Our daughter having the time of her life working on superyachts – then a routine test changed everything | The Sun

AHEAD of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, mother Jayn Willis reflects on losing her daughter to the disease.

Jayn, 54, a freelance fashion assistant, lives in Loughton, Essex, with her husband Martin, 56, a cab driver. 


“As the surgeon spoke, my whole body shook as I realised the decision he was asking me to make would take away my daughter’s chance of ever carrying a child.

“But giving him permission to remove her Fallopian tubes and uterus could also stop her cancer from spreading, potentially saving her life. 

“It was March 2020, and my husband Martin and I had been called an hour into our daughter Gemma’s surgery to remove her cervix, after she’d been diagnosed with cervical cancer, aged 28.

“With Gemma under general anaesthetic, it was down to me to give consent. ‘What if she hates me?’ I sobbed to Martin, as I said yes.

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“To make matters worse, Gemma was being operated on in America, where she was based for work, and we were stuck in the UK, due to Covid restrictions. 

“Just two months earlier, Gemma had been working as a florist and head of housekeeping on superyachts, having the time of her life.

“With a physically demanding job and hobbies like hiking and yoga, she was in great shape.

“But that all changed when, out of the blue and with no symptoms, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in February 2020, after a routine smear test.

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“Her consultant assured us a biopsy would remove the cancer they’d found growing on the outside of her cervix, but it didn’t, so Gemma had to have more surgery to remove her cervix.

“To then be told halfway through her second surgery that nine out of the 23 lymph nodes removed had cancer in them, and she’d need to have her fallopian tubes and uterus removed, too, was a huge blow.

“By the time we spoke to Gemma that night, her surgeon had told her everything, and it was clear she didn’t want to talk about it.

“Five days later, she returned to the yacht she was staying on for six weeks to recover before starting chemo and radiotherapy. 

“I knew Gemma’s best friend, who worked with her, would take great care of her, but Martin and I wanted her home, and she returned that April.


“Martin, our son Charlie, now 30, and I were so relieved, but it was shocking to see her looking so poorly. 

“The following month, we were told the cancer had spread through Gemma’s lymph nodes and had developed into stage four cancer – incurable but treatable.

“Gemma’s daily radiotherapy floored her and it was heartbreaking to see her in so much pain.

“In January 2021, after a routine scan, we were told Gemma would always have cancer, but that it had ‘gone to sleep,’ so she didn’t need any more treatment.

“However, a follow-up scan three months later showed lesions on her liver.

“Within months, the cancer had spread over her liver, into her back and to her brain.

“The only treatment option left was immunotherapy, which isn’t available on the NHS for cervical cancer, but is available privately at an extortionate cost.

“Gemma’s friends and colleagues set up GoFundMe pages and money began pouring in for the costs. 

“That October, the Acrew Superyacht Crew Awards took place and Gemma was thrilled to win the Senior Crew Award, with her best friend collecting it on her behalf.

“By now, nearly £100,000 had been raised for the immunotherapy treatment, but Gemma was just too sick. 

“Days later, her best friend arrived in the UK and asked if she could deliver her award, which I knew she’d love.

“That day, Gemma had been sleeping on and off, but little did I know my beautiful daughter was about to take her last breath.

“‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me,’ I screamed, but it was too late. Gemma was gone, aged only 30. Ten minutes later, her friend arrived.

“Knowing how much the award meant to Gemma, we placed it in her hands.

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“Through setting up The Floating Florista Foundation in her memory, I’m determined to raise awareness that cervical cancer doesn’t always come with symptoms, and this is something all women need to be aware of, and why it’s so important to have smear tests.

“I miss her immensely, but I also know that helping others is what Gemma would have wanted me to do.” 

BTW

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week starts tomorrow.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is raising awareness of screening and HPV vaccination, helping to prevent cervical cancer.

Visit Jostrust.org.uk/ccpw for info.

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