Crystal Manuel, who lives in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire, lost her mother, Dolores, to uterine cancer when she was 26, and she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 37 after experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding for about a year.
The mother-of-two, now 39, said she had heavier and more painful periods, lower back pain, ‘stabbing pains in (her) legs’ and bleeding after sexual intercourse, but despite several visits to the GP, “they didn’t choose anything” and her symptoms continued.
After seeking a diagnosis, about a year later, Crystal was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the cervix, which she said was ‘very scary’ – especially since her mother had died three months after being diagnosed with uterine cancer.
Today, as a cancer survivor, Crystal wants to emphasize the importance of “(listening) to your body” and getting checked out if “something (is) wrong”.
“(My mum) was 49 and she had some bleeding and the doctors just thought she had fibroids so she was going to have a hysterectomy and when she went for her pre-op evaluation that’s what when they realized that was not the case. just fibroids – it was cancer.
“Unfortunately, it was late; she was diagnosed in November and she died in February of the following year, so three months later.
“He was just caught too late.”
She added: “It was very scary (when I was diagnosed) because with her it had only been three months and she was gone, and she was always telling us, ‘If you feel pain and the pain” – because she probably also ignored it for quite a while – ‘just go get checked out’.
Cervical cancer is cancer found anywhere in the cervix – the opening between the vagina and the uterus – and, according to the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, it currently kills two women in the UK every day.
Symptoms include unusual vaginal bleeding, changes in vaginal discharge, pain during intercourse, or lower back pain.
A cervical screening, known as a Pap smear, checks the health of the cervix and is a test to help prevent cancer – and although Crystal’s results were negative, the bleeding continued and she knew that ” something was wrong”.
Crystal said it was extremely difficult to book a GP appointment due to the coronavirus pandemic, but after pushing to be seen she got an appointment and was referred to General Hospital from Southampton, where she underwent a cervical biopsy.
A few weeks later, she received the devastating news that she had cervical cancer, and she then underwent an MRI and CT scan.
Considering Crystal’s mother died three months after her diagnosis, Crystal said it was “really scary.”
“I was very scared…I lost my mother to uterine cancer, so that made it even scarier,” she said.
“You are more concerned as a mother; you are anxious and (you) are stressed because you don’t know how bad it is and you expect the worst.
She continued: “I have two children and a husband, so it was very scary, but obviously you have to be strong for the family.
“Whatever will happen will happen, but when you have children, you think they are too young not to have a mother.”
Crystal explained that although she sometimes feared the worst, her diagnosis was “not a death sentence” and she “tried to carry on as usual”.
She believes her positive mindset was fundamental in getting her through her treatment, which included a radical hysterectomy – surgery to remove the uterus – five rounds of chemotherapy, five weeks of daily radiotherapy, followed by two weeks of brachytherapy.
Crystal said she recovered well after the hysterectomy and did not lose her hair due to the type of chemotherapy she underwent, but she experienced ‘horrific’ side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, bone pain, and loss of appetite. , as well as entering menopause.
As she did everything she could to stay positive during treatment, Crystal explained that she “felt down on some days”.
However, Crystal knew she had to “go through this,” and only now has she begun to process the impact of her diagnosis and treatment.
“When I look back now, I feel really sorry for myself; I think, oh my God, I’ve been through so much,” she said.
“But then, I think, because you just have to go through it, it’s like you’re in survival mode.
“You are in pain and a lot is happening – my blood pressure dropped and I was weak and I was sick – but when I look back it’s like it never happened.
“In the moment you know you just have to put up with it, you have no other choice.”
Three months after Crystal’s treatment ended, she was given the ‘green light’ and now has check-ups every few months.
While feeling a sense of “relief” and happiness to be in remission, and her physical health has since improved, Crystal explained that it has been difficult to deal with for the past two years, adding, “Everything happened so fast… it’s surreal.
“You’re happy (to be cancer-free), obviously, but you’re not feeling super happy because I think you’re still mentally processing it — everything you’ve been through.”
Crystal explained that her diagnosis and treatment taught her “a lot about life and what’s important in life”, adding: “Actually, we’re not all here forever, so for me now I’m living life differently; I live life (to the fullest).
Now Crystal wants to encourage other women to take their Pap tests and seek a diagnosis if they feel “something (is) wrong”.
“Just listen to your body because, luckily for me, that’s how I detected it,” she said.
“I knew something was wrong… (but) I had to push to be seen.
“Stand up for yourself, (and) if you have any symptoms, or feel like something is wrong, with anything in your body, go get yourself checked out.
“(My mother’s cancer) was caught too late, and she said, ‘Any ailment or pain, just go get checked out,’ and I agree.”
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching its biggest campaign ever: #WeCan End Cervical Cancer, to work towards a day when cervical cancer is a thing of the past. You can find out more by visiting: www.jostrust.org.uk/ccpw