A young mum who was told to ‘have a few wines and relax’ when she complained of severe bleeding and constant pain to her doctor later discovered she actually had cervical cancer.
Ashlee Williams-Barnes was only 24 when she visited her GP with heavy bleeding, UTIs and pelvic pain.
The mum-of-two from Jervis Bay, NSW, visited multiple doctors for two years but was dismissed as fit and healthy. At one point she was put on antibiotics for six months when medics thought she had an infection.
Despite her bleeding being so heavy she ‘lived in black clothes’, doctors told her she was ‘too young to have cancer’ with one GP telling her, ‘Maybe you need to have a few wines and relax, it’s all in your head.’
Feeling like she was ‘going crazy’, Ashlee eventually tracked down a doctor who took her seriously, and was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 26.
Ashlee Williams-Barnes was only 24 when she visited her GP with heavy bleeding, UTIs and pelvic pain. Two years later she was diagnosed with cervical cancer
The mum-of-two from Jervis Bay, NSW, visited multiple doctors for two years but was dismissed as fit and healthy, at one point being put on antibiotics for six months as medics thought she had an infection
‘I felt scared, unheard, and alone even though I had my family and friends to lean on,’ Ashlee, now 34, told Daily Mail Australia.
‘By the end of 2014, I didn’t even have the energy for a 50m walk. I was in constant pain, distressed, and held guilt that I could not be the partner, mother, daughter, friend or work colleague that I wanted to be and had always been.
‘We had to knock on doors until somebody listened.’
Ashlee said she felt like her ‘options were running out’ until she found a GP who referred her to a specialist.
‘This was one-and-a-half hours away from my home. She was our miracle.’
Ashlee says the next appointment with the doctor was ‘life-changing’.
‘From the moment we met she believed me and made me a priority, she showed empathy and understanding and I felt safe and understood.’
The doctor also connected her to the team at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a cancer treatment centre.
‘She acknowledged that my circumstances, symptoms, and inconclusive pathology result, were beyond her specialty,’ Ashlee said.
‘On the drive home several things were going through my mind, “this is bad, how can this have taken two years for someone to really listen”, on a positive note, “I feel now I am not far from getting answers” – and “oh no, what’s next?”
After meeting the doctor, Ashlee underwent a biopsy to have a cone-shaped piece of tissue removed from her cervix, but three days later was rushed to hospital after collapsing at home and losing large amounts of blood.
Feeling like she was ‘going crazy’, Ashlee, pictured on her wedding day, eventually tracked down a doctor who took her seriously, and was soon diagnosed with cancer
Doctors told her she needed further surgery to stop bleeding. When she woke up, she was told she had cancer
Doctors told her she needed further surgery to stop the bleeding. When she woke up, Ashlee was told she had cancer.
‘Little did I know from this point that Sydney was to become my home for the next four months,’ she said.
‘Initially, I had a cone biopsy. I returned home after this day procedure, but I did not recover from the surgery.
‘Three days later I found myself critically ill losing an enormous amount of blood.
‘After sitting in the waiting room of my local hospital for 8 hours, nearly losing consciousness, filling a maternity pad with excessive amounts of blood within an hour… I reached out to my specialist in Sydney.
‘He called my mobile, and asked me to put any medical staff on the phone.
‘Within minutes I was rushed in and given fluids and then I was rushed back to hospital and was placed in the Intensive Care Unit.
‘The next day my specialist advised that I would be having further surgery to stop the bleeding and he requested I call my parents to come up immediately as he wanted to explain what was happening to me.
‘When you have your partner beside you and the doctor wants your parents there too – you know it’s not going to be great news however I kept the attitude to just take it as it comes.
‘What was estimated to be a 10 minute operation to stop the bleeding turned into around four hours of surgery.’
Ashlee said that when she woke up she had her parents, aunty and partner by her side.
‘That was the day I heard those exact words “you have cancer”.
‘My thoughts immediately went to [husband] Luke, my parents, and my family. I could not imagine how they must have felt to hear this.’
Ashlee’s specialist told her she had an aggressive 5.8cm tumour attached to her cervical wall.
It had already spread to her lymph nodes and was deemed inoperable.
The mum-of-two was told she wasn’t able to have more children, and wouldn’t make it to Christmas, 2015.
Ashlee said she knew her family was terrified she was going to die and felt helpless.
‘I watched on as my family tried to hold it together. I knew they felt helpless and they were all scared that I would lose my fight. I had two weeks to go home, get my affairs in order and was recommended to get family photos which we did.
