An au pair who moved from Canada to the UK in pursuit of a ‘fun new life’ was dealt a devastating stage III cervical cancer diagnosis just four months later.
Brittnay Boomhower, from Toronto, noticed something was ‘off’ within a few weeks of arriving in September 2018.
After initially brushing it off as she wasn’t registered with a GP, her symptoms persisted and she sought help, only to be told her tests were clear of any sexually transmitted infections and sent home.
She insisted something was wrong and resorted to taking photographs of the blood she was losing to get her doctor’s attention.
Brittnay Boomhower, from Toronto, moved from Canada to the UK in pursuit of a ‘fun new life’ – but was dealt a devastating stage III cervical cancer diagnosis just four months later
In January this year she received the heartbreaking news she had stage III cervical cancer and underwent fertility treatment to save her eggs – which failed.
Having gone through gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy, as well as the menopause, Brittnay is now unable to have children of her own – and her cancer has returned.
Her options are now limited and her chances of being cured are unclear, and she is keen to raise awareness of the importance of attending smear tests to detect the disease early.
Brittnay has now returned to Canada to be cared for by her mother as she cannot afford to stay in the UK while she isn’t working, and her friend Leah Heggarty has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money as she does not have healthcare to fund further treatment, having been living in England.
Brittnay has now returned to Canada to be cared for by her mother as she cannot afford to stay in the UK while she isn’t working
Speaking to FEMAIL, Brittnay told how her GP didn’t seem ‘too concerned’ by her initial symptoms.
‘I just knew to not take “You’re fine” as an answer as I knew I wasn’t,’ she said.
‘When the doctor called me to say, “The tests came back clear of STIs”, I said, “That’s great but something is still wrong so can you please book me back in”. I became my own best advocate.
‘It took me passing massive blood clots when I wasn’t on my period and taking pictures of them as proof to the GP in order for them to realise this was beyond just a possible STI.
Brittnay said she noticed something was ‘off’ within a few weeks of arriving in London in September 2018
The au pair said it took her ‘passing massive blood clots when I wasn’t on my period and taking pictures of them as proof to the GP in order for them to realise this was beyond just a possible STI’
‘I then had ultrasounds, a colposcopy and two biopsies done before an official diagnosis.’
Brittnay, who was living with her new boyfriend in Bethnal Green, east London at the time, said she was ‘shocked’ by the news she had cancer and struggled to grasp the severity of it.
‘I honestly didn’t even know what a cervix was,’ she admitted. ‘
‘I had my boyfriend with me, whom I’d met in the UK only a month prior to the diagnosis. So this was equally as difficult for him to comprehend.
‘I had the support of the family I worked for as an au pair, but felt more like a burden to them as I was no longer competent at doing my job.’
Brittnay, who was living with her new boyfriend in Bethnal Green, east London at the time, said she was ‘shocked’ by the news she had cancer and struggled to grasp the severity of it
In an effort to make it possible for her to have children in the future, something she’d always wanted, she underwent fertility treatment through the NHS.
However, both rounds failed and doctors didn’t attempt to retrieve her eggs as the odds of success were too low.
‘It was a gruelling process,’ she recalled. ‘I also have needle phobia, so injecting myself twice a day, at home, in my stomach was a daunting task.
‘I was always nervous about mixing the wrong amount of medication together, scared of the needles, I was constantly bruised and sore on my abdomen.
‘It consumed my life for three weeks. Then to be told, “We aren’t going to attempt to collect your eggs due to these odds”, it was devastating.
In an effort to make it possible for her to have children in the future, something she’d always wanted, Brittnay underwent fertility treatment through the NHS – but it failed
‘I felt I had been given up on and failed. Hearing the words, “There is no point saving eggs if you’re not alive to use them” was a massive reality check though.’
Brittnay went through her treatment without friends and family beside her – coping by going into strict ‘survival mode’, however the side effects were soul-destroying.
‘[I had] severe depression. Uncontrollable bowels and bladder. Trouble eating as my taste buds had changed. Bleeding taste buds. Back pain. Weight loss,’ she said.
‘Going through menopause in my twenties was a shock; I had night sweats, hot flushes and high emotions. I just never thought my life would turn out this way.’
The prognosis following her treatment in May was positive, with doctors telling her to return for a check-up in two months.
Brittnay went through her treatment without friends and family beside her – coping by going into strict ‘survival mode’, however the side effects were soul-destroying
Brittnay admits she celebrated like she was clear, propelling herself into the swing of life, running charity races, making friends in London and scoping out new potential jobs
But deep down she said she knew she wasn’t cured, and in October her worst fears were confirmed – the cancer had come back, and this time it was more aggressive.
Now her best chance is to go through an immunotherapy trial, but first she must endure another six months’ worth of chemo — which even then may not qualify her for the trial.
According to her oncologist, palliative chemo would be her only other option.
‘It’s all unknown which makes this a lot more daunting,’ she said. ‘They don’t know what treatment to put me on and if it’ll even work.
Now Brittnay’s best chance of survival is to go through an immunotherapy trial, but first she must endure another six months’ worth of chemo — which even then may not qualify her for the trial
‘I had no option but to move back to Canada as I wasn’t getting the treatment I needed in the UK. After they found out my cancer was back, I had no follow up for a month.
‘I will move back in with my mom in Canada and have the support system I need from friends and family. Also, it is the only way I can survive financially as I cannot work.’
Brittnay said she cried with happiness when Leah set up her fundraising page.
‘She knew that I was getting overwhelmed as I was living with my ex, I couldn’t work, and I was relying on my parents for financial support,’ she said.
‘This helped me in more ways than I could explain. It is not just about raising money for my cancer journey, it is also spreading awareness to other women about cervical cancer – the side effects, the journey I’ve been through.
‘It is not only that I have cancer, I have also lost the chance to have my own children, I have lost my independence as I’m too tired to do every day things, I have to rely on others.
‘Please all the women reading this – get a smear test done.’
To support Brittnay, visit her GoFundMe page.
What is cervical cancer and how is it detected?
Cervical cancer affects the lining of the lower part of womb.
The most common symptom is unusual bleeding, such as between periods, during sex or after the menopause, but other signs can include:
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal discharge that smells
- Pain in the pelvis
Causes can include:
- Age – more than half of sufferers are under 45
- HPV infection – which affects most people at some point in their lives
- Smoking – responsible for 21 per cent of cases
- Contraceptive pill – linked to 10 per cent of cases
- Having children
- Family history of cervical or other types of cancer, like vagina
By law, every woman in Britain is invited for cervical cancer screening – known as a smear test – between the ages of 25 and 64.
The test involves removing cells from the cervix with a speculum and examining them for abnormalities.
If someone tests positive, they are sent for an examination to definitively check if they have the disease.
If they are diagnosed with cancer, the affected parts are removed either with laser or freezing treatment.
Some 3,200 women develop the cancer in Britain each year, and the disease kills nearly 1,000. But experts think another 2,000 women would die every year without the programme.
In 2004, the start age for screening was raised from 20 to 25 because the disease seldom affects women so young.
But the death of Jade Goody from cervical cancer aged 27 in 2009 led to calls to lower the screening age again.
However, the development of a vaccine for HPV, which was rolled out to all British schoolgirls from 2008, is thought to have allayed some concerns.
Source: Cancer Research UK