Cancer was never on my radar, says ex-British champion Sharon Laws
A former British cycling champion used to embracing the rigours of professional sport, Sharon Laws never imagined someone like her could be diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Laws had always planned to retire from the sport at the end of the 2016 season but in August she was told she has a cancer that is “treatable but not curable”.
The 42-year-old, who rode for Great Britain at the 2008 Olympics, recently began a six-month course of chemotherapy, hoping the setbacks she faced in her career have prepared her for what she calls her “biggest challenge so far”.
But Laws, who won British titles in time trial, road racing and the mountain biking marathon, also wants to use her diagnosis to help raise awareness of cervical cancer among women.
She hopes to encourage young women, in particular, to have regular smear tests, something the Kenya-born cyclist says may well have picked up her tumour at a stage early enough to stop the cancerous cells spreading.
“I haven’t had regular smear tests because I have barely been in the UK for any length of time due to training or racing,” said Laws. “I was a professional athlete, ate really healthily and did not consider myself in a high risk category due to my lifestyle.
“There are probably a lot of girls in the same situation who get the letter, think the same as I did, and don’t go.
“Although the type of cervical cancer I have is often missed on a pap smear, there is a chance it might have been picked up earlier and I would, perhaps, not be in the situation. I just want people to be aware this can happen to anyone.”
Laws was advised to have a biopsy on swollen lymph glands in her neck by her team doctor at Podium Ambition in late July – something she initially attributed to “a series of colds” earlier in the year.
“It was very lucky I went to see the doctor at all,” she said. “I thought I would take that opportunity to see him for a regular check-up while I was in the UK for a couple of weeks.
“It was something that was never on my radar. When I first went for the biopsy, they thought it might be a tropical infection.
“That fits more with what I do – I love wild camping, spending winters in South Africa – so I never even imagined I had cancer.”
After discovering there were secondary cancer tumours, tests revealed further infected lymph nodes in the pelvis and abdomen, and cervical cancer was diagnosed.
She added: “I’m really healthy. I’ve never smoked. I’m not a heavy drinker. It’s not anything that I thought could happen to me.”
Laws, who worked as an environmental consultant, did not turn professional until the age of 33 but made it to Beijing in 2008, a moment she classes of one of her highlights.
“I didn’t really know much about biking at all and didn’t really realise what a big deal it was at the time,” she explained. “I couldn’t believe I was working full time in April 2008 and at the Olympics four months later.
“Being able to be a professional athlete and focus solely on training and racing, instead of juggling it with work, was a great opportunity.”
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