First Steps Women’s Centre

Paula Bradley MLA was diagnosed with cancer when she was just 24 and admits she knew nothing about the disease. It was only much later that she realised how serious the condition can be. As part of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (22-28 January) Paula joined forces with Cancer Focus NI to urge women to be vigilant and get regular smear tests.

“I went to my GP with really debilitating, severe back pain that had been bothering me for a couple of months. I was separated from my husband, and was working and looking after the children, so it was full on.

My doctor suggested I should have a smear test as it had been a while since I’d had one. I thought, ‘Really, why would you do that for a sore back?’

The doctor arrived at my house a couple of days later as it was on his way home from work. He said he needed to speak to me. He told me the smear had come back and there was a problem and that he was going to refer me for further investigation. After more tests I found out I had cervical cancer.

I was fine with the news – I was so young and naïve I didn’t appreciate how severe this could be. As far as I was concerned I had two children and I was confident my life was going to go on.

I certainly wasn’t aware of how I could have contracted this disease - I didn’t know it was something you could get through sexual contact. It wasn’t talked about.

My mother is very level-headed and started making plans. I remember going for surgery and laser treatment – it wasn’t explained to me what was happening.

It sounds ridiculous, but I don’t even really know what that involved. Patients weren’t given any information back then. It was all a bit sketchy and there was no internet to look it up.

I had maybe four or five sessions of laser treatment. It wasn’t very pleasant, but there was a wonderful auxiliary nurse who held my hand and talked away about all sorts during the whole thing. She was just lovely and made me feel very much at ease. The consultant was very good too, but so matter of fact.

I must have been going through treatment for three or four months. It was tough and I was in a lot of pain after those treatments, but it was physical rather than emotional pain.

I’ve never been one of these people who let things get you down. You put your head down and work on. I have that mental attitude. And, of course, my parents were a huge support.

After it was over I never thought about it again until I became an MLA in 2011 and attended an event about cervical cancer. I sat and listened to the speakers and other patients, and that was when I actually learned about the disease. It was much more emotional for me then, speaking to the other women who’d been affected.

It’s very bizarre to think back, to have gone through that and not been more aware of what was happening. It was the nature of everything at the time. You put your life in the hands of the consultant and didn’t ask any questions.

It was all very personal and intimate. You were embarrassed. If it happened to me now I would want to know and see everything that was going on.

My GP was fantastic, very caring, and I’m so lucky it was caught early. My advice to women is to make sure you get your smear test when you’re called for one.

It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it only lasts a second and is so much better than the alternative. Nurses are professionals and carry out hundreds of these tests every year. They do their best to make you feel as comfortable as possible.”

If you are worried about cancer, call Cancer Focus NI’s free NurseLine on 0800 783 3339 for advice and support.

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