When Shanny Pyke started experiencing night sweats and an irregular period, she assumed it was a sign of early menopause.
The 44-year-old boutique store owner said it ‘made sense’ considering her age, but little did she know something far more sinister was going on.
‘I was overdue for my cervical screening since right before COVID-19 so I knew I had to go. Then one day I had bad period cramps with nausea and really didn’t feel like myself,’ Shanny, who is from Vancouver but lives in Sydney, told FEMAIL.
She immediately made an appointment to see her GP to ask how to minimise the symptoms of pre-menopause.
But during the screening test the doctor said something ‘wasn’t right’ and referred her to another GP the same week to conduct further tests.
The following week – in September 2022 – she was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer after a 5cm tumour was found.
While Shanny has no family history of the disease, the cancer was cause by human papillomavirus (HPV) – which she never knew she had.
Shanny Pyke was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer in September 2022 after doctors found a 5cm tumour growing on her cervix. Her few symptoms included bad period cramps and nausea
While Shanny has no family history of the disease, the cancer was cause by human papillomavirus (HPV) – which she never knew she had (pictured with husband in 2017)
While she was pleased with the doctor’s ‘straightforwardness’, Shanny admitted she felt an overwhelming mix of emotions.
‘It was such a mix (and still is) of feeling extremely thankful that the doctor recognised that something was wrong and took action right away, but also being sad and confused as to how and why this was happening to me,’ she said.
‘I’m otherwise fit, healthy, optimistic and have good support but I was certainly crushed and overwhelmingly nervous as to what I had to go through next.
‘I remember being really worried that I would have to close down my shop, Driftwood Living, not being able to work and serve people with my usual smile and energy.’
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that shows no symptoms and usually goes away by itself. However, if it lingers for a number of years it can cause abnormal cells to grow, so annual pap smears and cervical screenings is key.
‘The HPV Vaccine wasn’t available yet when I was in high school so I never had it and didn’t realise the importance of getting it after that. Usually, our body’s immune system can get rid of the virus naturally on it’s own but for some reason mine didn’t,’ Shanny said.
From the moment she was diagnosed Shanny’s life was never the same, but she tried to maintain a ‘normal’ life as much as possible
From the moment she was diagnosed Shanny’s life was never the same, but she tried to maintain ‘normality’ as much as possible.
‘My immediate family live overseas in Canada and the hardest part was calling to tell them the news, I cried so much,’ she said.
‘But despite the distance, we have developed a closer and more loving relationship because of it.’
Soon after the prognosis Shanny started her first round of treatment – a combination of chemotherapy and daily radiation for five weeks followed by three weeks of internal radiation.
So far the treatment has worked well on attacking the tumour, but she’s still showing signs of cancerous cells which means she may have to do it all over again.
With a background in health and fitness, it was difficult for Shanny to accept her fate as the treatment impacted her physically.
‘I was okay with following a more strict and healthy diet but it was difficult not being able to do my regular workouts and activities due to nausea and being extremely tired from treatment,’ she said.
‘The only thing that could have prevented this or made it easier to treat was getting my cervical screening sooner.
‘I didn’t even know the difference between a cervical screening and a pap smear, so make sure to educate yourself.’
What’s the difference between a pap smear and cervical screening test?
The new cervical screening test procedure is similar to a Pap smear test.
For both tests a doctor or nurse takes a sample of cells from the cervix.
However, the Pap smear test used to look for abnormal cells in the cervix, while the cervical screening test looks for HPV infection.
The new test for HPV can identify women who could be at risk of cervical cancer earlier than the Pap test could.
Women aged 25 to 74 years of age should have a cervical screening test two years after their last Pap test.
The reason the age has changed from 18 to 25 for your first screening is that most women under the age of 25 will have been vaccinated for HPV. In addition, cervical cancer in women under 25 is rare
Having a test for HPV every five years offers the best chance of preventing cervical cancer.
Soon after the prognosis Shanny started her first round of treatment – a combination of chemotherapy and daily radiation for five weeks followed by three weeks of internal radiation (pictured before diagnosis)
Today she’s not in the clear yet but has finished treatment and has regular check-ups to ensure the cancer hasn’t returned
She managed to do ‘slow beach walks and light activity each day’ but she was not as strong by the end.
Luckily Shanny made it through treatment with barely any side effects.
‘Thankfully I was already happy doing daily meditation and weekly Pilates and Yoga which I was able to continue and I believed helped a lot with managing the side effects of treatment,’ she said.
‘I also switched to as much organic food as possible and have discovered some great local companies through the markets and health stores, all of which will benefit me in the long run.’
Shanny now has regular check-ups to ensure the cancer hasn’t returned, and is on a mission to spread awareness about the disease with as many people as possible.
‘Pay attention to how your body and mind feel, if something isn’t right then it’s certainly worth getting it checked. I’m thankful that I followed my gut feeling and booked when I did otherwise this would have been a lot harder,’ she said.