January 21st marks the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. To help raise awareness of this deadly disease and its cause, HPV, we have asked Laura Brennan to contribute to our Pieces of the Continent project. Laura was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015, and since then has sought to raise awareness around the disease and the importance of getting vaccinated against HPV – for girls and for boys. She has shared her story at various conferences, on TV in Ireland, her home country and was awarded an honorary degree from University College Dublin in recognition of her advocacy.
In March 2019, Laura sadly passed away from cervical cancer. We are immensely grateful that she shared her story with us and keep it here in tribute to the immense and tireless campaigning work that she has done to raise awareness about the importance of the HPV vaccine.
What is your story of being diagnosed?
In December 2015, I went to my GP with irregular bleeding and, after they look at my cervix, I was sent straight to hospital. After a week of tests, scans and biopsies, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer stage 2b. I had a 7cm tumor and the cancer was also in multiple lymph nodes. After going through treatment I had a clear MRI scan.
However, after two months I felt something wasn’t right so I asked to be sent for a pet scan (a more advanced scan). This was when my suspicions were confirmed, and in August 2017 I was told the cancer had mestasised to distant lymph nodes and my cancer was no longer curable. With treatment, I could expect to live another 2 to 5 years.
How did you feel when you got your diagnosis?
I was optimistic when I was initially diagnosed; despite being told I’d never be able to have kids and my body would be damaged from radiation, I was happy that there was a good chance I would be cancer free after treatment. When I was told my cancer was no longer curable I knew I had to start living for today. I do my best to enjoy every day and make everyone I love aware of how much they mean to me.
What is treatment like?
I’ve been through 28 sessions of external radiation and 3 internal, which hospitalized me for 3 days at a time. I had 5 rounds of chemotherapy during the first round of treatment. I was very lucky, I flew through treatment. Once I was given the terminal diagnosis I had another 6 cycles of chemo, which was much tougher but still doable. Now I’m a drug to try and extend my life.
What was the impact of the cancer on your life?
Cancer took my career and my ability to have my own kids. It changed how I look but I refuse to let it take my outlook on life, so I have committed to continue to live my life to the fullest.
What would you say to people who oppose gender neutral vaccination against HPV?
HPV cause 5% of all cancers and affects both women and men. If we can eradicate 5% of all cancer with a safe and effective vaccine, why wouldn’t we? I would give anything for the HPV vaccine to have been available to me when I was growing up. If I had gotten the vaccine, this isn’t the story I would be sharing.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Vaccinate your children!