Anita Lindsay, 47 from Troon, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in January 2019 after going for routine cervical screening (smear).
The mum of two always attended cervical screening when invited but often took a while to get round to making an appointment. It was only when she was encouraging her daughter, 24, to go for her first smear that she realised that around a year had passed since she had been invited.
Following her smear test in October 2018, Anita received a letter saying cell changes had been found and she would need to go for a colposcopy (a test to take a closer look at your cervix) and biopsy in December. She was then diagnosed with type 1b1 cervical cancer – an early stage – and further tests showed the cancer hadn’t spread.
Anita, who had just turned 43, said:“I was often late going for my smear test because I’d get in a state about the test itself, but never thought about the results not being okay. I eventually went in the October and got a letter through a few weeks later saying I needed to go in for a colposcopy.
“There was the wait over Christmas for the results and then I got a call saying the consultant wanted to speak with me and I was to bring someone to the hospital, so I knew the news wasn’t going to be good.
“Being told I had cancer was really strange. I took a friend who has been through another type of cancer for support, and I remember her saying I was very calm and matter of fact at that point. I just wanted to know what I had and what I needed to do to get it removed. The hard bit was thinking about going home and telling the kids, my mum and my sister .
“I was told it was an early stage cancer, and that treatment would involve a radical hysterectomy and lymph node removal to check it hadn’t spread. ”
Not long before her surgery, Anita opted for a full hysterectomy, involving the removal of her ovaries, as she was keen to minimise any future risk of cancer returning. Surgery went ahead in March 2019 and tests showed Anita’s lymph nodes were clear, meaning she was given the all clear from cancer in April.
Anita said:“I had not long qualified as a nurse and I wanted to work right up to the surgery as I just wanted to keep things as normal as possible for me and my family.
“I asked what the chances were of developing ovarian cancer, and was told two per cent – but that was two per cent too much for me so I opted for a full hysterectomy which put me into surgical menopause.
“The worst bit by far was waiting for my surgery. Until I had my MRI I didn’t know how bad it was and was trying to keep a brave face on it for everyone, especially my kids.”
Anita expected to have a few weeks off work but ended up taking around six months as she struggled with the impact of her diagnosis and surgery.
She said:“I was really distressed by it all afterwards. I was recovering from surgery, not really coping that well mentally and had heightened anxiety. I suppose it was the combination of all those things, plus dealing with the effects of surgical menopause.
“I had always exercised and that was the one thing that helped my mental health. It was tough to get back into it post-surgery, but, when I did, it really helped me get my strength back physically and mentally - and having the support of my team from work really helped build my confidence back up.
“My family and friends were a brilliant support. My partner Kris had testicular cancer when we met nine years ago, so he completely understood and was there for me throughout.”
Speaking about the impact of her diagnosis and treatment, Anita said:
“My friend who has been through cancer said things would never be the same – there is life before cancer and after cancer - and she’s completely right. My outlook has changed, I don’t worry about the small stuff and I feel stronger. I’ve tried to slow down and focus on the things that are important to me and my family.
“I think we’re all a lot closer because of it. I don’t really care about anything else as much as my family now.
“I always remember the year I got diagnosed was busy with holidays and festivals. I said yes to everything, and I felt very grateful we’d had those experiences without knowing what was ahead – and we’ve tried to keep that going.”During her treatment, a Macmillan nurse told Anita about Jo’s Trust where she found information and experiences others had shared helpful.
Anita said:“I’d encourage everyone to go for their smear test. I was around a year late booking my smear test appointment so I was so fortunate that it was found at an early stage. It’s easy to put off, but I’d say that ten minute test is nothing compared to what you could be going through. It could save your life.
“My sister and a few of my friends went for their smear tests on the back of me being diagnosed, which was great. If what happened to me can help somebody get checked, that can only be a positive thing.”