Interview 90

Age at interview: 53
Age at diagnosis: 42
Brief Outline: Diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1991. Internal Radiotherapy followed by External Radiotherapy.
Background: Hotel Supervisor; single, no children.

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She attended her regular cervical smear appointment, which showed ‘abnormal cells’. A diagnosis of cervical cancer was made after a second smear test, two biopsies, a colposcopy and a cone biopsy. 
She was never too worried about her prognosis, and treated the cancer as a problem that needed to be solved. She didn’t seek any extra information about cervical cancer as she felt she didn’t need it. 
The doctors decided on a course of radiotherapy as the best treatment, and she was pleased that she didn’t have to have surgery. She found the internal radiotherapy very unpleasant, especially as she had to lie flat without moving for a long time, and this exacerbated her back pain. The radiotherapy made her feel quite weak, and she initially had some bowel problems which lasted for a few years but have now resolved. 
She had just received the ‘all clear’ and was discharged from hospital follow-up, which was a great relief to her. 
She hadn’t realised that the treatment would cause her to go into the menopause. It came as a massive shock to her when she was told, and she was very angry at the time because she didn’t feel that she was told that this would happen. It made her feel as though she wasn’t a full woman, which was difficult at the time. 
Having to take HRT after radiotherapy was one of the worst things about the experience, as it gave her several side effects, including prolonged vaginal bleeding, weakness, and what she described as a loss of ‘brain balance’. She decided to stop taking the HRT and has been feeling a lot better since. 
She doesn’t really think about having had cancer, and feels as if it was an episode in her life that she has moved on from. Her message to others is to have themselves checked regularly as she didn’t experience any symptoms prior to her cancer diagnosis, and it was only picked up due to the cervical screening programme. 



She was angry because although the doctor had explained that pelvic radiotherapy for cervical...

She was angry because although the doctor had explained that pelvic radiotherapy for cervical...

I was doing the external radiotherapy and I missed a period. Now it wasn't a problem, I didn't have a partner so I knew I wasn't pregnant, just the sort of expected it may be part of the side effect of the therapy. And I only mentioned it casually to a registrar of the doctor, my gynaecologist that I was seeing regularly as part of the check-up, on my skin and on my bladder, I was doing blood tests that I wasn't anaemic, you know, part of the routine tests that I was doing. And I mentioned, "Oh, by the way, I didn't have a period this month". And she said, "Well that's alright, you are in menopause". To which I exploded, literally, "Why didn't you tell me?" 
And at the time I know that I wouldn't have had choice, I mean if I had to have it I had to have it, and that was it, but I felt that somebody had done something to my body that I didn't know, and I hated not being in control of myself. I hated, I don't like for example total anaesthetic because I don't know what's going on while I'm there, what they are doing. I know that they are doing something good to me but still it's something I don't like because I'm not conscious. And that was exactly the same thing that had been, they treated my body and I didn't know about it, and they hadn't told me and I felt 'raped' that they did something to me that I didn't want. I know I screamed and I know I shouted and, I don't know, she just took it and said she was sorry, and probably that was something that I sort of, it's the only thing that I really regret in the whole therapy, all what happened to me, that not the complete information was given to me. Okay I was asked "Do you want more children, would you want children?" To which I said no. And the thought in my mind it implied that I would be sterile after the therapy, it never occurred to me that I would be menopausal. And I felt, suddenly at 43 I felt an old woman, like that was again my idea, a chicken that had been, a dead chicken had been emptied from all its guts, so there was nothing inside me, left inside me, which is completely the wrong idea because everything is inside me, even if it's not working. It's not the fact I can't have children, it's not the fact that I was in menopause, it's just it was exactly the fact I hadn't been told. All through the problem from the first letter saying that there is abnormal cells to the end of the last week when they told me you were off, you are discharged from the clinic, you don't need us any more, I always accepted whatever was done to me, I always accepted that, because I don't know anything about medicine, but I have, I trusted the people that they were taking care of me. And only that thing that they did without telling me. It didn't bother me afterwards, it was just that single episode, and suddenly I exploded, my Italian temper went, the poor registrar just out of university that got me.
And what did, how did, it was a she wasn't it?
How did she react?
Well apologising, and probably she didn't know why suddenly I had this problem. Because she didn't see it as a problem, she thought I knew, and that was it, you know. But she was a doctor, she studied and she knew what radiotherapy meant, and to me it was just something I didn't know. 
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