October 1, 2008 is a day that I will never forget. I was sat down, handed a box of tissues and told that I had Stage 1 cervical cancer. Time stood still, I remember every detail of the Dr's office in Barbados and never had home in the UK felt so far away.
My husband had recently left me with a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. Knowing that he had moved in with another woman, I decided to go for a full sexual health check including a smear test.
Nothing could have prepared me for this devastating news. The Dr asked me if I had a gynaecologist, and my mind went blank. I didn't have one. The Dr said she could recommend someone, as I needed treatment ASAP, I had gone beyond abnormal cells.
Stupidly, I then remembered that I did actually work for Dr. Juliet Skinner, one of the world's leading Gynaecologists and Obstetricians in my capacity as marketing manager for Barbados Fertility Centre. The Dr called the clinic and was told that Dr. Skinner was in theatre; I suggested that the Dr spoke to Anna Hosford, the clinic director. Anna asked for my results to be faxed over immediately.
I stumbled out to my car and just sat there sobbing, I didn't know how to pick up the phone and call my mum in the UK, I needed a cuddle and knew she would too, but 5000 miles was too far for our arms to stretch. My dad had recently died from cancer and my mum had also been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have never been so scared in my life.
My mobile rang and it was Anna. Anna reassured me that she had left a message for Dr. Skinner to call me as soon as she was out of theatre. She empathized with me and knew I was frightened, but she promised me that we were going to get through this. I realised I wasn't alone, Anna had conducted my very first scan when I saw my first baby at only 10 weeks, Anna had held my hand when I gave birth to him. I could trust Anna.
I called my sister and cried down the phone to her, she kindly offered to go and tell my mum in person and have that cuddle with her. I went home in a daze. I wandered from room to room and nowhere in my house felt safe. It was the darkest day of my life, something was eating away inside of me and I just wanted to rip my own skin off.
I went to collect my son from school, happy laughing children surrounded me, they were all excited that the school day was over. Mums were kissing and cuddling their children and were probably heading off to the beach to unwind. I did after all live in paradise. But for me I felt like I was on the outside looking in, I had cancer. I was filled with doubt, what did this mean, would I see my children grow up? I didn't know anyone in my family that had survived cancer; I just saw a long painful journey ahead.
As I stood there at the school gates, Dr. Skinner called. She very calmly explained what was going on, and that she had booked me in for surgery first thing the following morning. She was going to do a cone biopsy, which basically involved cutting a triangle in my cervix and trying to get all the cancer in one go. I remember her saying if the worst comes to the worst, you have your children; if I have to I will do a hysterectomy. I wasn't even alarmed at that last sentence. If Dr. Skinner thought that was best, then I agreed.
I was in surgery by 8am the following morning, as they prepped me for theatre Dr. Skinner came to see me and drew a diagram of what was going to happen and I felt safe. I was wheeled in to theatre and as the anesthetic started to kick in, I remember telling the theatre staff various funny tales of my time on the island and then passed out.
I went back to see Dr. Skinner the following week and the biopsy showed that she had managed to cut out the cancerous cells, but now I would have a smear test every 3 months until I got the all clear for a full year. That process went on for another 3 years.
I have never spoken about having cervical cancer because I couldn't voice to friends and family how I felt about it. I recently heard a podcast interview with Dr. Skinner and how it has been 15 years since she set up the IVF clinic in Barbados. That made me reflect on what an amazing job she does with her team to help people overcome infertility. Dr. Skinner had my back throughout and for that I would like to thank her. My son will be 13 this year and my daughter 10. I am incredibly lucky that I had her & Anna around to treat and support me. Anyone in the UK who needs support can find help here.