A mother’s fight against cervical cancer
By Suzanne Fernando
I was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer when I was pregnant – and almost died before I got a chance to hold my newborn baby girl. The nightmare began when doctors discovered a tumor the size of a tennis ball blocking little Aaron’s arrival. They immediately delivered Aaron by C-sect; but I hemorrhaged. My bed sheets were soaked in blood and doctors couldn’t get the bleeding to stop. As my life slipped away, docs warned my partner, to expect the worst, as he stood helpless with our baby in his arms. He was left praying for a miracle, and fortunately for us, those prayers were answered.
“My instincts told me all was not well. There is Cancer in my Dad’s side of the family and that is what kept nagging away in my mind”. But what choices did I have? Treatment at that time would have damaged my baby. I didn’t want to face that, so I just retreated into myself and kept my fears secret. After months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a last chance 24-hour bombardment of radiation directly onto the tumor, I was eventually in remission.
I had sailed through a trouble free pregnancy with my first daughter, Jordan who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was six. But I have to admit, the minute I fell pregnant with Aaron, I felt very ill. I was sick all the time, I was in pain, I couldn’t eat, and nothing could convince me that this was a normal pregnancy. When I was expecting Jordan, my partner and I backpacked to India just in time before settling down with children. I felt so well throughout the pregnancy, mind you, I was always relatively fit and healthy having just spent almost seven years as a Military Policewoman in Her Majesty’s Services. This time I thought, well no two pregnancies are the same.
I remember my partner and I agreeing that there would be no more babies for us. I was dragging myself through the pregnancy. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Every now and then I’d start bleeding and end up in hospital. But I think because of the position of the tumor, it simply didn’t show up. When I was eight months pregnant, I was back at hospital for the umpteenth time after bleeding. I’ve got a rare blood group ‘O’ negative, so whenever I would take a bleed I’d have injections to stop the baby’s blood being poisoned. This time the doctor said she was concerned because I’d been in so often, that she’d like to examine me further. Nothing was showing on scans so she examined internally. The pain was unbearable. Then she told me there was a growth the size of a man’s fist in my cervix. I had a biopsy and had to stay in hospital for the results. That night was awful. I lay awake wondering what was going to happen to us. Next day they told me. I had Cancer, and because of the tumor, I wouldn’t be able to deliver my baby normally. I was in shock. I was rushed into theatre for an emergency C-sect. The baby was perfect I was so relieved. But when I was in the recovery ward, my partner noticed that my bed was suddenly saturated in blood. The room was suddenly filled with nurses, but by then I was slipping in and out of consciousness.
I vaguely remember nurses wrapping me up in silver foil. They were wrapping themselves around me too, trying to raise my body temp. I was rushed back into theatre, and, after about 2 – 3 hours, the doctor came out and told my partner he was sorry but he couldn’t stop the bleeding. He asked my partner to sign a form permitting them to give me a hysterectomy. My partner said, “My partner is dying in there – just do what you have to do to save her”.
I spent a while in hospital while my partner looked after the girls. When I eventually did go home I was really worried about all the time I been apart from my girls, I hadn’t had a proper chance to bond with my newborn. A bed was made up for me in the living room and I began my chemotherapy and radiation treatment the following week, just after New Year. Sadly despite an intensive course of 20 treatments the tumor was still there. I couldn’t believe it; after all I had to go through the cancer was still there.
During this time my partner was giving me intensive Healing through Crystals, (Kes is a fully qualified Holistic Crystal healer) and this helped immensely. His Sister Al would visit me (she is a qualified Reflexologist) and heal my body through healing to my feet. A friend from Cancer Care came along weekly and gave me some hands on healing. And not to forget my dearest friend, Tsering, who helped me with her Reiki Master healing, Shiatsu and Indian Head Massages. But most of all it was her time, companionship and wisdom that played a big part in my recovery.
I was then offered a 24-hour intensive course where they would bombard me with radiation non-stop using long metal rods directly onto the tumor. It was ghastly. I couldn’t move for 24 hours but in the end, the tumor had shrunk.
To be honest I think it was the nurses and doctors who kept me sane. When the tumor shrunk, I was still ill, but very happy. But along with the tumor, other organs had also shrunk and I needed more surgeries to repair the damage. I had ignored the little voice in my head that told me I had Cancer. Like many people, I didn’t want to hear that because I knew that any treatment would seriously damage or kill my unborn baby. Today though, I have 2 beautiful girls and a future. My daughter Aaron will celebrate her 13th birthday at Christmas, which will be an amazing experience for us all as she becomes a teenager.
I’ve since had to cope with more operations, skin grafts, scars, reconstructive surgery, and am continuing ongoing surgeries with my family and dearest friends by my side.
I’ve took part in the “race for life” Cancer Research Charity race every year along with Tsering and co., and wow what a day, very emotional with a hint of excitement and nerves all rolled into one. I usually run on behalf of my late Grand dad Scott (a tall and very proud man) and my dear friend “Tam the Gun” who sadly died of Cancer, (he fired the 1 o’clock gun at Edinburgh Castle for over 20 years, we became very good friends when I served up in the castle for many years as a Military Policewoman, we kept in touch frequently over the years).
My daughters, Tsering and her kids now join me in the race every year and neither of us would miss it for the world, we all have a fantastic day knowing how much we could be helping to save someone’s life.
I’ve since built my own business and am now working in the field of childcare, am currently writing my first book, continue to work alongside Cancer Research, Jo’s Trust & the Scottish Government and am continually raising funds throughout the year for various cancer charities. I am now officially Scotland’s first Cancer Research UK Cancer Campaigns Ambassador, a fantastic post I accepted a few years ago.
I had the pleasure of being invited by my local MP Katy Clark to the ‘International Women’s Day’ and meeting The Prime Minister at No.10 to discuss new policies on Cervical Screening and raising cervical awareness.
I have managed to gain plenty of media attention through radio and newspapers for my local Cancer Care organization too. I’m off down to Westminster again on Wednesday to meet up with CRUK, fellow ambassadors for the plain packs campaign.
As a cervical cancer survivor I’m urging everyone to back Cancer Research UK’s latest campaign. The answer is plain. It calls for all branding to be removed from tobacco packaging, to discourage children from starting to smoke. Though smoking didn’t cause my cancer, I want to do everything I can to protect young people from the frightening experience I have been through. Glitzy packets are one of the last ways the tobacco industry can still market its lethal products and research shows that the striking logos and distinctive designs make cigarettes more appealing to children.
So as the Government consults on whether to put all tobacco in standardized ‘plain’ packs of uniform size, shape and design, I’m asking people to show their support for this vital measure by signing a petition.
This is not about ‘the nanny state’ and it’s not about curbing the freedoms of adult smokers. It’s about giving children one less reason to take up a deadly and addictive habit that kills half of all its long-term users. The big tobacco companies are doing everything they can to stop this; but we’ve got to stand up to them and protect our children.