Rachel's story

Rachel Bennett received her diagnosisThe process of determining which condition a patient may have. of cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. at the age of 21 while she was studying photography at university. Instead of deferring her course, she used her recovery as a part of her final-year project to complete her degree and begin a successful career. This is her story in her own words.

I was at university and had just met my then boyfriend. When we started having sex, I found that I would bleed, so we got worried and went to get ourselves checked out for STIs. Everything came back clear, but the bleeding continued so we decided that we should go to the doctor's again. I had not been called in for routine smear tests as I was under 25 [England's screening age threshold].

The doctor suggested it might be pre-cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. cells so she sent me for a colposcopyClose examination of the cervix of the uterus using a magnifying instrument with attached light source, known as a colposcope. (a detailed examination of the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus.) at the hospital. This examination showed up pre-cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. cells, so I then went for a loop cone biopsyThe removal of any abnormal cells from the cervix of the uterus. to get them removed. The 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. results came back showing that it was actually cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

They said that the main risk would be to my fertility. That destroyed me because I couldn't bear the thought of not being able to have my own children as I am a very mothering person.

Before I knew it was cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. I was a bit scared - I went on the internet and typed in my symptoms and it did say that although very rare it could be cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.. So I thought, 'Oh my God, I've got cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., I'm going to die', but at the same time I thought I was just being silly because I was far too young and surely I would have known if it was full-blown cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

It wasn't until they told me it was cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. that I realised it was really serious. I was absolutely devastated and in complete shock. They did say that it shouldn't kill me because of my age and because it was only stage 1B1 (which meant the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. was no larger than 4cm - about an inch and a half). They said that the main risk would be to my fertility. That destroyed me because I couldn't bear the thought of not being able to have my own children as I am a very mothering person.

Although an MRIAn abbreviation for magnetic resonance imaging, a technique for imaging the body that uses electromagnetic waves and a strong magnetic field. scan did not indicate 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 spread to the 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. in my pelvis, they thought it best to remove them by keyhole surgeryA type of minimally invasive surgery. and the results came back showing they were indeed cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.-free.

The next step was to take away my cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. in a radical trachelectomySurgical removal of the cervix of the uterus (womb).. This is a fertility-sparing treatment and only about 600 people worldwide had had it done because it was quite a new thing. I was lucky that the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. hadn't spread because it meant that I could have this operation; otherwise I would have needed a full hysterectomyThe surgical removal of the uterus (womb).. By removing just the cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. you can still have children, although you have to have a Caesarean and it is harder to get pregnant. There is also a high chance of miscarriageThe spontaneous loss of pregnancy. and premature birth.

The operation was a success and the results came back showing that my cervixAny neck-like structure; most commonly refers to the neck of the uterus. had no cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. in it. This meant that they had actually taken out all the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. during the initial 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..

Having cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. matured me very quickly. It made me realise what I want out of life. I am very proud to have gone through it and I do feel an awful lot stronger and more confident in my own abilities.

Since then, I have had regular smear tests and MRIAn abbreviation for magnetic resonance imaging, a technique for imaging the body that uses electromagnetic waves and a strong magnetic field. scans, but everything seems to be fine. I have had a few scares - they did find some pre-cancerousMalignant, a tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. cells in the subsequent smear tests, but they said that these are very, very mild and should go away on their own. It is worrying because it makes me think, 'What if they turn into cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. again? Then I'll have to go through it all over again.'

I split up with my boyfriend three months after my treatment. He found it very difficult to cope. I'm not resentful - I figured out he wasn't the one for me. But knowing that whenever I tell a guy it is always going to affect how and what they see in me is difficult.

Now I'm faced with not knowing if I'm infertile and I'm finding that as time goes on it's actually getting harder. Especially the whole miscarriageThe spontaneous loss of pregnancy. thing - if I am lucky enough to get pregnant I know there's a high chance I'll lose the baby.

As for my university course - I was studying photography and in particular a subject called Wabi-sabi. The whole idea of Wabi-sabi is that things that are broken are more beautiful. I did my last project on having cervical cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. and took photographs of my scars close up - macrophotographs - then teamed them with photographs of scars in nature to explain that what I went through was actually a beautiful process that has made me who I am today.

I really wanted to change other people's' opinions because the whole idea of the taboo of cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. is just ridiculous. I felt like I needed other people to understand that it's not something to walk on eggshells around.

I got myself a job as a portrait photographer about two months after university. If anything the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. helped because it showed me how to fight and stand above the crowd.

Having cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. matured me very quickly. It made me realise what I want out of life. I am very proud to have gone through it and I do feel an awful lot stronger and more confident in my own abilities.