Woman shares lockdown cancer diagnosis and urges others to get test

Leanne Shields is urging others to take up their cervical screening test

Leanne Shields, 29, is urging young women to take up their cervical screening invitation after she was diagnosed with cancer in October 2020. She is pictured before treatment. - Credit: Leann Shields

A woman being treated for cancer is urging others not to put off having their cervical screening test due to fear or embarrassment, or thinking they are too young to be affected.

Leanne Shields said she would "rather have 10 smear tests" than go through the trauma of treatment including multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy after being diagnosed with the disease on her 29th birthday in October last year.

Leanne Shields, 29, is urging women to take up cervical screening

Leanne Shields, 29, says the realities of having cervical cancer left her feeling so ill and low that she didn't want to go on. She has shared her experience to encourage other women to take up their screening test. - Credit: Leanne Shields

Miss Shields said she ignored a cervical screening test invitation aged 25 and is urging others to learn from her experience and just get it done.

The holiday park worker who lives in Burgh Castle does not yet know the outcome of her treatment, which has triggered the menopause and means she will not be able to have children.

Currently testing starts at the age of 25. If Miss Shields had had the smear test in the timeframe the NHS recommends the cancer may have been picked up then or at her second test at the age of 28.

As it was she suffered vague stomach pains for at least a year leading to multiple visits to her GP.

Her symptoms escalated in summer 2020 when she was booked in for a smear test.

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By that time she had 7cm tumour that had probably been growing for some time, graded as a Stage 2b.

Within two weeks she had been transferred to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and had a treatment plan in place including five rounds of chemotherapy and 28 days of radiotherapy - all undertaken alone due to the covid pandemic.

It was followed by a week of gruelling Brachytherapy, a type of internal radiotherapy.

She said at times she had felt so ill and low she had not wanted to go on and wanted to make sure women understood what having cancer felt like before putting off their test and weighing up the consequences, including infertility.

She wont get the all-clear for five years and faces numerous scans and worried waits for results to see if the tumour has shrunk or spread.

"I should have gone at 25, but I was embarrassed and scared," she said.

"But I would rather have ten smear tests than cancer.

"I am not sure women really realise what it means. You don't get the all-clear for five years. There are so many scans and so much worry.

"Women need to know a smear test is nothing to worry about.

"Going through all this alone has been so scary while always thinking in the back of my mind I was going to die."

Miss Shields also became anaemic and needed five blood transfusions.

As well as feeling constantly tired, sick, and dizzy she lost 2.5 stone.

Meanwhile she hailed the oncology team at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital as "amazing" saying there were no delays to her treatment despite the pandemic.

"Everyone has just been so supportive," she said.

Miss Shields, an accommodation coach at the Wild Duck Holiday Park in Burgh Castle, also praised her employer for checking in on her every day.

She said that by sharing her story she hoped other women, especially those who thought they were too young,  would realise the implications of delaying or missing a test.

In her case she was worried it would hurt or bring bad news - fears she now knows should not be a barrier.

Cervical screening is offered every three years for women aged 25 to 49, and every five years for those aged 50 to 64.

It checks for cell changes in the cervix which could be a sign of cancer.

The test itself should take less than a few minutes and is usually done by a female nurse or doctor.

It is estimated that screening saves around 4,500 lives a year in England, by picking up the early signs of cancer before symptoms are felt.

"If just one person reads this then decides to book their test that will be a result.

"I just want to be able to help," she added.