Woman diagnosed with cervical cancer after losing her mum to the disease urges women to ‘listen to their bodies’
A woman who lost her mum to uterus cancer and was later diagnosed with cervical cancer is urging others to "listen to their bodies".
Crystal Manuel, 39, a finance manager from Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire, was 26 when her mother, Dolores, passed away from uterus cancer, also referred to as uterine cancer or endometrial cancer.
Just over a decade later, at the age of 37, and after experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding for around a year, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Now, as a cancer survivor, Manuel wants to stress the importance of getting checked if "something [isn’t] right".
The mum-of-two started experiencing heavier and more painful periods, lower back pain, "shooting pain down [her] legs", and bleeding after sex when she was in her mid thirties.
While nothing was uncovered on several visits to her GP, when her symptoms continued, Manuel pushed for a diagnosis, and, approximately one year later was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma cervical cancer.
Read more: Woman's embarrassing symptom turned out to be a sign of cervical cancer
She describes the moment as "very scary", particularly as her mother had died three months after her own cancer diagnosis.
"[My mum] was 49 and was experiencing bleeding, but doctors just thought she had fibroids," Manuel explains.
"She was going in for a hysterectomy and when she went in for her assessment before the operation, that’s when they picked up that it wasn’t just fibroids – it was cancer.
"Unfortunately, it caught too late; she was diagnosed in November and she had passed away in February the next year," she adds.
Understandably this had an impact on how Manuel felt about her own diagnosis.
"With [mum], it was just three months and she was gone," she says. "She always said to us, 'If you feel any ache or pain just go and get checked,' because she probably ignored it for quite a while."
Read more: 5 cervical cancer warning signs you should never ignore
Cervical cancer is a cancer that is found anywhere in the cervix – the opening between the vagina and the womb – and, according to the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, it currently kills two women in the UK every day.
Symptoms of cervical cancer include unusual vaginal bleeding, changes to vaginal discharge, pain during sex, or pain in your lower back.
A cervical screening, known as a smear test, checks the health of the cervix and is a test to help prevent cancer – and although Manuel's results came back as negative, the bleeding persisted and she knew "something wasn’t right".
While she found it difficult to book a GP appointment due to the coronavirus pandemic, she eventually managed to secure an appointment and was referred to Southampton General Hospital, where she underwent a cervical biopsy.
Weeks later she received the news that she had cervical cancer.
Despite her health fears, Manuel knew she had to be strong for her husband, Clive, 39, a regional manager for British Gas, and her two children, Camron, 15, and Chaia, 12.
“I’ve got two children and a husband, so it was very scary, but obviously, you’ve got to be strong for the family," she says.
While at times she says she feared the worst, she says her diagnosis was "not a death sentence" and she therefore "tried to carry on as normal".
She believes her mindset was fundamental in helping her get through her treatment, which included a radical hysterectomy – a surgical procedure to remove the womb – five rounds of chemotherapy, five weeks of daily radiotherapy, followed by two weeks of brachytherapy.
Watch: UK woman who couldn't carry a child after cervical cancer has become a mum
While she recovered well after the hysterectomy, and did not lose her hair due to the type of chemotherapy she underwent, Manuel says she did experience some "horrible" side effects, including nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue, aching bones, and a loss of appetite, as well as also going into menopause.
While she did her utmost to remain positive during treatment, she admits to also "feeling down some days" and recalls a time when she found herself crying in front of one of the nurses, saying: "I can’t do this anymore".
"When I look back now, I actually feel sorry for myself; I think, 'oh my goodness, I actually went through so much'," she says.
“But at the time because you’ve just got to go through it, it’s just like you’re in survival mode.
"You know you’ve just got to put up with it, you’ve got no other option."
Read more: 12 things people wish they knew about smear tests
Three months after her treatment finished, Manuel received the "all clear" from doctors and now has check-ups every few months.
While she felt a sense of "relief" and happiness at being in remission, and her physical health has since improved, Manuel says it has been difficult to process the last two years.
"You’re happy [to be cancer-free], obviously, but you don’t feel super happy because I think you’re still processing everything you’ve been through mentally," she explains.
She says her cancer journey has also taught her about what's really important in life.
"In reality, we’re not here forever, so I’m living life differently, now; I’m living life [to the fullest]," she explains.
She now wants to encourage other women to attend their smear tests and push for a diagnosis if something feels out of the ordinary.
"Just listen to your body because, luckily for me, that’s how I detected it," she explains.
"If you have any symptoms, or anything you feel is not right, with anything in your body, go and get checked," she continues.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is launching its biggest ever campaign: #WeCan End Cervical Cancer, to work towards a day where cervical cancer is a thing of the past. You can find out more by visiting: www.jostrust.org.uk/ccpw
Additional reporting PA.