AT just 25 years old, Emily-Rae Rushmer's dreams of becoming a mum were ripped from her.
After being diagnosed with aggressive cervical cancer, she had to have her womb removed to stop the disease's spread.
Now 26, Emily is calling on the Government to lower the screening age from 25 to 16 – believing that her ordeal could have been avoided if only she'd had a smear test.
"I was devastated that I was never going to have a baby," she said.
"But now I have to look at it like I'm very lucky.
"The hysterectomy meant I was having to say goodbye to all my future babies."
Emily said she believes she may not have survived had doctors not found her cancer when they did.
It was only after going to the GP with abnormal bleeding that she was sent for tests.
Emily, from Milton Keynes, said: "I didn't think it was anything too serious, I was going to the doctors anyway so thought I'd mention it.
"The nurse did a smear test and within the first ten minutes realised there was something wrong."
Emily was transferred to hospital and was sent for more tests before a biopsy of her cervix three days later.
It was only when Emily was introduced to a Macmillan nurse that she began to worry.
The 5 early signs you could have ‘silent killer’ cervical cancer
Early signs can include:
1. Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)period
The most common and earliest sign of cervical cancer tends to be irregular bleeding.
It happens when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix.
It's an especially alarming sign in postmenopausal women who no longer have periods. There's no age limit to developing cervical cancer.
2. Unusual vaginal discharge
Everyone's discharge is different, so it's a case of knowing what is normal for you.
If you find that the colour, smell and consistency has changed, then that's something you really need to have checked out.
When cancer lacks oxygen, it can cause an infection which leads to strange smelling discharge.
3. Discomfort or pain during sex
Pain during sex can be a sign of a number of different issues, but one is cervical cancer.
Because the disease often comes with no symptoms, pain during intercourse is one of the key indicators. It can be a sign that the cancer is spreading to surrounding tissues.
4. Lower back pain
It could be down to you straining something in the gym, or it could be a warning sign that something's wrong with your reproductive organs.
Persistent pain – just one off twinges – in the lower back, pelvis or appendix can be a symptom of cervical cancer.
5. Unintended weight loss
While effortless weight loss might sound like the answer to many of our prayers, it's never a good sign if it happens seemingly without cause.
A loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss tend to be signs that the body isn't working properly – it's trying to conserve energy. If you notice that you're not eating as you normally do, go to your GP.
As the disease progresses, it can also result in:
- increased need to pee
- blood in pee
- bleeding from the bottom
- lower limb swelling
"That's when I knew something was wrong," she said.
"I was healthy, I felt a little bit tired but I thought that was down to having a heavy period.
"Being totally honest, I probably wouldn't have gone for my smear test, I would have put it off until something was wrong or I heard a horror story.
"I was 25 and I had no symptoms, do not wait to get yours."
Tests revealed a tumour measuring 2.2cm – confirming she had cervical cancer.
Within just eight days it had doubled in size and measured 5.5cm, Emily said.
"Doctors said the maximum limit to operate is 6cm, so it it was touch and go," she explained.
Medics told the 25-year-old her cancer was so advanced that her womb would have to be removed, and she was rushed for an emergency full hysterectomy on January 10.
Emily said: "Looking back, I know that is what had to happen and I'm grateful that it did because I would not be here.
"I'm not going to have babies but I am someone's baby."
The volunteer has now launched a petition in a bid to change the law which would lower the smear age test from 25 to 16.
"If my smear test was done even at 18 maybe abnormal cells could have been found earlier and this could have all been avoided," she added.
She is also shaving her hair off to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Care.
Emily said: "Shaving off what's left of my hair doesn't bother me at all, and neither does the big scar that runs right down my tummy from the hysterectomy.
"I embrace my scar because that has given me life. I would rather have that scar than to not be here.
"I was very body conscious before. I had very long hair but when it started to come out and I went to get extensions.
"My outlook on life is completely different. Having cancer has actually changed my life for the better and I can't really explain that.
"I could have sat at home crying about it and asking why me, and I did for a while but it's my belief that this happened for a reason.
"If I can help just one person then that would be enough for me. I don't want anyone to feel alone or ashamed, that is my goal by raising awareness."
After a battle with post-op sepsis and numerous other abdominal infections, Emily is now on the road to recovery and is planning a career working with special needs children.
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