‘I beat cervical cancer’

Posted on 10 August 2017

Women are constantly reminded to go for regular pap smears, but may feel uncomfortable going for their check-ups. Norma Kiego put hers off because the results always came back normal and she had only ever had one partner. Then one day she started bleeding heavily and fainted at work.

Norma Kiego was a happy, lean and healthy 48-year-old when she started having irregular bleeding. At first she didn’t think that much of it but after a few months she went to her GP, who told her that it was probably related to menopause.

One morning Norma woke up and discovered that the bleeding had become heavier and more continuous.

At the time Norma was working in an emergency unit of a hospital so she asked the doctor on duty about the bleeding. The medical team did a haemoglobin (blood) test, which came back normal, and Norma went back to work.

Six hours into her shift she fainted. She was put on a cyklokapron drip to stop the bleeding.

Three days later she went to see her gynaecologist. He spotted a mass on her cervix and when the tissue returned from the lab it was confirmed: Norma Kiego had cervical cancer.

‘It felt like I’d received a death sentence,’ says Norma. ‘I cried for a day or two. Then I decided I have to swim out of this. Just be positive.

The importance of pap smears for every woman

‘I didn’t have regular pap smears,’ admits Norma – and let’s face it how many women are in the same boat? ‘I didn’t feel comfortable when going for check-ups. I felt exposed. And when I did go it was always normal, so I kept putting it off. I told myself I will go next time… and so it went on.

Most cervical cancers are caused by the Human papillomavirus virus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted infection but Norma had only ever had one partner, her husband of 20 years.

As far as family history goes, Norma’s aunt had breast cancer but lived for 20 years after the diagnosis and both of her uncles had prostate cancer.

Getting used to treatment

Norma was sent to a specialist gynaecologist who did an MRI. The tests confirmed that she had stage 2a2 cervical carcinoma, and she was referred to a female oncologist.

‘I felt comfortable with her immediately. She explained my treatment and the way forward in detail, and for the first time I felt I had peace of mind,’ said Norma.

The prescribed treatment regimen involved:

  • Six weeks of daily radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy, once a week
  • Five days of brachytherapy (the treatment of cancer by the insertion of radioactive elements into the tumour)

Norma’s husband – who insisted that she take leave from work because he knew she worked too hard – was very supportive, taking over the cooking duties. Not that there were too many of those. As a side effect of the treatment, Norma couldn’t take the smell of food. Her diet was reduced to teas, cream crackers, cranberry juice, marshmallows and plain food with no spices. She weighed 57kg before treatment and lost 6kgs at the time.

Back on her feet

The treatment was successful. After six weeks Norma was asymptomatic: she had no symptoms of discharge, back pain or discomfort.

‘My advice for all women is to go for regular pap smears,’ says Norma. ‘Don’t delay. Detecting cervical cancer early gives you a greater chance at a cure. Now there’s regular screenings and check ups for me!’

Published in Cancer

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