‘Never be embarrassed - it could save your life’

Shauna Liddy, who discovered she had cervical cancer just after the birth of her baby last year.
Shauna Liddy, who discovered she had cervical cancer just after the birth of her baby last year.

It should have been one of the happiest times of her life. Derry woman Shauna Liddy had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy and was looking forward to ‘mammyhood’ second time around -15 years after the birth of first son, Shea - but within just a few months her life would be turned on its head with a devastating cervical cancer diagnosis.

And yet the 35 years-old from Westland Street, knows that if it weren’t for her pregnancy and the arrival of young baby Finn in February of last year, she may not have discovered the battle her body was fighting until it was too late.

“It’s definitely a strange feeling - lucky that it was caught but, at the same time trying to get my head around it all,” she said.

Shauna chose to speak out about her experience to support the ‘Team Sorcha Campaign’ to raise awareness of cervical cancer.

“I never had any symptoms - maybe the very, very occasional spotting, but literally just a drop. It certainly wasn’t anything to make me worry anyway,” Shauna maintained.

But when she was pregnant she started to experience frequent light spotting episodes, and an increase in discharge - symptoms in themselves which can be relatively common in pregnancy,

“I was back and forth to the hospital - told it was a suspected cervical erosion and they would keep an eye on me, which they did.

“My focus then was just on getting the baby here, safe and sound. I was totally focused on him, I don’t think I ever really thought there could be anything wrong with me.”

Despite at scare at almost 20 weeks pregnant, when doctors suspected Shauna’s waters had ruptured prematurely, she went on to deliver baby Finn at full term - happy and healthy.

And it was only at her post-natal check that things took a more sinister turn.

“I had a smear test and that came back showing that I carried the HPV virus and some of my cells were identified as borderline. So I was sent for a colposcopy” (a procedure to get a better look at the cervix and surrounding areas).

At that test a suspicious lump was discovered.

One week later, when her baby was only four months old, she got a call to return to hospital.

“I knew, in my heart, it was cancer, from the moment they told me they had found a lump. Of course friends and family had all been trying to reassure me and maybe I was trying to reassure myself that it might have been a wee polyp or a cyst or something, but I think I knew.

“When I attended hospital and saw the doctors and nurses in the room, I knew for definite. I said to them: ‘I know you are going to tell me it’s cancer’ when I sat down.”

Her first thought was not for herself though - but for baby Finn and her older son, Shea, who was 16 at the time.

“I remember thinking I wouldn’t see Finn grow up, and it wasn’t fair on him. He was only a wee baby so I felt I would have to stay strong for Shea, because to be told your mammy has cancer, well it’s just devastating.

“I just cried and cried - but I had to pull myself together when I got home for my family. People kept telling me how calm I was - but I had to keep it together and I had spoken to the cancer nurses who had reassured me about what was ahead.

Treatment came in the form of a radical hysterectomy - with Shauna having her cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and one of her ovaries removed.

Doctors also took some surrounding tissue and lymph-nodes to see if the cancer had spread.

She was relieved when her pathology report came back to show that it looked as though the cancer was contained to her cervix.

But the battle is not over - at least not psychologically.

“It’s hard to let go of the fear,” Shauna admitted. “I think now, it’s almost worse. Every niggle, and every ache and pain you ask yourself if the cancer is back or if it has spread.

“I’m starting to come around a bit now,” Shauna continued, “but for a while I found myself breaking down crying, looking at Finn and thinking about everything that happened and wondering what the future would be. You become scared of going out, of everything.

“But I’m getting there now.”

Shauna said it is helping her to speak out about her experience - and one aspect of this is pleading with all women to have their smears done regularly.

She admits that she avoided her smear tests “through embarrassment.”

“When I think on it now, it’s silly. But I felt embarrassed. I had a smear when Shea was born, but then I just avoided them. I went 15 years without a smear test.

“If we hadn’t decided to have Finn, if I hadn’t been pregnant, I may not have found out I had cancer until it was much later. I dread to think what may have happened.

“For the sake of a minute or two of embarrassment? I’m flat out preaching to all my friends now to keep up with their smears.

“It’s so important.”

Shauna also fully backs the Team Sorcha Campaign to have the age at which smear tests are made available to young women lowered.

“If a woman wants a smear, at any age, she should be allowed one. And the age itself at which women are invited for smears should be lowered. Women should never be afraid to have the test. It could save their life.”