`I was so worried about who'd look after my children'

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The Independent Online
"It was this terrible secret I had. I couldn't talk to anyone," said Julie Graves. She spent three months unable to tell anyone that she thought she had cancer. Living alone with her three young daughters, she feared the worst. "I was so worried about who would look after my children if I died. I just had no idea how far it had gone."

She had had a smear at Kent and Canterbury Hospital in February 1996 and was referred to the colposcopy clinic. In July she found out that she had pre-cancerous cells in her cervix and in September she had an hysterectomy.

Her 1992 smear had been misdiagnosed, for which the hospital has admitted. She has since found out that there were abnormalities in her 1987 and 1985 smears as well.

"I was so worried and I kept on ringing the helpline to find out what had happened with my previous smear. I couldn't understand what was going on. Then I found out: my previous smear couldn't have been negative."

She is now pursuing the hospital for compensation. "I do get legal aid but I'm still paying a large part of my salary as a nurse to fund it," she says. "It's not just the money though. I'm fighting because no one has been brought to book. No one has yet said that they accept full responsibility for what has ruined so many women's lives. I'm 40 I've had my children but that does not mean I want a hysterectomy or should have had to have one. I'm not going to give up fighting."

"I just think this has had a really bad effect on our daughters. They're growing up and of course I'd want them to go for smear tests but they look at me and have no faith in the system at all, the way we've been treated by the hospital. I think a lot of women involved see their daughters feeling this way."