As a devoted mother of five and a midwife, Kirsty is a cervical cancer survivor whose story unfolds with the discovery of subtle signs, leading to a diagnosis that altered the course of her life. Kirsty's openness in sharing her story provides a window into the realities of cervical cancer but also serves as a source of inspiration for those navigating similar paths.
Kristy and her family
Kirsty is a volunteer at Survivors Teaching Students (STS), a groundbreaking volunteer-led program driven by ANZGOG in Australia and New Zealand, brings gynaecological cancer survivors and caregivers into the classrooms of future healthcare professionals. Join us as Kirsty generously shares her experiences, struggles, and the profound changes she has faced post-treatment.
WomenCan: Can you take us back to the early signs that prompted you to see a doctor, and what was going through your mind during that period?
Kirsty: My very first warning sign was very insignificant spotting between periods. As someone who’s menstrual cycle has always been like clockwork this was very unusual for me. I was in the midst of a very stressful degree so put it down to stress but saw a doctor for this just to be on safe side. I thought perhaps I had a cyst or a fibroid or something like that. It took seeing two more doctors over two years after that for me to be diagnosed. During that time the bleeding increased, my periods became irregular, and I started having significant bleeding after sex. I became more and more scared as time passed because I knew something was very wrong, but no one would listen to me.
WomenCan: The moment of diagnosis is undoubtedly life-altering. Could you share your initial reactions and how you coped with the news?
Kirsty: I went into the appointment where I was diagnosed somewhat expecting it as I’m a very worst-case scenario person with health things. Despite thinking I was prepared for the worst; I most definitely was not. I remember sobbing hysterically and begging the oncologist to save me from what I presumed would be imminent death. My care team was wonderful and spent a lot of time that morning talking me off that ledge and explaining what options we had. I left the appointment feeling better, but the weeks following were still a whirlwind. There is a lot of waiting during cancer, always waiting for test results and it’s really easy for your mind to get away on you. I went to some very dark places during that time.
WomenCan: Your treatment involved a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. How did you cope with the physical and emotional toll during this intense period?
Kirsty: I barely survived treatment; at times I was convinced that the treatment itself was going to kill me. It took several weeks to find the right balance of drugs to counter the side effects of chemo and radiation. Physically I was very sick, getting to appointments would have been impossible without the support of my family. I coped by sleeping a lot. I had to quit my job overnight as I mentally and physically couldn’t cope (I was a self-employed midwife). Emotionally I struggled, and still struggle to this day with the trauma of it all. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it couldn’t possibly have happened to me.
WomenCan: How has your family and support network played a role in your journey?
Kirsty: I couldn’t have done any of this without my family and support network. My mum moved in with us to help during treatment and is still with us now as I still have a lot of appointments and basic activities still leave me exhausted and sometimes fatigued to the point of being bedbound. My husband and my mum held down our home and our five kids throughout treatment. My kids were amazing and so supportive in their own ways despite being scared. My friends and wider family were also incredible, the messages of support, the food parcels, and thoughtful gifts carried me through in so many ways even though at the time I didn’t have the capacity to be able to even reply to messages.
WomenCan: How different is life post-treatment?
Kirsty: My life has completely changed. My career is in tatters because physically I am not as capable as I once was. I struggle with pelvic pain and joint pain daily. I fatigue easily. Intimacy is completely different now post-treatment and hysterectomy and I feel that is an area that is not talked about a lot and there isn’t a lot of support around. I am only 37 and was thrown into menopause basically overnight which is wreaking havoc on my body despite all the medical interventions I have taken on. I am still on two to three monthly monitoring over a year later due to uncertainty about the margins of my cancer. This is challenging emotionally. People ask all the time if I’m in remission and I never know how to answer that question because it isn’t that straightforward. I am not in active treatment for cancer, but I am on regular monitoring which feels at times as if we are just waiting around for the day it comes back. That takes its toll mentally.
WomenCan: Amidst the challenges, what moments of joy and hope have you discovered, and what keeps you motivated?
Kirsty: I went from a really busy midwife who wasn’t home a lot to a really present and available mum overnight. This has been both devastating in terms of my loss of career and financial stability, but also incredibly rewarding being able to be there for my children. I have a completely new perspective on life and death and a new outlook on how I approach things. Menopause, whilst being a real literal pain, has also given me a fire and no-nonsense attitude which I sort of love because I’ve always been a notorious people pleaser. I am learning to enjoy a slower pace in my life and prioritise the things that actually matter. The cervical cancer community I have found, the network of other midwives with a cancer diagnosis, have given me hope. Reading other stories inspires me and helps me gain perspective on life after a cancer diagnosis. Being part of Survivors Teaching Students has also given me hope and motivation to raise awareness about not just cervical cancer, but other gynae cancers as well. Everyone knows that they will die one day, but it’s easy to push that thought down and forget about it until it's right in front of you, reminding you at every corner. This experience has changed my life both for the better and for the worse.
WomenCan: Looking ahead, what message would you give to individuals and families dealing with cervical cancer, and what advice or insights would you offer, especially during National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week?
Kirsty: Hang in there. Lean on each other, reach out to your community, and accept all the help. It’s ok not to feel ok about what is happening to you because it really truly just is not fair! But don’t dwell on it because while you are still here there is so much life to live and we have to make the most of it as no-one’s time here is guaranteed. If you ever feel like something isn’t right, listen to your intuition and keep going until you get answers.
Share your story
If you are a carer or have a lived experience of any gynaecological cancer and would like to share your story to make a difference in the lives of others, get in touch with us at email@example.com