A SURVIVOR of cervical cancer is urging reluctant women to get themselves tested.
Janine Stead, fighting fit just 14 weeks after undergoing a radical hysterectomy, says if it were not for regular smear tests, and vigilance regarding her own health, her outcome could have been much more tragic.
Janine, of Westfields, Easton-on-the-Hill, asked the Mercury to tell her story to spotlight Cervical Cancer Awareness Week last week.
The 39-year-old mother-of-two was diagnosed with cancer in August, was operated on in September and wants to spread the word that cervical cancer can be beaten if caught early.
“I’m hoping my story will get more women to go for smear tests - it’s a two-minute procedure that could save your life, the cure rate is really high. So many women say they must go but they put it off, it’s still a bit of a taboo subject,” she says.
“I have always had regular tests,” says Janine, “and in 1995, before I had my children, one test revealed some cell abnormalities. I had a colposcopy (an examination of the cervix) and laser treatment and that was that.”
Years of clear tests followed until a slight watery discharge sent her to her GP last year. A polyp was diagnosed and removed at Stamford Hospital and a routine smear test done at the same time led to the bad news.
“A couple of days later Dr Lumb, the gynaecologist, rang me and asked me to go to Peterborough City Hospital to discuss the results. I was told to bring someone with me so I sort of knew it was cancer. It was August 16.
“The doctor was accompanied by a nurse in a special uniform - a cancer nurse, you are allocated your own who is available 24 hours a day to answer your questions. I was given paperwork, leaflets, phone numbers and a list of medical appointments and that was it.”
Janine had an MRI scan at Peterborough and an examination under anaesthetic at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge.
“Everything happened really quickly, it was a very good service. A multi-disciplinary team meet and discuss your case, determine the best course of treatment and then follow you up at every stage.”
Janine’s cancer was confined to the cervix, it hadn’t spread, but she had keyhole surgery to remove 22 lymph nodes, followed a few days later by a radical hysterectomy - removal of her womb, fallopian tubes and the top part of her vagina.
“You do what the hell you have to do to get rid of cancer. They have left my ovaries so I will go through the menopause normally.”
“Everything is working normally,” she says.
The shock of being told she had cancer did not hit her at the diagnosis.
“I thought, it’s been caught nice and early, I’ll be fine.
“It hit me at 2am the next morning, I cried from 2am-6am and from then on refused to cry again.”
Janine was really open about her illness, even telling friends about it on Facebook.
Following the operation she did have one setback - a bladder infection caused by a catheter which made her very poorly and it took about six weeks before she could walk around normally.
Jo’s Trust is the only UK cervical cancer charity and she was told to contact it by her cancer nurse.
“It’s just brilliant - it tells you everything you need to know. There is so much support for breast cancer but not for cervical,” says Janine.
There has been one fantastic outcome from her ordeal.
“It was my ultimate dream, a lifelong ambition to have my own horse but I knew we would never be able to afford it. My husband said that if I got the all-clear and an insurance policy we had paid out he would get me one. But even then I didn’t really think it would happen.”
However, just before Christmas a lorry arrived and inside, wrapped in tinsel, was Westley.
An ex-showjumper, 24 years old and a bit of a grump, Westley is actually on long-term loan from a friend, Sally Johnson at Exton. He is kept at Fairview Farm in the village and Janine is learning to ride him.
“If I hadn’t got sick I would never have got the horse,” she says.
She has been looking after a little grey pony, Tom, for the past year and learning horse care from another friend, Phil Crockford. The insurance money she received has paid for a new stable and all the paraphernalia associated with keeping horses.
Ketton born and bred, Janine moved to Easton 12 years ago. Husband Mark is a storeman for Hansen Cement and they have a son Spencer 12, a pupil at King’s Cliffe Middle School and daughter Amelia eight, at Easton Garford School. Apart from two part-time cleaning jobs “for lovely people” she has been a full-time mum since Spencer was born.
The family are keen animal-lovers and have two English bull terriers, two parrots, two budgerigars, two canaries, two bearded dragons, one snake, a giant millipede and seven tarantula spiders.
Asked how her family reacted to the cancer diagnosis, she said they took it well.
“My husband refused to consider it was not going to be fine,” she said.
Mark was able to take a month’s holiday plus extra compassionate leave to look after her.
Six weeks after major surgery she was helping build the stable and, as someone who usually hates Christmas, she sharply re-evaluated her priorities and made a big effort.
“This was a life-enhancing experience, I consider myself so lucky. You do find out who your real friends are, mine have been fantastic.”
Janine now has to have a check-up every three months for five years.
”Every woman is a potential victim. This is one of the few cancers we can screen for. Smear tests are there for a reason. Just do it,” she says.
And as for her NHS care?
“The hospitals, doctors, nurses have all been fantastic, I can’t fault them, especially my specialist nurse Catherine at Addenbrookes,” Janine said.
“I’m told there’s a really low risk of the cancer recurring. I’m learning to ride properly, life’s good. It makes you think how lucky you are.
“Cancer is such a scary word. Please go for smear tests and let your daughters have the HPV vaccination, my daughter will definitely be having it.
“Maybe if I’d had that at 12 or 13 I may not have got cancer, but I’ll never know.”