Don’t wait, get checked: Advice from a cancer survivor Dubai mum

Maricris, a cancer survivor mum in Dubai, with daughters Francine and Ella.
Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Be open – instead of being shy or scared – about any changes in your body. And don’t wait and get checked when you have any doubt. This is the advice that a Dubai-based cervical cancer survivor has for her teen daughters and others.

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Filipina mum Maricris, 39, had consulted a gynaecologist at Aster Hospital Mankhool in September 2021 with a history of abnormal vaginal bleeding lasting one month.

“My experience was challenging,” Maricris, recalled in an interview with Gulf News.

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“I had a very painful abdomen, heavy non-stop bleeding, and anxiety that later developed into depression.”

Maricris grappled with concerns about the impact of her illness on the lives of her teen daughters — Francine and Ella, who are now 20 and 18, respectively. “I worried about them.”

When she consulted the gynaecologist, Maricris was referred to the oncology department where she underwent an extensive diagnostic process, including ultrasound, MRI, PET-CT scans, and a biopsy.

What the diagnosis revealed

The diagnosis revealed stage 2b cervical cancer, explained Dr Sivaprakash Rathanaswamy, consultant, Surgical Oncology and head of the Department of Surgery and Oncology, Aster hospital Al Qusais.

Dr Sivaprakash Rathanaswamy

After a multidisciplinary team discussion, he said, Maricris was planned for concurrent chemoradiation followed by brachytherapy.

“This approach aligns with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines, where concurrent chemotherapy and brachytherapy are classified as a category 1 recommendation for stage 2b cervical cancer,” Dr Rathanaswamy explained.


Following the successful treatment, recent PET scan results indicating that Maricris is disease-free, are positive for her prognosis and overall survival.

“Maricris is scheduled for follow-up appointments every three to six months for the first two years, followed by six to 12 monthly appointments for the next three to five years. Subsequently, annual visits will be recommended based on the recurrence risk,” said Dr Rathanaswamy.

The time spent in the hospital during her treatment caused Maricris to miss out on many things.

Changed person

However, she is now a changed person and grateful to the medical team that saved her life. She also expressed her gratitude to a friend who supported her during treatment and her family who prayed for her.

“I am living a happy life now. I’ve told my daughters to be open, not to be shy or scared, and to tell me if they have any problems or feel anything different in their bodies. My daughters and I talked about my treatment, and they have empathy. They are happy that I survived so we can be together and do things together. They support me emotionally, show their gratitude, and provide never-ending love and care.”

‘Don’t be scared’

“My message to all women out there is to seek help, don’t be scared, and get checked right away. Don’t wait too long if you feel any pain, discomfort, or any symptoms like mine. Please, go see a doctor.”

A changed Maricris has now prioritised her health. “I now maintain regular check-ups, eat healthy foods, and exercise. In the past, I would only get check-ups done if I felt something was wrong. Yes, I have changed; I now go for regular check-ups.”

Vaccination, regular screening

She urged parents to ensure that their daughters are vaccinated against cervical cancer at the correct age.

Vaccination, regular screening, and early detection significantly contribute to prevention, high cure rates, and overall survival, said Dr Rathanaswamy.

Highlighting the importance of early detection of cervical cancer, he said: “For women aged 21-29, cytology every three years is advised, and for those aged 30-65, cytology alone every three years or co-testing with primary HPV every five years is recommended.”

After 65 years or hysterectomy for non-cervical cancer indications, he said no screening is advised.

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines and their role in preventing gynaecologic cancers were in focus at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Conference which took place at the Arab Health 2024 recently held in Dubai.

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that is responsible for the majority of cervical cancers. The virus causes cervical neoplasia which is classified into three stages. HPV is detected in 99.7% of cervical cancers, and it can take over ten years for cervical cancer to develop after contracting HPV.

Dr Stephanie Ricci

Dr Stephanie Ricci, MD, Staff Physician in gynaecology and oncology at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, who shared insights from successful HPV vaccination programmes worldwide, told Gulf News: “The HPV vaccine covers nine of the highest-risk strains of the HPV virus. HPV 16 and HPV 18, we know, account for approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers. The vaccine is incredibly effective in preventing cervical cancer in countries with a national vaccination programme. These programmes have eradicated cervical cancer, and they vaccinate both boys and girls between nine and 12.”

Who needs vaccination?

It was in 2016 the World Health Organisation advised vaccinating all girls to prevent cervical cancer. The goal is to vaccinate nine out of ten girls globally to eradicate cervical cancer.

“Girls between ages nine and 12 take vaccine because that is when we know the vaccine has the most significant efficacy. However, the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the HPV vaccine in women up to the age of 45. The vaccine also protects against two types of HPV viruses which cause genital warts. Therefore, while it is more for protecting women from cervical cancer, when boys are vaccinated, they are also protected from getting genital warts,” explained Dr Ricci.

According to a study by Global Cancer Statistics conducted in 2020, cervical cancer numbers are increasing worldwide, and it is now the fourth most common cancer in women.

That same year, cervical cancer accounted for an estimated 604,000 new cancer cases worldwide and 342,000 deaths, and the study showed that 84% of cervical cancer cases were from regions where no screening programmes were available. Alarmingly, women in resource-limited countries are most likely to be affected, with cervical cancer being the second most common cancer and the third most common cause of cancer mortality in these regions.