At 23 years old, Chelsea was diagnosed with cervical cancer – stage 1B1 adenocarcinoma of the cervix. Chelsea was the first in Queensland and second in Australia to have laparoscopic surgery by way of radical trachelectomy and pelvic lymphadenectomy performed.
After four months of emotional and physical turmoil, during the prime of her life, Chelsea’s results came back all clear. She is now on three monthly check-ups for the next two years. The surgeon who performed the surgery told Chelsea she had made ‘history’.
Now a lawyer in Brisbane, Chelsea is a passionate advocate for the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF), helping to drive awareness of the importance of having regular pap tests.
My story began almost two years ago with an experience I had always dreaded: the Pap test.
In January 2012, at 23 years old, I went to my GP for a Pap test – something I was six months overdue for. This wasn’t my ‘first time’; I knew what to expect and was dreading it.
A week after the Pap test, I received a call from my GP asking me to make an appointment to discuss the results.
I psyched myself up for the appointment, fully expecting to have to repeat the test. I thought perhaps the sample wasn’t adequate.
My GP said the results revealed ‘possible high grade glandular lesion’ and I needed to see a gynaecologist for further testing.
While I was nervous about seeing the specialist, I tried to remain positive. I remember my Mum telling me lots of women have abnormal Pap test results and I shouldn’t be worried.
The gynaecologist performed a test called a colposcopy and took a biopsy – both very unpleasant experiences. I had always felt nervous and uncomfortable having my nether regions inspected, and this time was no different.
The following week I had every scenario running through my head. It was so hard to try and block everything out and get on with life. My Mum came with me to see the gynaecologist and get the results, I wanted her there for support and to understand what was happening to me. The results confirmed the Pap test. I needed to have a cone biopsy to determine the diagnosis.
The gynaecologist had discussed my results with an oncologist and an appointment had been made for treatment. I freaked out! I knew that oncologists specialised in the treatment of cancer. I was horrified to think that I may have had cancer. I was only 23.
I went to the appointment and the oncologist discussed all my test results and performed a further colposcopy. There was an area of my cervix the doctor was concerned about that “didn’t look right” and I was booked in for a cone biopsy.
One week after surgery I saw the oncologist for a follow up appointment. I was extremely nervous and felt sick.
I was told they found a 1.8cm tumour and I had cancer. I was devastated and in shock. I was hoping I would wake up and realise it had all been a bad dream. I was diagnosed with stage 1b1 adenocarcinoma of the cervix (cervical cancer). I couldn’t believe it, I hadn’t been sick. I never anticipated a tumour growing inside me.
I was told I needed major surgery and given two options. The first was to have a radical hysterectomy – removing my cervix, surrounding tissue, upper vagina and uterus if the tumour had have been greater than 2cm.
I immediately burst into tears. I knew that a hysterectomy meant I wouldn’t be able to have children. Devastation is the only word to describe how I felt at that time.
If the cancer hadn’t spread, I was told I could have a radical trachelectomy. I could keep my uterus, but I would need my pelvic lymph nodes removed.
Following further scans – I received my first bit of good news. The cancer hadn’t spread – it was confined to my cervix.
More than four months into the emotional rollercoaster, I had the radical trachelectomy and it was a success.
I now continue to have regular checkups with the oncologist, which will continue for another four years.
For me, it was the ‘dreaded’ Pap test that saved my life. It was caught early and treated early. Something I am grateful for.
Today, as an Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation ambassador, I am proud to share my story so that others value the importance of Pap tests and help prevent someone from experiencing what I have been through.
If there is only one thing I want all women over the age of 16 to take away from my experience is to have regular Pap tests and spread the message.
By signing up to the ACCF’s Get the Pap Text reminder service – a free SMS reminder service – you will never forgot your next Pap test.
No one is invincible to cervical cancer – but it is preventable.
Chelsea is sharing her story on behalf of the ACCF to empower women to be ‘Be Bright’ about their health by having regular Pap tests. She is encouraging Australian women to sign up to the ACCF’s free Get the Pap Text reminder service – an SMS reminder sent to Australian women during the month they nominate for their two-yearly Pap test. To register or help support us in making cervical cancer a disease of the past by making a donation, visit www.accf.org.au.