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Cancer survivor Georgina set to start Race for Life Cardiff

25-year-old Georgina Wren was diagnosed with cervical cancer following her first cervical screening (smear) test.

The rugby player and coach from Cardiff is now urging others to take up their screening invite after being successfully treated for the disease.

“Cervical screening saved my life,” said Georgina. “I keep telling everyone to make sure they attend their smear test as it’s so important.”

PhD student Georgina had no symptoms before attending her first cervical screening appointment at her local GP surgery in February 2023.

A few weeks later, Georgina received a letter to say the test had shown some high grade, abnormal changes.

“I wasn’t that worried at first as my friend had been through something similar and was fine,” said Georgina.

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Georgina was invited to Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales (UHW) for a colposcopy to remove abnormal cells in her cervix.

“It happened to be an oncologist removing the cells and I thought he would spend 10 minutes lasering the cells and that would be it,” said Georgina.

Instead, Georgina – a graduate teaching assistant at Cardiff University – was told the original procedure couldn’t take place as a 4cm tumour had been found on her cervix.

She said: “I was basically told I had cancer and I needed to return in two weeks.”

Georgina felt in utter disbelief and shock and broke down in tears in the hospital corridor.

She said: “I just couldn’t believe what I had been told and I remember falling to the floor in tears when I went to find a toilet. A lovely student doctor asked me if I was ok, but I just couldn’t process what was happening.”

Georgina, who is completing a doctorate in Psychological Medicine, was told she had stage 1 cervical cancer and was a couple of months away from developing stage 2 cancer.

As well as dealing with the shock of a diagnosis, Georgina was asked if she wanted to freeze her eggs in case she wanted to start a family in the future.

“It was really hard making such a big decision. I hadn’t given it much thought before as I was only 25,” said Georgina.

Georgina spent a long time discussing her options with her partner, Emily, before her surgery was due to take place to remove the cancerous tumour.

She said: “I decided IVF wasn’t the right thing for me and when I told the doctor, he said it wouldn’t have been possible anyway as they weren’t able to retrieve my eggs due to the size and stage of my tumour. The whole thing was just such an emotional rollercoaster.”

On April 20, Georgina – originally from Devon – had a full hysterectomy as well as lymph node removal.

She said: “I play for the ladies’ rugby team at Cardiff Uni and was due to play in a final match on the day of my surgery. I was so gutted to miss the game after reaching the final but, of course, I knew surgery was more important and the team were so supportive.”

Surgery went well but it was decided Georgina would need chemotherapy and radiotherapy as a preventive measure after surgeons discovered cancerous cells growing outside the cervix.

Georgina started chemotherapy at Cardiff’s Velindre Cancer Centre on June 12. She had five rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiotherapy and five sessions of brachytherapy (a type of internal radiotherapy) which she completed in July.

“I found chemo quite hard. But I wanted to approach treatment with as much positivity as I could, and friends and family helped me so much.

“The staff were absolutely incredible, but I did feel uncomfortable at times being one of the youngest patients there.”

Georgina’s partner, Emily, has a shaved head which caused confusion.

She said: “A lot of people thought Emily was going through treatment as they have a buzzcut. It was tough being so young as it felt like a lot of people would just stare at us in the waiting room.”

Georgina rang the bell to mark the end of treatment on July 21 last year.

She said: “It was an incredible feeling to ring the bell and it was something I decided to share on social media, which all went a bit nuts!”

Georgina’s post received thousands of interactions and she continues to receive a lot of support on Tik Tok.

And now, Georgina is looking forward to a bright future and is excited to have been chosen to start Race for Life Cardiff in Bute Bark on May 5.

She said: “I’m super excited to be the starter at Race for Life. It’s a really good opportunity to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Research is vital to prevent as well as treat cancer as it saves lives, it certainly saved mine.”

Georgina recreated the ‘finish line feeling’ experience at Race for Life to inspire people to visit raceforlife.org and sign up.

People of all ages and abilities are welcome to take part in Race for Life Cardiff. Mums, dads, sons, daughters, grandparents and friends can choose from a 5k or 10k, or Pretty Muddy – a 5k mud-splattered obstacle course.  There is also a Pretty Muddy Kids option.

Every year around 19,800 people are diagnosed with cancer in Wales*.

Ruth Amies, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson in Wales, said: “We are grateful to Georgina for her support and know her story will make an impact on everyone who hears it.

“No matter how cancer affects us, life is worth racing for. Sadly nearly 1 in 2 of us will get cancer in our lifetime.** Race for Life has the power not only to transform lives, but to save them. We’re proud that Race for Life has already helped double survival rates in the UK.

“We’d love for as many people as possible across Cardiff and beyond to join us at Race for Life. There is an event for everyone and we mean everyone. Walk, jog, run or take on the course however it suits best. It’s a chance to feel the power of moving together with fellow Race for Lifers and to treasure that moment of crossing the  finish line.

Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with headline sponsor Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, is an inspiring series of 3k, 5k, 10k, Pretty Muddy and Pretty Muddy Kids events which raise millions of pounds every year to help beat cancer by funding crucial research.

Since it began in 1994, more than 10 million people have taken part in Race for Life, funding 30 years of hope and progress.  The UK’s biggest fundraising event series, which raised £33m in 2023, is returning with a shift in attitude this year, determined to shine light on the life-saving research that Race for Life has funded and issuing a rallying cry for people to sign up to support the scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow.

Money raised has helped develop radiotherapy which benefits more than 130,000 people with cancer in the UK every year. Cancer Research UK funded scientists led the development of the Human Papillomavirus Virus vaccine, which is expected to prevent almost 90 per cent of cervical cancers in the UK. The charity also funded many large clinical trials looking at the effectiveness of the drug tamoxifen and the research shaped the way the drug is used to treat breast cancer today.

Andy Curran, Chief Executive of Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, said: “We are incredibly proud to continue as headline sponsor for Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, with the opportunity to encourage participation across the country.

“By working to raise funds for life-saving research, we can move towards a future where people live longer and healthier lives, free of cancer.”

And if Georgina has one final message she’d like to share it’s this: “Please attend your cervical screening invite – it could save your life.

“It’s also really important to advocate for yourself. There are lots of reasons why some people don’t attend smear tests, but there’s so much support out there to help make it a more comfortable experience. Speak to your GP or nurse if you’re worried.

“Going for a smear test saved my life. If I can encourage other people to attend theirs, it will be so worthwhile sharing my story.”

The NHS cervical screening programme invites women between 25 and 64 for cervical screening.

Cervical screening is also for anyone in this age range with a cervix, such as trans men and non-binary people assigned female at birth.

To enter Race for Life, visit raceforlife.org