When Kirsty Browne gave birth to little Baxter in 2018, he entered the world one of the first babies of his kind.
Little Baxter, in all his tiny-toed glory, grew inside his mother’s stomach. A largely unremarkable concept until, of course, you learn Kirsty didn’t have a cervix when she fell pregnant with him. Some three years before, at the age of just 26, she had hers removed after a diagnosis of cervical cancer.
“I had had an abnormal pap smear before, and because I work in healthcare, I went back again after maybe nine months,” Kirsty tells Mamamia. “Luckily, I asked for a more expensive test, a slightly better quality test, and it picked [the cancer] up. A routine pap smear may not have been able to pick that up.”
The test Kirsty requested back in 2014 is similar to the new cervical screening program that replaced regular, two-yearly pap smears at the end of last year. A new study by the Cancer Council NSW found the new screening process will lead to “dramatically lowered cervical cancer incidence and mortality in Australian women”.
In fact, between now and 2035, researchers predict the new screening will avert over 2,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer and save 587 women’s lives.
A test like that saved Kirsty's life, but with it came a diagnosis that suggested she would never be able to carry her own baby.
"I was shocked, obviously. Because I work in healthcare, I knew what was possible and I just sprung into action straight away. It all happened, very, very quickly. You just do what you have to do."
One of those things was immediately freezing her eggs and coming to terms with what treatment and surgery would mean for her fertility.
While most women with a similar diagnosis are rushed into a complete hysterectomy, doctors instead performed a trachelectomy on Kirsty. A trachelectomy involves removing the cervix and surrounding structure and stitching up the base of her uterus.
"I worked in fertility for three years, so I was very, very aware of the fact that we aren't as fertile as we think we are, even before we have our reproductive system chopped out.
"So [fertility] was at the forefront of my mind."
Naturally, it wasn't just fertility that was consuming Kirsty with stress.
"I was just reading before, that more than one in four women diagnosed with cervical cancer die within five years. I just had to stop reading articles because I was freaking myself out so much."