When Carla Bradbury began having frequent stomach pains, she thought of a number of things that could be causing it: menstrual cramps, too much soda, or bloating. She certainly didn't think it might be a symptom of cervical cancer.
"I was given a Sodastream for my birthday and thought that my stomach pains were coming from having too much fizzy water, so I didn't go to the doctors straight away," the 46-year-old told Prima. "I also experienced spotting between periods – which I thought was down to hormones."
Spotting in between periods is very common, but as Bradbury's stomach pains got worse, she went to a doctor, who performed a pap smear that came back with an abnormal result.
"One of the gynecologists I saw put it down to endometriosis," she told Prima. "I was going to have further tests, but in the meantime, they found out what it really was — and it was cancer."
By the time tests were performed, an MRI confirmed that her cervical cancer had spread into the areas around her cervix.
"My lowest point was when I read a report that said there was a 50% chance of long-term control — meaning I had a 50/50 chance of survival," she said. "Because my tumour was so big (I later found out it was the size of a large plum) and the way it was attached to my pelvic wall, they couldn't operate on it."
Thankfully, she was able to be treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Though Bradbury experienced stomach pains that tipped her off to something being wrong, many people don't experience any symptoms when it comes to cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, symptoms often don't begin until the cancer becomes invasive and spreads into nearby tissue.
Cervical cancer, however, is preventable. It's important to get the HPV vaccine, and to get regular pap tests.
"My cancer came as a total shock, but it has made me stronger and I'm not scared of anything anymore," Bradbury told Prima. "When you've faced the fear that you may not be here tomorrow, you just live for today. If you have cancer like I did, you've got the opportunity to work out what's really important. Although it's a terrible thing, there are people that suffer a lot worse."