After watching my interview on S4C’s Heno about Mam Cymru’s #YearOfTheSmear campaign, to encourage more women in Wales and beyond to attend their smear tests in 2018, Gemma Hands was inspired to contact us to share her own experience. During my telephone interview with Gemma, I learnt about her heart-breaking story and why she was so keen to share her journey in order to encourage more women to book and attend their smear tests.
Gemma Hands is a 29-year-old teaching assistant and mother to Madison, who’s 10 and Charlie who’s 8.
Like me, Gemma was 20 years old when she attended her first smear test, and her results showed abnormalities. She didn’t need any treatment, and fortunately, the next result was normal. The inconsistent results continued over the next few years, and when she was 26 years old the abnormal results worried her and her doctor, and Gemma was referred for further examinations.
The staff at the local colposcopy clinic discovered that the abnormal cells were in fact quite severe with a serious threat of cervical cancer. Gemma had already had two children, and was happy to have a hysterectomy, but the staff advised against this as Gemma was still very young. A biopsy was the preferred procedure to get rid of all the abnormal cells, but due to the fact that the cells had developed and grown, it took four attempts before the experts were happy that all the cells had been removed. Fortunately, she has not had any further abnormalities.
So why does Gemma worry about cervical cancer…every single day? Because sadly, she lost her mother Debbie to cervical cancer 9 years ago.
Debbie was only 40 years old when the abnormal cells were discovered. Debbie had been bleeding regularly during her recent pregnancy with Gemma’s younger sister, but It was impossible to do any tests during the pregnancy. She was referred for a smear test very soon after giving birth, this is when they discovered the abnormalities.
Gemma emphasised that her mother was always up do date with her smear tests and had never experienced any problems, and it was therefore a massive shock when she learnt that the abnormalities had developed so quickly. Debbie was advised to have a hysterectomy, but unfortunately the cells were cancerous, her only hope was radiotherapy and chemotherapy. It was an extremely difficult time for Gemma and her young sister Tanwen.
Following six years of suffering and treatments, Debbie had the all clear. This was a massive relief for her and her family. Unfortunately, the smiles faded way too soon as the cancer returned. Debbie lost her battle at the young age of 47, leaving Gemma, who was only 20 years old and had recently become a first-time mum, and also Tanwen her younger sister, who was only 7 years old.
“It was incredibly difficult to lose my Mum to cervical cancer. I really don’t know how I would have coped without the support of my husband Geraint”
Gemma worries every single day about the threat of cervical cancer and worries that she might have abnormal cells. She also worries about her sister Tanwen and has forced her to get tested early, despite only being 16 years old. Gemma would like to get tested more often as the threat of cervical cancer plays on her mind and is a constant worry.
“I just don’t understand why women refuse or decide not to go, and why they just don’t make time to attend their tests. Even if you have had the all clear in the past, it can return, like it did with my Mum. You have to go when you receive your letter because I don’t want you to go through what I’ve been through and what my Mum had to go through”
Gemma thanks her lucky stars that her cells were discovered early on and removed so that she can enjoy life with her own children, but she’s also devastated about losing her Mum and the fact that Debbie has missed out on so much.
“I’m really happy that Mam met Madison, even though Madison was only a young baby when she died, but Mam’s missed out on so much and we have too. We’ve always attended our appointments and look what we’ve been through. If you don’t even go for your smear test, and if there is a problem, then it might be too late for you to catch the cancer. Embarrassed, busy….there’s always an excuse. Just go for your test girls as it’s so, so important”
Mam Cymru would like to thank Gemma for contacting us and for her willingness to share her story. Please ladies, make it your #YearOfTheSmear and spread the word to help change the statistics and save lives.
For more information about Cervical Screening visit the Cervical Screening Wales website.
By Heulwen Davies, Mam Cymru.
*Copyright: Mam Cymru