‘Nothing’s more important than life’: rider’s smear test warning after cancer diagnosis

A rider who was diagnosed with cervical cancer nine months after she had missed a smear test is urging other women to ensure they take up their appointments.

Frances Long had to have a radical hysterectomy in October and all traces of the disease were removed, but she hopes her experience will encourage others to ensure they take up screening appointments.

“There’s always something that seems more important, but when it comes to it, there’s nothing more important than this,” Fran told H&H.

“I had a tumour but didn’t realise until part of it came away. If I’d had my smear test when I was supposed to, it wouldn’t have got to that stage.”

Fran went to her GP, who sent her to A&E, where she was seen by a registrar and a consultant. She was sent home, but within 45 minutes, got a phone call telling her to return to the hospital, where she was given her diagnosis.

“It was quite horrific,” she said. “I had an MRI scan, which picked up a shadow on my bowel so there was concern it had spread. In the end, there wasn’t anything so they decided it was probably caused by the way I was lying, but for a while, that was terrifying.”

Fran’s surgery involved removing not only her reproductive organs but also surrounding tissues and some of her lymph nodes. As the healthy tissue showed no signs of cancer, it was decided she did not need further treatment, although she is having regular check-ups.

She was back on board her event horse Mama Mia III, on whom she also competes in dressage and showjumping, within five weeks, albeit just walking, and returned to competition in a British Dressage class at Keysoe last weekend (19 January).

“She really looked after me,” Hayley said. “She won the class, with over 72%. I wasn’t sure how it would go as I was so excited, I thought she might be, but she held it together for me.

“I think I was crying before I even went down the centre line.”

Hayley hopes to return to eventing by April, if she is strong enough.

But her other priority is to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening, especially now during cervical cancer prevention week (21 to 29 January).

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“Just don’t put it off,” she said. “As riders, we’re such a strong group of people who have these horrific falls, then get back on and do the next class; we think we’re invincible and that nothing will happen to us.

“My horses are my absolute world. I spend hours researching the best feeds for them, if they do so much as look at me differently in the morning the vet is called, they see physio and chiropractors, have all the latest rugs and tack and are pampered beyond belief. They’d never be a day late to see the farrier or for their teeth to be rasped, for their yearly jabs or worming — I just wouldn’t dream of it. But I often think how riders/horse owners push their own health way down their list of priorities. I am definitely one of them.

“But nothing is more important than your life. This has made me really aware of that, and how easily it can be taken away.

“Whatever reason you’ve got for not going for your smear test; if it’s uncomfortable or you’re embarrassed, or you haven’t got time – the possible consequences of not going are so much worse than any reason you could have.”

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