‘We are having to think the unthinkable’ - mum living cancer nightmare urges women to have smear
- Credit: Archant
A mother-of-four who has been told she has months to live is urging women to have their smear test so “other kids might not have to lose their mums like mine are going to”.
Clare Skinner, who has children aged between three and 12, was delivered the devastating news in November last year that her cervical cancer had returned and she had about 12 to 18 months left.
With time running out, the west Suffolk family are focusing on making as many precious memories as possible with Clare for their children to hold onto in the future.
They have launched a fundraising campaign to raise at least £5,000 to pay for days out together, activities and hopefully one last family trip to Disneyland Paris.
Clare, 31, from the village of Lawshall, near Bury St Edmunds, said: "Although this is extremely tough to deal with, as a family we are all pulling together and we want to also raise awareness about how important it is to 'have that smear' to save other families going through this horrible situation.
"We are having to think the unthinkable about how further down the line we will be telling our three younger children who are aged three, four and six that mummy will not be here because of this disease."
Clare, whose eldest child knows the full situation, added: "The test is five minutes of staring at the ceiling and there's so much heartache if it's not caught early. It's a free test and we are lucky to have that available to us."
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Last year health experts launched a major campaign to combat cervical cancer in the East of England as screening rates fall to a 20-year low.
Cervical screening (a smear test) can pick up abnormal cells in the cervix and help prevent cancer.
Women aged 25 to 49 are invited to be tested every three years and those aged 50 to 64 every five years.
The NHS says if you are pregnant when you are due for cervical screening you will usually be advised to reschedule the test for a date around 12 weeks after the baby is born as pregnancy can make it harder to get clear results.
'I don't think we were prepared for how quickly it could come back'
Clare, an architect by profession who is married to Doug, said she had been about two-and-a-half-years late for her smear test after life got in the way with pregnancy, wedding planning, a house move to Suffolk and university studies.
It was during a trip to the doctors for one of her children when they picked up she was overdue her smear and Clare had the test done.
She was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer in January 2019 but after weeks of treatment was given the all-clear the following August.
But the relief was short-lived after Clare started suffering with back and pelvic pain and an MRI scan revealed her cancer had returned and spread beyond her cervix.
The prognosis was that her illness was terminal and had moved to the stage of palliative, or end of life, care.
Clare, who is under the care of Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, said: "We were sceptical about it not coming back; that the radiotherapy and chemotherapy hadn't completely obliterated all the cancerous cells. I don't think we were prepared for how quickly it could come back and how aggressive it was when it came back. They said it was in my lymph nodes and chest."
She added: "If someone can have a smear test and catch it at the precancerous stage another family won't be going through what we are going through."
'I'm not going down easily'
Clare, a keen cyclist who led an active life, said she was fit and healthy before the cancer and there were "no symptoms whatsoever".
She is currently undergoing chemotherapy every three weeks and, while she feels drained afterwards, in between sessions she feels better and can do more.
A friend who is a hairdresser came round to shave her hair, to avoid large clumps falling out, and two of her children helped.
"We are being a bit experimental with bandanas and rocking the bald look at the moment," she said.
She has to make sure she's eating plenty as she's losing weight and is "pushing hard" to do things with the children and "make memories".
The treatment is easing her pain, which Doug, a delivery driver, said had to be a good sign and gave them hope that "maybe we can fight this for longer".
Clare added: "I'm not going down easy."
She said her loss would leave Doug with four children to bring up, yet before the cancer "he was the one who went out to work and I was looking after the children".
Doug, who is off work to take care of Clare and the family, said the support from the community, from individuals and businesses, had been "amazing".
He said Pro-Scape landscaping company in Lawshall arranged to have their broken-down seven-seater vehicle fixed at no cost to the family.
Matthew Plume, contracts manager at Pro-Scape, said: "Money is money, business is business, but let's just help some people who are having a bad time."
The White Horse pub at Whepstead has also provided the family with meals for their freezer and a mum from All Saints Primary School in Lawshall, Tammy Waughman, has arranged a fundraising bingo event.
-To donate to the fundraising campaign see here.