Suffering heavy bleeding, bloating and severe abdominal pain Amanda Hayes knew something was wrong.
But for months she was turned away from her GP or misdiagnosed.
Her symptoms became so bad she would sit on the toilet for an hour waiting for the bleeding 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.
The 30-year-old opted to have the implant removed but she continued to have periods that would last for two or three weeks at a time.
Constantly going back to the doctors she was eventually diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, which doctors believed caused her bloating.
She was told to take Buscopan to ease her symptoms, but it didn’t work.
Amanda was constantly asked if she was pregnant and told to take sexual health tests to rule out any sexually transmitted infections.
Then, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Amanda went back to the doctors in pain and was told she had an abscess in her vagina.
She was prescribed a course of antibiotics to clear any infection and told to come back if it persisted.
During the Christmas period in 2016, 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.”
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 again in the new year, Amanda went straight in for an appointment.
Her mum Sally, 60, accompanied her as she was sent back to the gynaecological department.
Whilst there, she suffered another heavy bleed and 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 in Oxford, where they discovered a 10cm mass on the inside of her vaginal wall.
A biopsy confirmed that Amanda had aggressive vaginal cancer.
Just three days later she was sent for her first round of chemotherapy, 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.
When she went for her next 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.
After another three months without treatment Amanda was told there was “no evidence of the disease”.
“The cancer had vanished,” she said.
“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.
Amanda continues her blog 'Happy Smiling Cancer Girl', which she used throughout her cancer journey to raise awareness of vaginal cancer.
Vaginal cancer is cancer that starts in the vagina.
It is rare, especially in women under 40.
- vaginal bleeding after the menopause
- bleeding after sex or pain during sex
- smelly or bloodstained vaginal discharge
- bleeding between periods
- a lump or itch in your vagina that won't go away
- pain when peeing, or needing to pee a lot
If you have these symptoms, it's much more likely you have something less serious, such as an infection.
But you should still see a GP to rule out anything serious.
The main treatments for vaginal cancer are radiotherapy and chemotherapy. You may require surgery to remove any affected tissue.
Vaginal cancer can sometimes be cured if it's caught early on.
If a cure isn't possible, treatment might help relieve the symptoms for several years.
Source: NHS Choices
Around 250 women each year are diagnosed with the cancer in the UK, most are over the age of 60.
“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 70 per cent 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 five 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.
You can donate to Amanda’s cause at her Just Giving page here.
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