03/09/2015

I've been touched by a story this week about a girl called Emma that I would like to share

In my 14 months of working at my local paper I must have written thousands of stories but none have ever had as much impact on me as one that I wrote this week about a 25-year-old local woman who lost her battle with cervical cancer.

Emma Fisk had been refused a smear test, despite requesting one on numerous occasions, and was told she had to wait until she was 25.  After much fighting and persistence, she was finally granted one and her worst fears were confirmed.  Unfortunately, it was all too late and Emma lost her battle just 13 months after her diagnosis.

Emma's family have now launched The Team Emma Campaign on Facebook where they hope to have the age for smear tests lowered so that women, if they wish, can request a smear test before the call-up age of 25.  I'm not a medical expert - and I'm aware that health professionals have cited strong reasons for not lowering the smear test age - but surely younger women should be given the choice to have a smear before they turn 25?

I've written about this before, when I covered the 'no make-up selfie' craze, and so many people commented with arguments both for and against reducing the screening age.  There are always going to be those who sit on one side of the fence or the other, and always those who have strong feelings about both sides of the argument.  But for Emma's family, and the families of many more young women who have lost their fight with cervical cancer, the fight to lower the age is of huge importance to them for, if it was lower now, their beloved daughters, wives, sisters, aunties and friends would still be here now.

Giving women who are concerned about their health, like Emma was, the chance to have a smear test should not be something that needs debating.  I'm not writing this post to change people's opinions or make those who think it shouldn't be lowered think otherwise, I'm highlighting the Team Emma Campaign and the fight of one family who are doing everything in their power to create a lasting legacy for their beautiful Emma and help to save lives.  If the work they are doing can help save one more woman's life, and prevent more families experiencing the same heartache as them, then it will be worthwhile.

I for one would hate to think that if I requested a smear test now (at 23) due to fears over my health I would be refused because someone decided I should be 25.  Women should be given the option and, to those over 25 who don't go for your smears - don't put it off!

I didn't know Emma but after meeting her mum and step-mum last week and talking them for almost two hours I came away feeling like I did.  The bravery, determination, passion and strength of Adele and Ashley was so inspiring.  I straight away felt like I wanted to do whatever I could to help and have had them on my mind all week - worrying that I hadn't done them or Emma justice with my article.  

I truly hope their campaign continues to pick up momentum and they manage to create a lasting legacy for Emma, saving the lives of thousands of other women in the process.




Here's a bit of Emma's story:


Emma Fisk passed away on Monday, June 8 - just over a year after she was diagnosed with having cervical cancer.  She lived her last few days in her new home in Cliffe, near Selby, with her husband and beloved dog.

Now, her family have started The Team Emma Campaign - a Facebook page which is paying tribute to Emma and the other young girls who have lost their fight against this disease whilst campaigning to have the age at which you can receive a smear test lowered from 25.

Emma had a very big family - four sisters and two brothers - as well as her mum Adele, step-dad Martin, dad Colin and step-mum Ashley. 

In January this year, Emma married her long-term boyfriend of eight years, Dan Fisk, in a magical ceremony, extending their family further when the pair welcomed Emma's dream dog to the fold - a weimaraner named Duchess.

The family have now all pulled together, just a few months after Emma's passing, to start a campaign in her name and create a legacy for their adored Emma.

Emma's mum, Adele Willis, said: "Emma would have done it herself if she was still here.  It's a really painful thing to do but we are finding the strength to carry on and support others in Emma's name."

This timeline of events gives the step-by-step moments of Emma's battle, which she fought hard right until the end.

2013: Emma started with symptoms and was back and forth to the doctors.  Initially she was told it was just water infections or bowel problems, but Adele said Emma always knew it was something more.  

December 2013: Emma was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis which causes inflammation and ulcers in the lining of the large intestine. 

