Mellissa's story

Mellissa Crowley had just arrived for a holiday in the USA with her mum when she was rushed to hospital bleeding heavily. Then a university student aged 22, she discovered she had cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. that her doctor at home had failed to detect. Here is her story in her own words.

I arrived in Los Angeles after a long flight from Gatwick and I was collecting my luggage when I was suddenly aware that I was bleeding a lot. I went to the toilet bathroom and it was like having a tap turned on halfway. It was just pouring out of me. I knew it was something bad.

I was rushed in for surgery to stop the bleeding. I remember being with my mother in the ER, crying and saying, 'I know it's cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.!' It was horrible.

I spoke to someone at the airport and went to the local emergency room. There, I explained what was going on and within 10 minutes I saw the casualty doctor who examined me and found what he described as a polypA growth on the surface of a mucous membrane (a surface that secretes mucus, lining any body cavities that opens to the outside of the body).. I was rushed in for surgery to stop the bleeding. I remember being with my mother in the ER, crying and saying, 'I know it's cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.!' It was horrible.

Although I was terrified, in a way I was a bit relieved because I had been bleeding intermittently for between 6 and 9 months prior to this. I had seen my doctor but he had given me a different birth controlcontraceptive pill every time and said I didn't need an internal examination at my age.

In fact, there had not been a day in the 6 months prior to arriving in America when I didn't either have to wear a tampon or carry one. My life had become very difficult. I used to work in the evenings in a call centre, so I was conscious that I would have to be able to get off the phone quickly when I needed to go to the bathroom.

Following emergency surgery, the doctor just said to go back to the hotel to rest and come back in a couple of days. He also said they would do a biopsyThe removal of a small sample of cells or tissue so that it may be examined under a microscope. The term may also refer to the tissue sample itself. on what they had removed. I now know that he had told my mother he suspected it was something sinister.

When I returned to the hospital a couple of days later, the doctor said, 'I'm afraid I've got some very bad news.' At that point both my mother and I were crying and we knew what he was going to say. He told me that he had arranged for me to see an oncologist the following day.

At the oncologist's I had a thorough examination and various tests. He sat me down and explained that it was his belief that the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. had not spread and was confined to the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus.. He suggested operating in 10 days when the stitches from the emergency surgery had had a chance to heal. He would perform a radical hysterectomyThe surgical removal of the uterus (womb). with lymph node removal as well. I was terrified at the idea of an operation. I had never been in hospital in my life, but the doctor himself was very calming. He said, 'Just believe in me and it will all be all right.'

I got quite depressed and saw a counsellor. I was having quite an undignified examination every 3 months to be told I was all right for the next 3 months. I wasn't ready to talk to people about what had happened so I said I'd had a horse-riding accident.

After 4 days on the ward, they let me out and I hired an apartment because I knew I had to stay there for 3 weeks after surgery. Before I left, my doctor explained that my lymph nodesSmall swellings along the lymphatic system that filter lymph, a fluid derived from the blood, and produce antibodies and a type of white blood cells, lymphocytes. were clear - the tumour was quite large but it was all confined. It was quite a relief.

After the stitches were removed I was given the all-clear to go home. It had been such a whirlwind. I was scared to come back home. I didn't want to tell anyone about what had happened, I was ashamed of it a little bit because of the type of cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. that it was. I also didn't want to talk about it in case it made me jinx myself and it came back.

When I returned I took a lot of time off work. I got quite depressed and saw a counsellor. I was having quite an undignified examination every 3 months to be told I was all right for the next 3 months. I wasn't ready to talk to people about what had happened so I said I'd had a horse-riding accident. I also couldn't cope with going back to university. It's frustrating because I know that I could be earning more money if I'd finished the course. Everything that's happened makes me a little bit angry, but that's life.

The most difficult thing for me is when people say they're pregnant. It's an awkward moment because that choice has been taken away from me. I think, 'That won't ever be me.'

I started to worry about meeting a partner and how to introduce this topic into the conversation. As it turned out my current partner already knew about it because we met through a friend of a friend and I was quite candid about it.

The most difficult thing for me is when people say they're pregnant. It's an awkward moment because that choice has been taken away from me. I think, 'That won't ever be me.' Nevertheless, this isn't a problem with my current partner because he already has two children. Last year we started to think about looking into having children in some way. My ovaries weren't taken, so I could have my eggs removed with a view to IVFIn vitro fertilisation. Fertilisation of the female reproductive cell (ovum) outside the body, before implantation into the uterus (womb). using a surrogate.

When I got to 5 years the hospital said I could be discharged from their care, but I decided I didn't want to be. I see them once a year now. This experience makes me appreciate how important life is and you don't worry so much about your electric bill and things like that.