A woman was forced to lay in a bath of blood until she was finally diagnosed with vaginal cancer.
For months Amanda Hayes, 30, was turned away from her GP despite suffering bloating, severe abdominal pain and heavy bleeding.
Her symptoms became so bad she would have to sit on the toilet for an hour in order for them to stop.
In October 2016, the beauty therapist from Didcot, Oxford suffered chronic mood swings which she put down to a hormone imbalance caused by her contraceptive implant.
She opted to have the implant removed weeks later so she could continue life as normal.
However, she continued to have periods that would last for two or three weeks at a time, which Amanda knew was irregular, despite the recent change in hormones.
She was also having restless nights suffering with insomnia, where she would pace around the room to try and send herself to sleep.
She was constantly bloated – which doctors told her was IBS and that she should take Buscopan.
They also constantly asked if she was pregnant, or whether she had taken the relevant sexual health checks.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, Amanda became incredibly uncomfortable so went to visit her GP again.
They discovered an abscess but sent her away with a course of antibiotics to clear any infection.
During the Christmas period, Amanda went on to suffer a number of incredibly heavy bleeds.
“I would have to wait on the toilet for over an hour for them to stop,” she said.
“I knew it wasn’t a regular period as I was passing blood clots – I’d never experienced anything like it and I was in incredible pain.”
She continued to call 111 over the festive period, but the help available was limited as there was no access to her medical records and appointments with the GP were sparse at that time of year.
On New Year’s Eve, Amanda suffered the biggest bleed of all.
“I decided to sit in the bath until it passed,” she said.
“Thinking back now, I can’t believe I didn’t call an ambulance.
“I still felt OK in myself so I didn’t want to waste their time with ‘period issues’.
“But I was in a very bad way, sat in a bath of my own blood.”
The bleeding subsided, and when the GP surgery opened in the new year, Amanda went straight in for an appointment.
Her mum Sally, 60, accompanied her as she was sent back to the gynecological department.
Whilst there, she suffered another heavy bleed where a nurse asked her to use a bedpan so they could assess the situation.
When she showed them the scale of her problem, she was rushed to Churchill Cancer Hospital, Oxford, where they discovered a 10cm mass on the inside of her vaginal wall.
A biopsy confirmed that Amanda had aggressive vaginal cancer, usually only found in women over 60.
Just three days later she was sent for her first round of chemotherapy to control the size of the tumour, which was followed by radiotherapy and brachytherapy – an internal form of radiotherapy.
After the intensive treatment, which lasted until March 2017, Amanda had a three month cooling-off period for everything to settle down and see what progress had been made.
Unfortunately when she went for her check-up, she was told the cancer had metastasised to her lungs.
“It was heartbreaking to hear,” she said.
“I was with my whole family, hoping to hear good news that the treatment had worked.
“I couldn’t help thinking to myself that I could deal with vaginal cancer but that my lungs were a vital organ and I really needed them to live.”
She started another round of aggressive chemotherapy in August 2017, followed by radiotherapy in January 2018 to reduce the size of the cancer.
Amazingly when she went for the check-up after another three month cooling-off period, she was told there was ‘no evidence of disease’.
“The cancer had vanished,” said Amanda.
“I couldn’t believe it – but I knew that it could just as easily metastasise again.”
In August 2018 she was classed as stable, but knows that at some point in the future, her cancer will return.
She still attends scans every three months, which help to keep an eye on what’s happening inside her body.
Doctors were baffled at the disappearance, and are doing everything they can to keep it at bay.
Amanda continues her blog ‘Happy Smiling Cancer Girl’, which she used throughout her cancer journey to raise awareness of vaginal cancer.
An average of 250 women a year are diagnosed with the cancer in the UK, most of whom are over the age of 60, so the awareness is very slim.
“I want to break the taboo and let women know they can speak about these problems,” said Amanda.
“I know it’s an intimate position to be in, but speaking to your GP about any problems you may have ‘down there’ is so important.
“That’s why I blog about my journey, in the hope to reach out to others and get people to ask for proper help before I did.”
Being a beauty therapist by trade, Amanda is also looking to create a mobile beauty salon for cancer patients, to help them feel special through the most difficult time.
According to The British Association of Beauty Therapy & Cosmotology (BABTAC), 70% of spas and salons in the industry in the UK have a blanket ‘no treatment’ policy for those who have cancer or are post cancer by 5 years.
“With a lack of understanding, therapists can unintentionally isolate those wanting a treatment due to the emotional impact it can have on the therapist,” said Amanda.
“Cancer can come in many forms, and with therapists not having a good knowledge and understanding of it, they can feel intimidated by adapting treatments to suit cancer clients.
“As someone from both sides of the coin, I want to bridge that gap and make treatments available to people when they need them most.”
She is raising money with the end goal to have a fleet of ‘beauty buses’ and has a goal of £20,000.
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