April 2014Emma had an appointment with the colitis specialist at York and mentioned she'd been noticing spots of blood and asked if that was connected to the colitis.  The specialist straight away recommended Emma see her GP and said he was really concerned about the bleeding.  When Emma saw her GP she was still refused a smear test, being told she was "too young" and to wait until she was 25 in October when she would then be called up for one.  

April 2014: Eventually, after much persistence, Emma was granted a smear test in which showed up abnormalities.  Once she received her results, Emma was called up for a colposcopy - a procedure to closely examine the cervix, vagina and vulva for signs of disease.  Whilst undergoing this procedure, Emma's cervix began crumbling and bleeding heavily.  The doctor carrying out the procedure said he couldn't continue with the examination because of the damage it was doing.

May 2014: Emma was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma - a very rare type of cancer.  

June 2014Emma was called to St James' Hospital in Leeds for a PET CT scan which revealed that her cervix was consistent with a primary tumour.  An MR scan of her pelvis revealed a 3cm by 3cm tumour and was diagnosed as being FIGO stage 2b of the disease.

Adele said: "It was a highly aggressive malignancy that needed treatment straight away with systematic chemotherapy and radical chemoradiotherapy.  Emma asked then about fertility and harvesting her eggs but there was no time, they had to get on with the treatment straight away.  She was told she would never have kids then."

Emma's step-mum, Ashley Crawford, said: "We thought that was the worst it was going to get.  All along they were talking 'cure' - she had a very rare type of cervical cancer.  The injection they give the girls at schools now wouldn't have even stopped it.  It's usually found in the lung and is unheard of in the cervix."

Mid-June 2014: Emma had started her course of chemotherapy.  Despite being devastated by her diagnosis at first, her family said she suddenly found this "inner strength" and was determined to fight it.

Emma had been told she would lose her beloved long hair when the chemotherapy started and, within a week, she was seeing clumps falling out.  Adele said: "Her hair was her glory, I used to always say to her when she was little 'whatever you do, don't ever get your hair cut'.  It was so long, it was proper princess hair for a proper princess."

During her first few cycles of chemotherapy, Emma and Dan got engaged.  After bringing her home from one of her chemotherapy sessions he had champagne and roses in their flat ready and popped the question.

July 2014: Ashley took Emma to a specialist hairdressers in Leeds to get her a wig fitted through the Teenage Cancer Trust.

August 2014: After three cycles of chemotherapy, Emma started radiotherapy which she had daily for eight weeks.  This included chemoradiotherapy and brachytherapy - an internal form of radiation.   

Ashley said: "She never ever once moaned about her illness and never used it to get sympathy.  She was amazing."

October 2014: Emma started another three cycles of chemotherapy.  On October 9, she turned 25 and by the end of the month she had finished all her treatment.

November 2014: Initially, it seemed like it was all good news when Emma received a letter confirming that she had responded well to the treatment and that the tumour was no longer visible or palpable.  She was told this would all be confined with an MRI in six weeks time.

December 15, 2014: Emma had an MRI scan at St James' Hospital and received her results three days later.  Ashley said: "Not once did I, or anyone else, doubt that we wouldn't get amazing news on this day.  But, she was told the original tumour was back and had spread to her liver and the lining of her stomach.    She was told bluntly 'you're not going to live, Emma' and they gave her six months to live."

Adele said: "When we got her home she was just crying saying 'I don't want to leave you, I'm not going anywhere'."

December 22, 2014: The whole family went through to St James' Hospital to see the oncologist.  They said they didn't believe that there wasn't something they could do and were determined to find out if that was the case.

Ashley said: "Ten of us attended the meeting with the specialist but even with the family pressure we were told that even if we put a million pounds on his desk there would be nothing he could do.  Because it was so rare there are no trials or anything - there was literally nothing they could do."

After three days of feeling upset and angry, Emma did it again and found an inner strength - a positivity which left her determined to carry on and fight.

January 2015: Emma and Dan began planning their wedding. 

January 23, 2015: Emma and Dan were married at King's Church in Selby.  Following their local ceremony, the family went to Hazlewood Castle where they spent Friday night ahead of another wedding ceremony - this time a blessing - in the chapel at Hazlewood Castle followed by a glitzy reception with family and friends.



