When Shanny Pyke started experiencing night sweats and irregular periods, she assumed it was a sign of early menopause.
The 44-year-old boutique store owner said it “made sense” given her age, but little did she know there was something much more sinister going on.
“I was late for my cervical exam since right before COVID-19, so I knew I had to go. Then one day I got really bad menstrual cramps with nausea and I really didn’t feel like myself,” Shanny, who is from Vancouver but lives in Sydney, told FEMAIL.
She immediately made an appointment with her GP to ask how she can minimize the symptoms of pre-menopause.
But during the population screening, the doctor said that ‘something was not right’ and referred her to another GP for further examination the same week.
The following week – in September 2022 – she was diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer after a 5 cm tumor was found.
While Shanny has no family history of the disease, the cancer was caused by the 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 5 cm tumor on her cervix. Her few symptoms were severe menstrual cramps and nausea
While Shanny has no family history of the disease, the cancer was caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) – which she never knew she had (pictured with husband in 2017)
While she was pleased with the doctor’s “honesty,” Shanny admitted that she felt an overwhelming mix of emotions.
“It was (and still is) such a mix of being extremely grateful that the doctor recognized something was wrong and took immediate action, but also being sad and confused about how and why this happened to me,” she said.
“I am otherwise fit, healthy, optimistic and have good support, but I was definitely crushed and overwhelmingly nervous about what I had to go through next.
“I remember being really worried that I would have to close my shop, Driftwood Living, because I wouldn’t be able to work and serve people with my usual smile and energy.”
HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease that has no symptoms and usually clears up on its own. If it lingers for several years, however, it can cause abnormal cells to grow, so annual Pap smears and cervical screenings are essential.
“The HPV vaccine wasn’t available when I was in high school, so I never had it and didn’t realize how important it was to get it afterward. Usually our body’s immune system can clear the virus naturally on its 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 live a ‘normal’ life as much as possible.
From the moment she was diagnosed, Shanny’s life was never the same, but she tried to stay ‘normal’ as much as possible.
“My close family lives abroad 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.”
Shortly after the prognosis, Shanny began 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 in attacking the tumor, but she still shows signs of cancer cells, which means she may have to do it all over again.
With a background in health and fitness, it was hard for Shanny to accept her fate as the treatment affected her physically.
“I was fine with following a stricter and healthier diet, but it was hard not being able to do my regular workouts and activities due to nausea and being extremely tired from the treatment,” she said.
“The only thing that could have prevented this or made it more treatable was to have my cervical exam done sooner.
“I didn’t even know the difference between a cervical exam and a Pap smear, so make sure you educate yourself.”
What is the difference between a Pap smear and a cervical screening test?
The new cervical screening test procedure is similar to a Pap smear.
For both tests, a doctor or nurse takes a sample of cells from the cervix.
However, the Pap smear test looked for abnormal cells in the cervix, while the cervical screening test looked for HPV infection.
The new test for HPV can identify women who are more likely to be at risk for cervical cancer than the Pap test.
Women ages 25 to 74 should have a cervical screening test two years after their last Pap test.
The reason the age for your first screening has been changed from 18 to 25 is that most women under the age of 25 have been vaccinated against HPV. In addition, cervical cancer in women under the age of 25 is rare
Getting tested for HPV once every five years offers the best chance of preventing cervical cancer.
Shortly after the prognosis, Shanny began her first round of treatment – a combination of chemotherapy and daily radiation for five weeks, followed by three weeks of internal radiation (pre-diagnosis photo)
Today she is not yet free, but she has completed treatment and is regularly checked to make sure the cancer has not returned
She managed to do “slow walks on the beach and light activities every day,” but she wasn’t as strong by the end.
Fortunately, Shanny passed the treatment with hardly any side effects.
“Fortunately, I was already happy with daily meditation and weekly Pilates and yoga, which I was able to continue and I believed helped a lot in managing the side effects of the treatment,” she said.
“I’ve also switched to organic food as much as possible and have discovered some great local businesses through the markets and health food stores, all of which will benefit me in the long run.”
Shanny is now being checked regularly to make sure the cancer has not returned and is on a mission to raise awareness about the disease as much as possible.
‘Pay attention to how your body and mind feel, if something isn’t right it’s definitely worth getting it checked out. I’m thankful I followed my gut feeling and booked when I did, otherwise this would have been a lot harder,” she said.