreading surgery because you’re dreading the results could be worse than you first thought or you’re dreading the surgery anyway, because it’s a horrible thing to have to go through.”
She adds: “Leading up to it, despite being scared, I think I was quite in denial. It wasn’t until I got dressed ready to go down that I was like: ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t want to go through this through this.'”
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Lauren speaks highly of her Macmillan gynaecological nurses, and the surgeon who supported her through her time at Lister Hospital, Stevenage.
“I remember waking up and I initially felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I thought: ‘What an earth have I done, or what have they done?’ I think it all happened quite quickly to be honest. Even now I don’t think I’ve ever really thoroughly accepted it.”
Now 32, Lauren is cancer free. She had her eggs frozen for precautionary measures, and she has been surrounded by supportive friends and family.
But in a shocking turn of events, Lauren’s fiancée Claire has recently been diagnosed with a form of gynaecological cancer too. She had fibroid cysts in her womb.
“That was a huge shock,” Lauren says. “We just thought she was going to go in and have them removed and that’d be that, but it turns out that they were cancerous.”
The same oncologist and Macmillan gynaecological cancer nurse who had supported Lauren were the ones taking care of Claire.
“I think, for Claire,” Lauren says, “that was such a relief because it just made it that bit easier. Having people that we trust, and have known for the last three years, be her team of specialist, I think it just made a bad situation better.”
Claire had a hysterectomy and is now six weeks clear of surgery, and she is doing well and is clear of cancer too.
Their little family has been so affected by cancer, and Lauren speaks passionately about the importance of doing everything you can to protect yourself. When it comes to cervical cancer, one of the best ways of preventing it is by going to your cervical screening when invited.
Research shows that more than one in four people in Hertfordshire are not going to their smear tests, but it is so important to get checked if you are eligible.
“I think people probably have all different reasons for putting off their smear test,” Lauren says. “I think a big one is they’re quite shy. But there’s no one better to do it than a specialist. I know it is daunting and it feels strange, but it’s far less invasive than having to go through several cancer. There are just no excuses.”
Whether you are looking for more information on cervical screening, or just want to learn more about the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, visit Jo’s Trust or Macmillan for information and advice.
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