March 2015: Emma finally got her dream dog - a weimaraner - and her and Dan then began looking for a house for the three of them.  Adele said: "She wanted her own house and a garden and her and Dan started looking after they got Duchess.  They found a house in Cliffe and all that went through in May."

April 2015: Emma was practically bed-ridden from April and lost half of her body weight.  She began having trouble eating and was quite often sick.  Adele said Emma shut herself away after this and didn't go anywhere.  She said: "Before she moved into the house, the last time she'd left the house was April 9.  She would only see immediate family and shut everyone else out, she just didn't want people to see her like that.  When she became bed-ridden we'd just lie with her and cuddle her and love her.  This went on for eight weeks."

May 23, 2015:  Emma and Dan picked up the keys to their new home.  Dan spent seven days working for 16 hours a day, with help from family, getting the house ready for Emma.

May 30, 2015: The family had arranged for an ambulance to pick Emma up from her flat and take her to her new home.  Adele said: "I washed her and washed her hair and blow dried it.  I put some make-up on her and got her dressed.  When the ambulance arrived, she high-fived me and said 'let's do this, let's get out of here!'"

June 8, 2015: Emma sadly died at home surrounded by her family.

The family had arranged for a hospital bed for Emma, which she put by the window, and her last days were spent looking out into her garden watching Duchess running around.  Emma never got the chance to go out in her garden herself - the garden that she had so longed for.

Just a few days before she died, Adele and and Amanda, Emma's sister, spent time with Emma.  Adele said: "She was fine, she was good.  When I went to say goodbye to her before I left she said 'mum, I'm really sorry, I know what's happening' and I hugged her and said I would see her on Sunday.  I told her I loved her and she said she loved me too.  That was the last thing she ever said to me.  By the time I went back on the Sunday, she couldn't speak."

That weekend there was a huge decline in Emma's health.  On the Sunday night, Adele and Amanda stayed with Dan and Emma to be close to her.  The Monday morning, Colin and Ashley joined Adele and Amanda along with mother-in-law Linda and Kerry to visit Emma.  Adele said: "I was upstairs with Emma, Linda and Kerry.  She made this noise and squeezed my hand and I said that she needed her dad and Dan to come upstairs straight away.  Early afternoon the district nurses came to see Emma and they too noticed a change in her breathing.  Dan, who was downstairs working on the house, was called upstairs. 

"He ran upstairs and burst into the room and took her hand.  She looked at him and then at her dad.  I was talking to her saying 'we're all here Emma, we love you, thank you for everything' and then she took her last breath and went to sleep surrounded by her family."

After grieving together as a family for the last couple of months, the family said they now feel ready to share Emma's story with everyone else in the hope that they can inspire a change in her memory.
In just three days The Team Emma Campaign Facebook page received over 3,000 likes as people showed their support for the family and for their cause.

Adele, Ashley and the rest of the family are now hoping to continue to build momentum with the campaign and honour Emma's memory.  They strongly believe that if the smear test age was lower, Emma would have had the test and her illness would have been picked up sooner - meaning she might still be here now.

Health experts continue to insist that the potential harm from giving younger women smear tests outweighs the benefits, but this is of little consolation to Emma's family and others in their situation who maintain that she would still be here today had she been granted one at a younger age.

Adele said: "We all get abnormal cells and girls in the younger age bracket do get abnormal cells and they correct themselves.  But we aren't talking abnormal cells, we are talking cancer - and cancer isn't going to correct itself.  If girls were called up for smears earlier, from the ages of 18, then our beautiful Emma would still be here with us today."




To show your support to the Team Emma Campaign and find out more about the family's efforts to lower the smear test age and make them more accessible to women under 25, follow this link.

If you want to read the whole story about Emma's fight against cervical cancer, see this week's Selby Times - which is on sale in local shops, on the app and can be ordered to post out.

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