Ashlee, pictured on her wedding day, was told she had an aggressive 5.8cm tumour attached to her cervical wall
‘My dad was on the floor with the news in tremendous pain and my mum was in tears and shock also.
‘Luke, my mum, dad, and aunty all looked at me with horrified eyes and worry.
‘I went for my PET scan that day and the results were unexpectedly worse.
‘I didn’t have time to save my eggs which knocked the wind out of me as all I wanted was for Luke and me to have a child together and for him to experience all the firsts’ of being a new parent, as he didn’t have biological children of his own.
‘I thought about life for my children, Zahli and Kyden, without a mum and what the future would look like for them.
‘I was angry that it took so long for a diagnosis and I wanted the system to be better. I was scared that I wasn’t going to be strong enough to survive and let down those closest to me.’
Ashlee was then offered a medical trial that offered her some hope.
She received radiotherapy every day along with chemotherapy once a week for three months.
This was followed by rounds of brachytherapy, a type of internal radiotherapy.
‘Treatment was brutal and the radiation daily was the hardest thing for me,’ she said.
‘This was a traumatising time for both of my children.
‘They didn’t know what was going on and we made efforts to show them my treatment – they watched from outside the room with the nurses and they spoke to me during my procedure.
‘I pretended the best I could to put on a great face but I could only sit with them an hour at a time as I was just too unwell.
‘My brother gave up his room in his one-bedroom apartment for months and slept on the lounge while working fulltime.’
Ashlee said her husband gave up his job and nearly lost his house as he took care of her physical and emotional needs.
‘He dressed me, showered me, fed me, took control of my medicines, picked me up when I was low, and drove me to treatment everyday.
‘He was away from all of his family and friends and he never left my side.
‘The community rallied behind us and truly fought the battle with me from the sidelines. I feel so lucky.’
Ashlee said she coped with the traumatic times by telling herself to ‘just get through the next five minutes’.
‘It hurt to move and I struggled to lift my head off my pillow. I shed quite a few tears mainly when I was vomiting or coming down off the steroids. But Luke would pick me up and he would remind me that I’d gotten through every bad day so far so I could make it through this one,’ she said.
‘And that’s what I did. I took it five minutes at a time, a day at a time, a week at a time, a treatment at a time. I kept my positivity that I could beat the odds and I never gave up hope. My specialists and I had done everything possible to provide a good outcome.’
One week before Christmas, 2015, Ashlee was told she was cancer-free while shopping in Kmart.
This meant she could celebrate Christmas with her children.
Seven years on, she is now able to live her ‘new normal’ – which includes going through an early menopause.
‘My organs are heavily affected and damaged by my treatment… They don’t operate normally and I undergo recurrent infections and annual hospital visits,’ she said.
‘I still bleed and have pain. I’m 34, menopausal, and no one really believes me when I say I am having a hot flush.’
Seven years on, she is now able to live her ‘new normal’ – which includes going through an early menopause
‘I have to take daily antibiotics, wear hormone patches and take two bladder pills daily at this point.
‘But I am here today and I am so grateful for medical science, the team that helped me build hope and held my hand through the darkest times of my life and all those that fought this with me on the sidelines.
‘I am not here to name and shame. For me, with my story, I wished to highlight some really important points in my journey.
‘I know I am not the only person in our nation who has had an experience like mine.
‘Statistics support my experience is not isolated and that First Nation women are seven times more likely to receive suboptimal care and late detection of cervical cancer. This is a current problem for our country.
Doctors advised that she takes family pictures after she was diagnosed (pictured)
Ashlee, pictured with her family, was told she ‘wouldn’t make it to Christmas’
‘Women still hold fear and are shame to talk about gynaecological health. This needs to not only be addressed in our school system but also in our communities.
She also urged other Australians with health issues to seek a ‘second, third or fourth’ opinion if they’re not happy as it could ‘save their life’.
‘Many times I have had to request and fight for scans and tests including thin prep, ultrasound, and other scans.
‘This was life-saving, so don’t be afraid to be strong on what you need and request it from the doctor.’
Ashlee now works as a kindergarten teacher and coaches her daughter’s rugby team in her spare time.
‘Let’s stamp out the shame in talking about gynaecological health. The more we talk the more we normalise our bodies and the less shame we have in seeking advise or help from professionals. We need to get educated.
‘We know our bodies best and it is so important that if answers from general practitioners are not sitting right with your gut instinct then please seek, a second, third, and fourth opinion if necessary because if I hadn’t kept fighting for answers and speaking up, I would not be here today.’
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk