Philomena Henry died at just 31 years old. Now, her family is urging others to get second opinions.
Irish woman Philomena Henry died of cervical cancer in 2012 after five smear tests had given her the all clear.
Now, Philomena’s bereaved family is urging others to get a second opinion if something doesn’t seem right.
Speaking with the Irish Sun, Philomena’s sister Seana says that Philomena was 25 years old when she told doctors she was experiencing "horrible discharge."
Seana said: "It was thick and heavy, there was sometimes blood in it – we knew it wasn’t normal.”
Seana said that Philomena had five smear tests within the space of a year, but "each one was fine."
Philomena's parents Maureen and John were worried about their daughter's condition, so much so that Maureen booked another doctor's appointment so her Philomena could get a second opinion.
After receiving an internal examination, Philomena was referred to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital for further tests.
The following day, Philomena was told to return to the doctor urgently and to bring someone with her.
Maureen recalls: “She burst into tears, saying she knew it was cancer."
"We tried to calm her down, telling her it was probably just a bad infection or a cyst. She was only 27, never in a million years did we think it could be cancer.”
Philomena learned that she did indeed have grade-one cervical cancer and that it had spread to her womb. In April 2009, two years after she first began to present at doctors with her symptoms, Philomena underwent a radical hysterectomy.
Following the surgery, Seana recalls her sister being "distraught" that she'd never be able to have children of her own, and that no man would ever want her because of it.
"She thought she’d never find love.”
Fate had other plans: after a blind date with 44-year-old John Henry, Philomena knew she had found “the one.” Their relationship progressed quickly and the two moved in together.
Soon after, however, Philomena began to experience new symptoms. She was prescribed antibiotics when she presented with breathing problems, but while at her parents' house with sister Seana one day, Philomena collapsed.
“I was literally screaming at her to wake up,” says Seana. “I called 999 and she was rushed to A&E, where they X-rayed her lungs.”
Tragically, Philomena’s cancer had spread to her lungs and this time it was terminal. She could undergo chemotherapy, but it would only buy her some time. She was only 29.
“We cried a river, all clinging to each other,” says Seana.
“But Philomena was her typical caring self, telling us not to worry. She was determined to make each day count, to live every day like it was her last.”
With the devastating news, beau John knew what he had to do. He brought Philomena’s family out to dinner at the same restaurant where they had their first date and he popped the question.
The couple set their wedding day for September 2012, but with Philomena’s condition worsening, they moved it up to December 2011.
Seana recalls a lively and beautiful wedding day for their sister Maureen.
Three months after her wedding, Philomena was admitted to Northern Ireland Hospice, but there was one event the patient insisted on not missing: her sister Maureen’s wedding.
With help from Northern Ireland Hospice, Maureen’s wedding was moved up to accommodate Philomena’s dying wish.
“She was struggling to stand by this stage, but she insisted on walking down the aisle.”
Five weeks later, Philomena passed away at home surrounded by family and friends. She was only 31 years old.
“We’ll never know why the cancer didn’t show up on the smear tests,” says Seana.
“If we had our time again, we’d have demanded a referral to hospital for more tests.
Philomena's family has since raised €46,500 ($52,000) for Northern Ireland Hospice.
“Speaking out won’t bring my daughter back,” says John.
“But if we can save another woman’s life by telling her story, it’ll be worth it.”