Support group launched to help women with cervical cancer
BRISTOL women are using their experiences of cervical cancer to help others dealing with the disease.
Vikki Groves had to have a hysterectomy after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, months after she first visited a doctor with symptoms. Naomi Willmott saw her best friend die of the disease and wanted to do something to honour her and help others.
They will be launching the South West's first support group for women dealing with the disease next week, having been trained by cervical cancer charity Jo's Trust. The cancer kills around three UK women every day and one woman is diagnosed with the disease every three hours.
Both Miss Groves, of Kingsdown, and Mrs Willmott, of Warmley, were treated for abnormal cells following a smear test before their other experiences of cervical cancer.
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Cells were discovered when project manager Miss Groves went for her first smear test and had the necessary treatment. But having lived abroad for a few years and failing to register with a new doctor when she returned she failed to get screened for cervical cancer.
Miss Groves, now 38, said: "The years rolled on and I was just feeling really tired all the time but I hadn't put two and two together. Then I had a massive bleed and had to get myself checked out.
"The diagnosis went on for what felt like forever – about three to four months. They couldn't see it properly so I had scans and tests and then a day-case operation. I was told it definitely wasn't cancer but then after an MRI scan I was whisked in for a hysterectomy. I had the operation three years ago and am still having my six-monthly check-ups."
Because the cancer had not spread to Miss Groves' lymph nodes, further treatment was not needed and now she is ready to speak to others about her experience.
Mrs Willmott, 39, said: "I was the lucky one and am such a promoter of going for regular smears because that's how mine was picked up. I found out I had abnormal cells which were graded at the worst you can get before they have changed so I then had to have treatment and still had to wait after the surgery to see if it was cancer. I was lucky they got it early because I lost my best friend to it."
Sarah Ivan was 37 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer – and died within 18 months.
Mrs Willmott said: "Sarah told me at my wedding that she had been bleeding and was going to see a doctor.
"I got back from my honeymoon and she sat me down and told me it was cervical cancer but even then I thought it would be fine."
Mrs Willmott said the cancer spread and doctors told her friend that there was nothing more they could do.
"When Sarah was dying I told her she would never be forgotten and that is how I came to get involved with Jo's Trust."
As a singer Mrs Willmott decided to hold a fundraising concert for the charity and St Peter's Hospice, where her friend had passed away.
"When I heard there was not a Jo's Trust support group in Bristol or the whole of the South West I contacted them and said I would really like to get involved."
She went for training with Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust and now she is raring to go.
"I'm really excited," said Mrs Willmott. "I just really want to get the group going. I just think it is so needed."
The first session later this month will be an informal meeting to find out what women want from the group.
Miss Groves said: "Because we have already been in the situation it is easy to understand what they are going through and will probably be able to help them with questions they have."
Tracy-Louise Appleyard, who leads the colposcopy service at North Bristol NHS Trust, believes the new support group will help patients better understand their treatment.
"Jo's Trust is an amazing organisation," she said. "This group will be about people who have gone through the experience helping these ladies rather than medical experts. I think patients are probably able to get much better empathy from them because the people they are dealing with are able to talk about their own experiences. For them to have somewhere to go like that will be absolutely amazing."
There will also be talks from experts in the future. for more details, visit www.jostrust.org.uk.