Strange symptom of terminal cervical cancer revealed by mum diagnosed six weeks after getting all clear: ‘Devastated’
One mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer just six weeks after she was completely clear – with a pain in her buttocks the only sign that something was wrong.
British woman Gemma Denham, 29, was originally diagnosed with cervical cancer in March this year.
Her treatment went well and on October 5 she received the results of an MRI and received the results.
But in the weeks that followed, she developed pain in her buttocks, cheek and leg that caused her to limp, and she went for another MRI of her cervix to find out what was going on.
On November 7, the mother received the heartbreaking news that the disease had spread across her pelvis and the bottom of her spine — and was now terminal.
Gemma Denham with her two children Faith and Ellison. Credit: Jam Press/Australscope
“My whole body felt like it was on fire when the consultant told me the cancer was back,” Gemma, a dental assistant, told Jam Press.
“They told me I had months to early years to live – devastated was an understatement.
“I wouldn’t be there for my babies anyway. We had so many plans for our future and I was so afraid that I would miss their lives – they are still babies.
“I had a panic attack during surgery and just couldn’t understand why this was the outcome.”
How it all started
Gemma, the mother of Faith, seven, and one-year-old Ellison, went for a routine Pap smear in August 2020, amid ongoing leg, pelvic and back pain.
She had been prescribed painkillers, but her symptoms were probably due to postpartum depression, not physical pain.
During the Pap smear, the nurse noticed a growth and she was referred to her GP, who said she had a “healthy cervix” but had cervical ectropion — which occurs when cells lining the inside of your cervix grow outside.
She was tested for HPV and the results were positive, but Gemma was then told to wait another three months for a repeat Pap smear because there weren’t enough cells on the Pap to detect abnormalities.
In November, they found high-quality cells and had a colposcopy.
The nurse confirmed the presence of abnormal cells and she was put under a general anesthetic for a surgeon to remove, but they couldn’t because she was bleeding.
Instead, they did an ultrasound — and the results confirmed a mass in her cervix.
Finally, in early March 2021, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer — something she’d previously asked doctors if she’d done, but had been “assured she was too young”.
Gemma said: “Part of me felt relieved, as crazy as that sounds – I knew I wasn’t going to go crazy.
Gemma during her treatment. Credit: Jam Press/Australscope
“I definitely knew my own body and knew something more serious was going on.
“My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t be there for my children – they are my absolute world and everything I do is for them.”
She immediately began treatments to fight the cancer, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, brachytherapy, blood transfusions, and platelet transfusions.
Gemma said: “The treatment went really well. Luckily my body was strong enough to handle the chemo.”
Given it all clear
Finally, on Oct. 5, she was reassured after an MRI found no trace of the cancer — and she and partner Elliot, 31, were thrilled.
Gemma said: “I was over the moon. I couldn’t quite believe it, but felt a sudden dose of courage – I would finally be okay for my kids.
“The PET scan was broken on the day of my MRI scan, but they assured me that I will definitely be able to fix it once the machine is repaired.
“From my MRI, they confirmed I had NED (no evidence of illness) and booked me for the PET scan a few weeks later.
“The results came back from the PET scan and they confirmed that the cervical cancer was gone, but I had a slight glow on my right pelvic lymph node.
“My consultant had reassured me that she was pretty sure it was the radiotherapy that was still working in my body, so the PET scan will be repeated in six weeks.”
But while waiting, she developed pains in her buttocks, cheek and leg and again limped.
Gemma emotional during her treatment. Credit: Jam Press/Australscope
Knowing something wasn’t right, Gemma called the hospital and got an MRI of her cervix.
Tragically, the results showed that the cancer had spread across her pelvis and lower back — with doctors unsure if anything had been missed in the earlier scan, or if it had grown rapidly in the weeks that followed.
She had the scheduled PET scan a few days later, which thankfully showed it hadn’t spread to any organs, but she still received a terminal diagnosis.
Gemma said: “When they told me the news they said there is nothing to offer me in the future – not even chemo because it wouldn’t work.
“But since they learned the bad news, they think there may be a clinical trial available to me, which is immunotherapy. I will undergo testing to see if I am a good candidate to participate.”
While Gemma told Faith after she originally finished treatment, she hasn’t told her the news of her terminal diagnosis yet.
Now the mother focuses on making memories with her children.
She said: “[My biggest worry] is not being the best mother I can be to my beautiful babies, and not being able to accompany them on the most important journeys in life.
“My children grow up without the one person who loves them most, more than anything in the world – their mother.”