If Charlotte Falconer, who was 23 at the time, had waited another two years for her first eligible cervical cancer screening, she would have inevitably died. Instead, she had to rely on her own intuition – and it saved her life
Had she waited for her screening, Charlotte’s consultant admitted the young mum would have to face the dreaded news the cancer she suspected she had would be terminal.
Charlotte, who is now 26, and lives in Cottam, wants to warn others who are a similar age about the importance of seeing a doctor if they think something is wrong.
Read about the symptoms here: Cervical cancer: The symptoms, causes and treatment
She says: “At 23, I was too young for a smear test so it was picked up by my own instincts.
“I was not feeling well, as I was tired and eating differently.
“Had I not noticed something was wrong, things could have been very different.
“I had a coil in for a year and I was getting backache, so I had it removed.
“A week later I had a bath and I passed a blood clot that was the size of my hand. I went to my doctor’s the next day and they fast tracked me to Fulwood Hall Hospital. I had a biopsy and at first they were going to singe the top of my cervix because I was getting heavy periods.
“A week later, I returned and was sat in the waiting room with my grandma. As I was going into my appointment, I told her to stay in the waiting room, but the nurse told me to bring her in.
“When I sat down, she said: ‘sorry to let you know, but you need radiotherapy.’
“Cancer was not really in my family so I didn’t put two and two together at first.
“The nurse said I had to go to Rosemere Cancer Centre at Royal Preston Hospital for treatment. I had all three scans, MRI, CT and PET.
“It was a whirlwind as the doctor said I had stage 3b cervical cancer. It was in one of my lymph nodes.
“I was given a leaflet about the different side effects of cancer and how it would leave me infertile.
“I went to Liverpool Women’s Hospital to freeze my eggs but I was unable to as it was too life threatening because the tumour was too big.
“It was covering my cervix and going up the side of my pelvis.
“I am lucky I already had a son, Louis, who was about four at the time but 23 is no age to be told you can’t have children.
“My sister was pregnant at the time and it really hit home.
“I had 20 rounds of radiotherapy and four rounds of chemotherapy over the course of a month.
“I had to go to The Christie in Manchester and have brachytherapy, where I had three iron rods for 19 hours in my vagina and I was bed-bound.
“I was put on Hormone Replacement Therapy, which I have to have until I am 50 as I do not produce the hormones that I should.”
Following her experiences, Charlotte believes the screening age, which is currently 25, should be lowered to detect the cancer earlier.
Read more: Hundreds of girls across Lancashire at higher risk of cancer after missing out on HPV jab and Thousands of Lancashire women at risk after 'appalling' cancer screening letters error
She says: “Most women are sexually active by the age of 18 and certainly by 20. By the age of 25, it is too late.
“I didn’t know about cervical cancer at my age. I knew about Jade Goody but that was it.
“The consultant advised me there would have been a high chance the disease would have taken my life if I didn’t go when I did. I was already stage 3b – stage four is terminal. I was living with the tumour for at least six months and I was only 23. It would have been too late if I waited until 25.”
She also urges women who are too scared or squeamish to have a smear test to make an appointment.
She says: “Smear tests are great.
“A lot of ladies think they are scary and uncomfortable but that is not as much pain as I have gone through physically and mentally. It just takes a few minutes out of your day and it can save your life.
“It can pick up abnormal cells and something can be done before it becomes life threatening.”
Charlotte adds she had a lot of support from her family and friends, as well as the team at Rosemere and Royal Preston Hospital.
She had counselling at Cancer Help, in Preston, and she is also involved with Teenage Cancer Trust.
She says: “I find talking to women who have been going through the same treatment really helps me to see I am not alone.
“The support I have been given is brilliant. The consultant saved my life and I cannot thank him enough. The nurses are amazing and I can ring them up to get advice if I am having any side effects, like loose bowels, cramping and bleeding.
“My partner at the time was really supportive. I think it is quite hard for men to get their head around it. I think men should be educated about it a bit more as they are not as aware of that type of cancer.”