WHILE supporting her sister through a smear test, a Portsmouth mum-of-two was shocked to find out she was the one with cancer.
Nicola Maddern had refused for 13 years to have the test herself after a bad experience when she was 21 but after taking her worried sister Natalie Pantry to the doctors she reluctantly promised to finally have a smear too.
While Natalie, 34, was given the all-clear, Nicola, 35, was stunned to discover she had cervical cancer.
Nicola said: ‘It was pure fear that stopped me. The first time I had a smear test the doctor was quite rough and I was left bleeding and shaken – and fearful all future tests would be the same.
‘It was only when I went with Natalie, who had been having a few symptoms suggesting cervical cancer, I saw the test didn’t have to be painful. Natalie made me promise to keep my next appointment and I am so glad I did.’
Natalie, who lives in Waterlooville and works as a funeral arranger, added: ‘To be told I was fine and then find out Nicola wasn’t came as such a shock – she had no signs or symptoms at all.
‘It’s been a hard time and very worrying. I was always trying to put a brave face on for her, but I’m so proud of how she has dealt with everything.’
Nicola, who is a support worker for adults with learning disabilities, had her second smear test in April 2017 and despite initially being told she had pre-cancerous cells, a biopsy confirmed the situation was far more serious and she had cancer and needed immediate surgery.
She said: ‘Being told I had cancer was such a big shock because, unlike my sister, I didn’t have any symptoms. Strangely, all her symptoms disappeared as soon as I was diagnosed.
‘When I was told I had cancer, my only thought was to make a commitment to do whatever it took so I could be here with my two boys. I told my gynaecologist I would do whatever it takes as long as he made sure I was around to watch them grow up.
‘I was so thankful to have already had my family. I just kept thinking it could have been worse – as a family we all looked at the positives throughout.’
Nicola, who is married to Richard and is mum to Joseph, six, and three-year-old Jack, then underwent a radical hysterectomy with surrounding lymph nodes also removed and was plunged into early menopause immediately. She is now being closely monitored with tests every six months in hospital.
She said: ‘I feel like whoever was watching over me, they knew it could only be my sister who would get me to have another smear test.
‘We are so close, we are the best of friends and we don’t ever do anything without the other by our side.”
Following the surgery that means she is now cancer-free and Nicola will be celebrating as guest of honour at this weekend’s Race for Life in Southsea, where she will ring the bell and send participants over the start line on Sunday morning.
Nicola took part in a SHAPE trial funded by Cancer Research UK during her treatment which looks at the use of less invasive surgical approaches to treating cervical cancer to reduce long term side effects.
Nicola added: ‘I feel research is so important to tackling this disease and to stop people going through what I have. I took part in a trial which involved donating tissue samples when I had my hysterectomy and I also took part in Race for Life last year. By doing this I feel like I am helping other people.
‘Raising awareness is so important to me – and if I can make just one more person overcome their embarrassment or their fear and go for their smear test then it’s all worth it.’
To sign up for the race on Sunday visit raceforlife.org