'The heartbreaking call that saved my life'

A mum-of-two was rushed into hospital to have emergency scans one New Year’s Eve after a routine screening picked up that she had a life-threatening condition. Rita Doyle ‘received a text from the NHS reminding’ her that her routine cervical screening was due, but she ‘read the text and completely forgot about it.

Now, the Liverpool mum says: “I’ll never, ever stop being thankful for going for that screening test, and I encourage all my friends and family to go for theirs,” says the Liverpool mum.

Rita Doyle, who is now 61, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in December 2020, after a routine cervical screening. By New Year’s Eve she had received a phone call telling her she had cancer.

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Rita said: “When I received a text from the NHS reminding me that my routine test was due, I read the text and completely forgot about it. After receiving a follow up text, I thought ‘I suppose I should really book this’”.

Two weeks after the test, Rita was contacted by her local hospital, who told her they needed to investigate further. Rita said: “I walked into the room, and realised it was probably more serious than I’d originally thought.

“There was a doctor there who explained they had found some HPV on my cervical screening, and they wanted to do a colposcopy.

“On New Year’s Eve, I received a phone call to tell me I had cancer, and that I had to very urgently have an MRI and a CT scan, to ensure the cancer had not spread.”

Rita was referred to Liverpool Women’s Hospitals NHS FT for specialist surgery, which was extensive, and included not only removing her whole reproductive system, but also various lymph nodes.

She said: “Thankfully, just ten days after I got home from the hospital after surgery, the surgeon called and told me the surgery had been successful in removing all the cancer, and it hadn’t spread – meaning I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

“That was one of the most important phone calls of my life. It meant that I could just really focus on getting myself well after surgery.”

One of the side effects of having surgery to remove ovaries like Rita had, is that the menopause will begin immediately after. Rita said: “You’re not only recovering and dealing with the fact that you’ve had cancer, you’re also suddenly dealing with the horrendous effects of the menopause. The recovery is so much harder than you might think.”

Cervical screening, which was previously known as the smear test, checks the health of the cervix and prevents cervical cancer -Credit:PA
Cervical screening, which was previously known as the smear test, checks the health of the cervix and prevents cervical cancer -Credit:PA

Rita is now three years post-operation and is doing well – her next appointment will most probably be the last. She says she has embraced life and has had a brilliant couple of years, including cycling around Puglia in Italy, joining exercise classes and working closely with Cheshire and Merseyside Cancer Alliance as a patient voice.

Rita continued: “I just feel like I need to give something back. I’ll never, ever stop being thankful for going for that screening test, and I encourage all my friends and family to go for theirs.”

Cervical screening, which was previously known as the smear test, checks the health of the cervix and prevents cervical cancer. It's offered to women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64.

The sample is checked for certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. If these types of HPV are found, they can be treated before they get a chance to turn into cervical cancer.

Cervical screening can be life-saving -Credit:Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust
Cervical screening can be life-saving -Credit:Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust

Some people may feel unsure or uncomfortable about going for their cervical screening, but it’s a vital test to prevent cervical cancer, says the NHS. Rita added: “Prioritise your health, and don’t ignore it when the NHS invites you. It takes just five minutes, and it can save your life.”

Tricia Spedding, deputy head of public health for NHS England North West, said: “Cervical screening saves thousands of lives each year and I’d encourage all women and people with a cervix who are invited for the test to not delay and book their appointment as soon as possible.

“I understand some people may be worried about the test, so if you have any concerns, please speak to your GP practice or nurse beforehand. You can take a friend or family member to your appointment or ask for a female sample taker, to make sure your experience is as comfortable as possible.”

For more information about the NHS cervical screening programme, including what happens at your appointment, visit the NHS website: www.nhs.uk/conditions/cervical-screening/