“I beat cancer twice”

AMANDA Drummond, 32, has already battled and beaten several bouts of cancer – but at a cost. She shares her story with Kylie Matthews.mandy

First published in body+soul on September 11, 2016.

“I first noticed an unusual lump on the side of my neck just before my 28th birthday. I went to the doctors and tests revealed there was a nodule on my thyroid, which he assured me was probably nothing. I had a biopsy done, anyway.

The doctor told me I had papillary cancer of the thyroid. My mum started crying but I just sat there in stunned silence. I was p***ed off. Why me? I’d never been a smoker.

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Amanda had eggs harvested and frozen before her cervical cancer treatment. Picture: Tim Hunter

Thyroid cancer is more common than people think and it can be hereditary – in my case, my grandmother has nodules on her thyroid. Even though I was told that it was pretty curable, the next few months were very stressful. Tests revealed two cancers on my thyroid so I had to have it removed.

A month after the operation, I took a radioactive iodine tablet and spent three days locked in a hospital room to get rid of the leftover thyroid tissue. I was so radioactive I wasn’t allowed to see anyone – and even the nurses ran in and out of the room.

Once the treatment was over, life went back to normal. Then, almost a year later, I noticed I was bleeding heavily, even though my period wasn’t due. I booked a Pap test the next week, which was 12 months overdue.

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Amanda Drummond is now preparing for her wedding. Picture: Tim Hunter

My GP was concerned and sent my test away immediately. I’ll never forget sitting in my gynaecologist’s surgery as she told me I had 1B1 carcinoma (cervical cancer). I burst into angry tears. I couldn’t believe it was happening again.

I was referred to specialists at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney. The doctor said the cancer was aggressive and had spread past my cervix. He assured me I had a good chance of survival but the extensive treatment would mean my reproductive system would permanently stop working once the radiation treatment began.

In other words, I’d go through menopause. This news left me devastated. I was 29 years old but I had no other option.

While I fear it will come back, I remain optimistic.

Before I started my treatment, I went through IVF to harvest and freeze my eggs so that one day I had a chance of having children via a surrogate. I got seven healthy eggs, which are now being kept safe with a fertility company.

My treatment involved radiation and chemo. I had to have 28 radiation treatments, four brachy treatments (internal radiation) and eight chemo sessions. Radiation left me nauseated and exhausted. Chemo took more than six hours each session: Mum would pack me a nice lunch and we’d spend the day watching Friends on my laptop and eating Twisties, which made chemotherapy all the more bearable.

On the day of my last treatment, I was told my cervical cancer had gone. The relief was amazing and I couldn’t wait to tell everyone that I’d beaten cancer again.

It’s been more than a year since I got the all-clear for cervical cancer, and while I fear it will come back, I remain optimistic and keep up with all my tests. Life has certainly improved. Last year my boyfriend, Shane, proposed to me on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. We’re getting married in November.

My advice is to have regular Pap tests, take the HPV vaccine and if you have any unusual symptoms, get checked immediately. I regret not having the HPV vaccine when it was on offer, but you don’t think these things can happen to you. But they can.”

THE SYMPTOMS

About 2000 Australian women are diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year, and about 800 with cervical cancer. Thyroid cancer symptoms include a lump, swelling or pain in the neck; trouble swallowing or breathing; a hoarse voice.

Cervical cancer symptoms include blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods; menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual; pain during sexual intercourse; bleeding after sex.

From 2017, a HPV test every five years will be replacing the Pap test as the primary cervical screening method.

* For more information, go to www.cancercouncil.com.au

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