I had to have a total hysterectomy after my womb cancer was misdiagnosed

When I was diagnosed with stage two womb cancer in November 2014, the dreams I had for starting a family instantly vanished.

I was also terrified that I was going to die.

Thankfully, I’m alive to tell my story but I felt let down by the UK healthcare system. It wasn’t until a chance trip back to my home country of North Macedonia that I was properly diagnosed – now I’m fighting to improve women’s healthcare in the UK so that others don’t have to go through what I did.

I grew up in North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, and it was a fairly regular childhood. Macedonians are very friendly, caring, and welcoming so I had a thriving social life.

When it comes to women’s health in the country, women – starting from around age 13 in some cases – can have a free gynaecological examination every year, which includes a pap (smear) test and internal vaginal examination.

My friends and I would actually book to see a gynaecologist at the same time and after that, we’d casually discuss our health and issues. These types of check-ups help to break the taboo around women’s reproductive health and it is very normal to openly talk about it.

But when I moved to the UK at the age of 25 – after wanting to experience life in a big city and improve my English – I realised women’s healthcare wasn’t the same as where I grew up. Women are literally dying of embarrassment about seeing a gynaecologist or talking about their genitals to their GPs.

I feel like there’s also less emphasis on women getting regular check ups (except for things like smear tests) unless something is wrong. I know this because it happened to me.

In June 2014I noticed I was extremely bloated and I couldn’t even sit down, which persisted for months.

When I saw my GP for the first time, she was thinking that I might be gluten intolerance. I didn’t feel like I was being listened to at all.

I visited my GP four more times over a few months but they never examined or even touched my stomach once. I was only recommended to eat Activia yogurt, which made me feel neglected and like I wasn’t taken seriously at all.

Then in October of that same year, I started bleeding between my periods and that is when I was referred to see a gynaecologist. However, that week I had already planned to fly back home to North Macedonia to surprise my sister for her birthday.

While I was there, I decided to see a gynaecologist. As soon as they did a routine pelvic examination, they discovered that I had a 14cm tumour on my womb and I needed to remove it so that I could still potentially have children in the future.

I was shocked and I cried a lot because I was so afraid.

I was booked for the operation and the tumour was removed and sent for biopsy. When I woke up, I was relieved that the procedure was over, as I had never had such a big operation before.

Soon after, the doctor came into my room and gave me the life-changing news: ‘You have stage two womb cancer that has also spread to your ovaries – you must have a second operation this evening to remove your reproductive organs.’

Since that day, my life has changed completely. My total hysterectomy meant that I lost the ability to have my own children and I was put into immediate surgical early menopause.

The surgery was a success and I am in remission. Thankfully, I didn’t have to have any chemotherapy.

After my devastating experience, I realised that women’s health in the UK is not taken seriously enough and it is failing women of all ages.

Women are dying from conditions that could have been prevented with regular health check-ups. At the moment, the NHS has a general ‘Health Check’ but they’re offered every five years and only for people between 40 and 74 years old without underlying health conditions.

I believe we must do more, which is why I started a petition for yearly women’s health check-ups for all women in the UK. At the time of writing, it has had over 40,000 signatures – just 10,000 short of my target.

A woman’s body is more than just a cervix but in the UK, priority seems to solely be given to the cervical smear test.

In total, there are five main gynaecological cancers – womb, ovarian, vulval, vaginal and cervical – but we are only routinely tested for one. So many women in the UK are not aware that the smear test only checks for abnormal cervical cells that could develop into cervical cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK, around 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the UK every year. But almost 19,000 women are diagnosed with the other four, for which there aren’t any regular check-ups – roughly 9,700 for womb cancer, 7,500 for ovarian cancer, 1,400 for vulval cancer and 250 for vaginal cancer.

If other countries – like France, Germany, USA and many more – can have regular yearly check-ups to test for any other abnormalities apart from just HPV on the cervix, why can’t the UK?

At the moment, we are playing a guessing game with our GP, many of them not specialised in this area. The biggest worry is that this game involves several life-threatening diseases.

I can hopefully look forward to a healthy and prosperous future. I am happy that I survived when countless others haven’t been so lucky.

Women have been neglected and ignored for decades, we must change this and stop needless suffering and deaths.

You can sign Dafina Malovska’s petition on the Change website here.

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