Jasmine Carter was 26 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Treatment put her into early menopause. How did she cope?
I was due for my first smear test in 2018, at the age of 25. I was pregnant with my second child at the time, so I planned to have it done a few months after he was born. I still hadn’t booked it in by March 2019, when I started to experience light spotting after sex. My son was six months old by this time. I knew spotting was a symptom of cervical cancer but I brushed it off – I thought maybe I still hadn’t completely healed after what had been a difficult birth.
Over the next few months, I started having light bleeding between periods, along with cramps and lower–back discomfort. I thought it was my body getting used to being back on the contraceptive pill. Then, one morning in June 2019, I started bleeding very heavily – huge clots were coming away. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor, crying: I just knew it was cervical cancer.
The heavy bleeding carried on almost every day for the next three months – even just picking up my son made it so much worse. I was so worried that I barely left the house. Finally, the bleeding eased and I went straight to my GP – not soon enough, I know, but I was so afraid about what was wrong. Now I realise that it’s crucial to get that amount of bleeding checked out as soon as possible.
My GP tried to do a smear test, but I bled so heavily it was impossible. Instead, she gave me an urgent cancer referral.
A couple of weeks later, I had a biopsy under general anaesthetic. The same day, my consultant told me it looked suspicious. On November 1, 2019, I got the news that I had a golfball-sized tumour: stage 2b cervical cancer. I cried with relief – it might sound odd, but I had convinced myself it was going to be untreatable.
Just a few weeks after diagnosis, I started treatment: 25 sessions of radiotherapy, five sessions of chemotherapy and three sessions of brachytherapy. I made the decision not to have my eggs harvested as I’m lucky enough to have two children already – I just wanted to focus on getting better.
The first couple of radiotherapy sessions were emotionally tough, trying to get my head around the fact I would be going to hospital almost every day for the next five weeks. I was lucky: I got through my treatment without being too poorly. I did suffer from fatigue, and the radiotherapy caused bladder and bowel issues, but these have now improved. I needed a blood transfusion during chemo because of anaemia but other than that, I had no side effects.
On New Year’s Eve 2019, I had my first brachytherapy session. It was something I had never heard of and the thought of it was daunting, but the radiographers and nurses were incredible. For each session, I had a general anaesthetic. Tubes were inserted into my uterus, and radiation was delivered direct to the affected area.
The brachytherapy ended in January 2020 and almost immediately I went into menopause. I was 26. There were hot flushes and night sweats galore. Sometimes, knowing I can’t have any more babies really upsets me, but I also realise how incredibly lucky I am to have my two wonderful children.
For eight months I struggled with symptoms. My doctors hadn’t discussed HRT with me – they were solely focused on treating the cancer. The hot flushes and night sweats were bad, and I also became very forgetful. After doing some research, I realised how important HRT is for bone health: being young and already having weakened bones from radiotherapy, I was at serious risk of osteoporosis.
I have been using oestrogen gel, which I rub onto my arms at night, for four months now. I’m also taking a progesterone tablet, as I still have my womb – using oestrogen alone could put me at higher risk of developing womb cancer.
The difference in how I’m feeling is amazing: the hot flushes have disappeared, along with the night sweats, and I am mentally so much better, too. I am thinking more clearly, my concentration has improved and I am less forgetful. The hip stiffness and pain I was experiencing have also lessened.
My latest scan results show no evidence of cancer and I feel so much more positive about my future. I hope one day I can help other woman in similar situations to me.