By Kate Bickford – originally shared internally with ABC employees.
Kate Bickford went to hell and back when she was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer. But the experience has galvanised her to help others, with a trip to Bhutan the next step in her journey. Why Skin Deep? A number of levels for us. You can’t necessarily judge a person’s health just by looking at them, nor do we always know the stories behind those we encounter each day. On another level, it’s also important that we take steps to look after the different aspects of our health and be thankful for each day.
To look at me you wouldn’t know I’ve been battling cancer. You probably wouldn’t know that I take seven medications daily.
I still see doctors most weeks and I’m fighting back waves of nauseas and other side effects of the medication I take.
To look at me you wouldn’t know that my doctors have told me that if I had left my pap test for another 3 – 5 years my treatment would be very different: they would not be curing my cancer, they would only be prolonging my life.
Having a routine pap test saved my life.
In August last year I went for my two-year pap test. I had been having a few minor health concerns but I put them down to stress. I wasn’t prepared for the result: I needed a biopsy and there was a very high chance that I had cervical cancer.
A long week after that biopsy the diagnosis was confirmed: I had a rare and aggressive form of cervical cancer. No-one could tell me why this had happened. I was confused, angry and shocked.
As I waited for the oncologist the next day, surrounded by other cancer patients, I turned to my dad.
I had so many questions. How did this happen? What am I doing here? I’m fit, active and I don’t look sick. How can this be?
He couldn’t answer my questions. It was crushing.
Two days later I had surgery to remove the cancer. When I woke, sore and groggy, my oncologist advised that the cancer was bigger than they expected, there had been complications and we would need to talk about further treatment.
While I was still reeling from this he told me there was little chance of me ever carrying any pregnancy. For a person who had only just started wondering if children would be part of my life, it was now not even an option. I went in to a pattern of weekly doctor’s appointments and regular invasive tests.
Late 2013 my oncologist said that the cancer cells were growing back. He wanted to start me on chemotherapy. Daily nausea was fun and having my ovaries shut down and put my body in to menopause in my 30’s was heartbreaking.
My life had changed so drastically – now my days revolved around the next lot of medication, trying to push through pain and find a place for all the emotions inside me.
In late January came some good news. My scans were clear and my cancer was in remission. Remission is great news but I still need to finish my treatment to ensure the cancer doesn’t return. I’m on a daily dose of chemo and other medications.
I am also in for a life of regular tests, I am on a first name basis with all my doctors and more surgery is inevitably in my future. I’ve spent more on doctor’s appointment and medication than I care to count. But I am alive.
I feel like I’m starting again and having to re-learn how to live my life after cancer. I have drastically changed my diet and outlook on life.
It has taken so much of me – a sense of innocence, my fertility and parts of my soul I will never get back.But it has also taught me about the lightness and darkness of life. A compassion and empathy for others I never knew I had and it has brought out strength in me that I never knew existed.
Work has been a good guiding ship of stability among the chaos of my cancer treatment and I have been lucky to have understanding colleagues and a supporting manager.
I have always been passionate about helping others and now I feel that more than ever.
Later this year I’m going to Bhutan in the Himalayas as part of a project run by the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation to help vaccinate teenage girls against cervical cancer. In Australia we are blessed with having the cervical cancer vaccine and regular two-year pap tests but in many developing countries this is not the case.
By raising money, 13-year-old girls in developing countries can receive the Gardasil® vaccine.
This project saves lives.
In the lead up to my trip to Bhutan I want to raise money to help the ACCF perform this valuable work. Donations will go directly to helping vaccinate these girls.
I also want to ensure that women are looking after their health.
If you would like to help Kate’s endeavours, please check out her sponsor page.