Cervical cancer survivor: Kirsty Browne

Cervical cancer survivor Kirsty Browne on curing the cancer of doubt

When I was 26, my world turned inside out overnight. I was completing the final year of my pharmacy degree and studying hard for the pharmaceutical intern exam. I was also told I had a rare type of cervical cancer.

It was an unexpected curve to say the least. Even as a scientist, I thought I was way too young for cancer. I had been proactive with cervical screening and had received the HIV vaccine when I was 17. I can honestly say the diagnosis knocked the wind out of me.

Kirsty Browne Conquering Cancer Blog

Kirsty Browne Conquering Cancer Blog

But it wasn’t exactly a hard knockdown. For the first few months, it felt as if I was living someone else’s life. Or performing in some tacky soap opera. I simply went through the motions, I never truly engaged with cervical cancer. At the time, I think it’s what my mind needed to just keep going.

My brain went into fight or flight mode. I forced myself to juggle treatment, study, work and egg freezing to preserve my future fertility. I had no idea what ‘normal’ looked like for a cancer patient. Could I conceal my prognosis from prospective employers? Was that ok? Was it legal? The sensation inside me was indescribable terror but I just pushed through it. I passed my intern exam, secured a role as a pharmacist all while attending up to 2-3 appointments per day.

I started my new job feeling like a shell of the woman interviewed. I was exhausted. I was in pain. I was convinced my boss would ‘find out’. The doubt had utterly crippled me. Although I was desperate to prove to everybody that I was okay, deep down I had no idea if I really was.

It wasn’t until after completing the treatment, when I was told that I would actually beat the disease, that the force of it all truly hit me. My emotions went haywire, to say the least.

Conquering Cancer Survivor Story Kirsty

Kirsty Browne Conquering Cancer blog post

My thoughts, which darted everywhere, sounded something like…

I have had cancer.
Does this mean I will always be sick?
Who will love me?
Will I keep my job?
Do I have to tell people?
Will I ever get married?

My adrenalin wore off just as I was learning to stand in this new, uncomfortable identity as a cervical cancer survivor. Is this who I am now?

In my experience, the decisions you make to recover, to not be seen as a ‘sick person’, are the hardest. They are also the most important. I know it was the treatment that saved my body, but my mindset saved my life. Learning to fight for your health, for a career, to find love, to build a family – there really is no handbook. I had to work it all out for myself. I still am.

I have spent the last 5 years on a rollercoaster of shame, anxiety and doubt. Cancer tortured my mind far more than it infected my body.

Today, I am in a rewarding corporate pharmaceutical career. I have a loving partner and a young son. I’m not sure when the doubt melted away, I think it is a constant battle until you realise it isn’t. For me, the greatest achievement was finding the map for my life before I was diagnosed, and believing I could still navigate it. There’s something special about beating your chest as you march towards your goals, whatever they might be.

To all those cancer survivors who have re-routed themselves after cancer, and even more loudly to those who are not there yet, march on!

Do you think it’s time we all took action towards worldwide cervical cancer elimination? Join the movement and sign up to the campaign today. We’d also love to hear your feedback on this story, so please post your comments to us below. You’ll also find us on all the usual social channels. 

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