After going through painful therapy to get rid of a huge vascular tumor on her cervix, a cancer survivor whose first vaginal bleeding felt like “someone had just popped a balloon” wants other women to know that cervical cancer is “not a death sentence.”
Joanne Painter, who was 38 and from Northampton when she was told she had stage 2 cervical cancer, had been having irregular vaginal discharge and heavy bleeding for months before she got the news.
The bleeding looked like “someone had just burst a balloon or turned on the tap,” said the mother of two children who started and runs a natural green burial place.
Joanne, who is 43 years old now, says that doctors told her not to worry and gave her the wrong diagnosis of cervical ectropion (when cells from the inside of the cervical canal grow onto the outside of the cervix).
After Joanne pushed for a diagnosis in February 2018, she found out that she had cervical cancer. She was “stunned,” but now, five years later, as a cancer survivor, she wants to talk about how important it is to find cancer early and “stay positive.”
“If you feel like something is wrong with your body, don’t let a practitioner, doctor, or anyone else tell you it’s fine. Joanne said, “Don’t give up. Try as hard as you can to get checked out and vaccinated.
To put it another way, “It’s clear that your chances are better the sooner you get a diagnosis.”
The organization Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust says that this disease kills two women in the United Kingdom every day. Cancer of the cervix can start anywhere in the cervix (the passageway connecting the vagina and the uterus).
Before she was diagnosed, cervical screening tests, also called smear tests, which look for changes in the cervix that could lead to cancer, came back negative for Joanne.
She went to the doctor, who she said “wasn’t very worried at all,” but a few days later, she started bleeding from her uterus, and it got worse over time.
When Joanne’s period went from being “light” to soaking through her pads and onto her clothes and making her sit on the toilet for up to an hour at a time, she knew “something wasn’t right” and went to the doctor.
She went to the movies with some friends and “felt this pop” and “had blood running down her legs” because it had gotten so bad.
When she went on vacation to Australia another time, she bled “almost the whole 24-hour flight” and it “got through to the airplane seat.”
Joanne said that the change from light bleeding to heavy bleeding was “like someone had just burst a balloon or turned on a tap, and it was like drip, drip, drip.”
At that point, I realized something wasn’t quite right, and I was also very tired.
I thought I was tired because I was taking care of two young kids (ages 4 and 7) and working full time.
I went back to the doctor because I was bleeding a lot.
Joanne was sent to a genealogist by Northampton General Hospital, but her builder husband Neil, 48, took her there when she started bleeding again while out to dinner.
She said that doctors had once again ignored her symptoms, but after Joanne spent the night in the hospital trying to stop the bleeding, a gynecologist told her the next morning, “I’m sorry, this doesn’t look good.”
After taking a sample, doing many scans, and getting an MRI, it was found that she had cervical cancer and a 6cm vascular tumor in her cervix that needed to be treated instead of taken out surgically.
“I was totally and completely surprised… I do remember sitting there, not being able to say anything “Joanne thought back.
“I wasn’t really angry; I think I was more like, Is this really happening?
Half an hour later, a Macmillan nurse came to the foot of my bed and introduced herself. That’s probably when it hit me: “Oh my God, there’s a Macmillan nurse sitting at the foot of my bed, that’s not good.”
Joanne said that the news hit her hard because she had lost her father to cancer nine years earlier. However, she knew she had to face her fears and move on.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘My dad died of cancer, and now they’re telling me I might have cancer. I have a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old, and I have to get through this because I can’t not be there for them,'” Joanne said.
Joanne says that her positive outlook on life helped her get through the six weeks of chemoradiation and three weeks of brachytherapy, a type of internal radiation therapy that left her insides “black and chargrilled.”
The mother of two also said that the type of chemotherapy she got kept her hair, even though she sometimes felt “terrible.”
Even though she was “terrified” at times, she knew she had to keep going, especially for her children.
Joanne said, “You can’t think about it too much; you just have to move on.”
You don’t want your kids to see you cry or worry that you’re too sick to take care of them, so you “just crack on.”
I never thought I needed therapy because I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me or call me “Jo who had cancer,” so I told myself, “Just get on with it, get through it; it’s not that bad.”
Three months after her treatment ended, Joanne went back to the hospital for a checkup. The doctors told her it was “great” that the tumor was gone.
Joanne said it took a long time to heal and that the side effects of her treatments were like a “train wreck,” but she stressed how important it was to have a strong support system, exercise, and “be nice to yourself” during the healing process.
Joanne, who is a “big believer in the law of attraction and putting it out to the universe,” says that writing positive affirmations is a very effective practice.
She said that people need to understand that “these things do take time.” “They won’t get better and feel 100% again, and life won’t go back to normal.”
“I think there’s a little bit of adjusting to life and just accepting the new you,” she said. “This is “the new me,” and I’m different from what I was before, but it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a little bit different.”
Joanne has checkups every few months. She has had “a few wobbles” over the years, but she tells other women with cervical cancer, “You’ve got everything to live for.”