Having just got engaged, mum-of-one Anna Millington was excited to start adding to her family.
But just weeks later, her life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and told she needed to have a radical hysterectomy – despite having no symptoms.
Anna, now 33, from Brentwood, Essex, feared the worst and thought she was going to die.
Her consultant said they had caught the disease in the early stages, but revealed the operation would plunge Anna into surgical menopause and she would be left infertile – at the age of 32.
Anna went through the “worst year of my life”, which also saw her wedding cancelled and her ending things with her fiance after she found messages from another woman on his phone.
Distraught, Anna vowed for the sake of her daughter, Penelope, seven, to not give up, and is now raising awareness of cervical cancer to help other women in a similar situation.
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Anna said: “I’d always pictured what my life was going to be like and wanted the dream of getting married and having kids with the love of my life.
“But in reality, the wedding didn't happen because of cancer, and I can't have any more kids because of cancer.
“The radical hysterectomy has been hard to come to terms with. I’m mourning a child that I haven't had. It has been taken away from me without me making that decision. It's like living a nightmare.
“When I thought I was going to die, I realised I hadn't done half the things that I wanted to do. So now I have a ‘f**k it’ list of things I want to do in life.
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“Despite feeling in my sixties now and not 33, I’ve proudly climbed Snowdonia for charity. Plus I’m learning to enjoy life now as it’s too short.
“My new life is hard to come to terms with but I’m taking each day as it comes and focusing on raising awareness and being happy.”
Anna never suspected anything would be wrong when she went for a routine smear test at her GP in June 2021, but the results revealed there were abnormalities.
A colposcopy was booked a few weeks later at King George’s Hospital in Ilford to get a closer look at Anna’s cervix, as well as a procedure called a large loop excision of the transformation zone to remove some of the cells.
She then had to wait four weeks for the results due to Covid delays and received a call in July 2021 asking her to go to Queen’s hospital in Romford the following day for an urgent appointment.
Anna was told she had stage 1 cervical cancer and required a radical hysterectomy, which meant she wouldn’t be able to have any more children – which left her “heartbroken”.
Anna told MakeTheHeadlines.co.uk: “I desperately called the clinic every day for four weeks for my results but there was a delay due to Covid.
“Then a nurse called me and told me to come in the next day to discuss my results. I cried my eyes out as soon as I put the phone down. I knew it was cancer.
“My fiance Josh came with me to the hospital the next day, and as soon as I saw the consultant I said, ‘it’s cancer, is it?’. She just said ‘yes’. I asked if I was going to die and felt sick to my stomach.
“But she seemed really positive and told me I wouldn’t die, it was stage one so early days, but it was aggressive so they had to act quickly.
“I asked if I could have more children and they said ‘no’. I was heartbroken, and felt devastated.”
I don’t feel in my 30s, I feel 60. It’s an ongoing battle.
Anna was booked in for an MRI, CT and PET scans that revealed the cancer hadn’t spread, so the hysterectomy went ahead in September 2021.
When she came round, she was told despite the operation being a success, they had found cancer in her lymph nodes which they had managed to remove, but she would need to undergo radiotherapy, chemotherapy and brachytherapy.
After her six-week recovery period, Anna went straight into treatment, with radiotherapy every day for five weeks, with one day a week for chemo.
“I was back and forth to the hospital all the time. I didn’t tell my daughter about my cancer – just that I was poorly and would be getting better. My nan had breast cancer and my uncle had lung cancer. She knew that they passed away from cancer so cancer means death to her.
“I wanted to protect her as she wouldn’t really understand.
“Chemo was the worst part; it was awful and made me feel really sick and weak. I was lucky that with the dose I was on, I didn’t lose my hair.
“The nurses were amazing – so friendly and helpful.
“After this I had internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy) – then treatment finished.”
In February 2022, Anna was given the all clear from cancer, but she says her life since has been anything but plain sailing.
She suffers with chronic fatigue, lymphedema in her legs, has bladder and bowel changes, osteoepenia and is going through the surgical menopause.
She suffers brain fog, and has achy bones and fatigue.
“I feel as though there is a lack of awareness and support for women going through the surgical menopause,” Anna said.
“Thankfully it didn’t affect my mood that much and I didn’t have that many hot flushes. But I have gained weight, and I do have brain fog, which means I forget a lot of stuff.
“I don’t feel in my 30s, I feel 60. It’s an ongoing battle.”
In June 2022, Anna received another blow – she saw a message on her fiance’s phone from another woman – he denied anything had happened, but later admitted being attracted to her.
She felt devastated that at a time when she was at her most vulnerable, the person she felt she should be able to rely on betrayed her. So she asked him to leave their home in August.
“It was a message from a woman he worked with and it just said ‘sorry about last night’. He had saved her in his phone as her surname, which I found suspicious.
“But he gaslighted me and said I was crazy and there was nothing to it. In September last year, he refused to come and get me after my hysterectomy, but was fine to go out drinking with friends from work.
“I chucked him out the following month. It was hard. I thought we were building a life together.
“I was mourning my relationship, the children I couldn’t have, my dream wedding. I’d always envisaged myself having a big family.”
Determined to pick herself back up, Anna started an Instagram account on which she shares details about her journey and recovery.
She wanted to raise money for charity so, she started to train to climb Mount Snowdon – and completed it in September, raising more than £1,000 with her dad and her brother.
She said: “Last year I didn’t even know if I’d be here so for me to be able to do this is a massive achievement.”
Now Anna is focusing on herself and her daughter. She’s written a ‘f**k it list’ of things she wants to complete with Penelope in 2023 – including a trip to New York.
“I realised I haven’t done half the things in life that I want to do, so I made a list of everything I want to achieve next year,” Anna said.
“I’m also making more time for me, rather than concentrating on a partner, as that’s important. I’ve started singing lessons – something I’ve always wanted to do.
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“I’ve taken up fitness again, and my confidence is building.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride, and one that I wasn’t sure I’d get over. But I did it, I’m here and I’m going to keep going – for my daughter’s sake as well as mine.”
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