A WEST Cork woman who has beaten cervical cancer is appealing to women not to fear their smear test.
Majella O’Mahony, (originally Jones), from Glencurragh, Skibbereen and now living in Midleton, made her plea to coincide with European Cervical Cancer Week.
The young woman had been conscientious about having regular smear tests, but for different reasons had missed her scheduled CervicalCheck after notices from the national screening programme which provides free smear tests to women aged 25 to 60.
It was only when Majella and her husband decided to try for a second baby that she made the appointment – and then got the devastating diagnosis.
‘I kept meaning to go, but hadn’t got around to it. Then I was pregnant so couldn’t go, then I was busy with my little baby, and time ran on. Eventually when my little girl was 18 months old, when we were hoping to try for a second baby, I finally got around to going for my smear. I was then given the news by my doctor that I had high grade abnormalities and referred to St Finbarr’s Colposcopy Unit, where, following a colposcopy and biopsy I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.’
In the run-up to her diagnosis she had felt fine – just tired – but as a working mum with a toddler, she considered that normal.
However, from the moment she heard she had ‘high grade abnormalities’ her instinct told her to expect the worst.
‘I had guessed what was going on before I actually heard the words. On the morning I got my diagnosis, I went for my morning appointment in the hospital, went for a quick coffee with my husband Tom, had a little cry then pulled myself together and was back in work before lunchtime. I think I was on autopilot, it was Christmas week 2014 and there was loads to do, so I just kept going as normal.’
Ultimately, the diagnosis ended the couple’s dream of growing their family as a then 39-year-old Majella decided a hysterectomy was the best way to eradicate the disease.
They contemplated delaying her surgery but decided the risks were too high.
‘We could possibly have delayed surgery and treatment and tried for another baby quickly, but the danger was there that the cervical cancer (which is usually quite slow to develop) would spread. We talked about it, and decided that the most important thing was that I would be here for Éabha, rather than trying for another baby and have children possibly ending up without a mammy.’
She’s now three years cancer-free and is grateful that her detection meant she was treated successfully.
But there are times when the enormity of what happened hit her and she’s left with mixed feelings:
‘I regret that I didn’t go for my smear sooner and could possibly have avoided the whole thing, but there’s also extreme relief that I went when I did, and avoided it being any worse. I’m here to tell the tale so that’s the most important thing.’
But she says it is ‘heart breaking’ when Éabha says she wishes she had a brother or sister. ‘We nearly lost Éabha during childbirth, so she was incredibly special from the very start. Knowing she will be our only child makes her even more so. She’s an amazing, perfect kid, so affectionate and caring and a real little bundle of energy. It breaks my heart when she says that she wishes she could have a baby brother or sister, but she understands that mammy’s tummy was sick.’
The experience has definitely changed her outlook on life, says Majella.
‘I try not to stress about the little stuff as much, and have shortened my working hours so I can have more time with my family. At the end of the day, that’s what’s really important. Experiencing cancer really puts a lot of things into perspective.’
Her message is simple – book your smear today: ‘Admittedly it’s not the most pleasant or dignified procedure, but it’s over and done with in a few minutes, and could save your life.The vast majority of results come back clear, so if nothing else, it will put your mind at rest.’
See cervicalcheck.ie for
details of your next test.