She’s known for being outrageous, feisty and straight-talking. But Real Housewives Of Cheshire star Ester Dee has laid bare her vulnerable side as she recovers from a cancer scar following years of failing to attend routine smear tests.
Speaking exclusively to OK!, the Czech-born mum-of-one revealed that she’s furious with herself for putting off the potentially life-saving screening for so long. And having recently undergone surgery to remove pre-cancerous cells from her cervix, she knows now she’s had a lucky escape.
“It’s been horrendous,” says Ester, 37, who joined the RHOCH cast in 2016 before quitting the ITVBe show last summer. “I’ve been an idiot with my health, putting my life at risk.
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“I’ve been invited for a smear test numerous times but have always ignored the letters thinking there was no family history of cancer, that nothing could happen to me and that I was invincible.
“I didn’t want the inconvenience of going to the appointment or the discomfort of the procedure itself. I hate myself for not listening to my mum who would always tell me to go and get checked and for ignoring all those letters from the GP. It’s all my own fault.”
Every woman between the ages of 25 and 64 is invited for regular NHS cervical screening, but despite several prominent public health campaigns, Ester didn’t book an appointment until she started to experience some worrying symptoms three months ago.
As well as vaginal bleeding, she noticed a lot of watery discharge and an unpleasant odor and was shocked to discover they could all be signs of cervical cancer.
“I Googled it and immediately started panicking that I was going to die,” she says. “I thought of my little girl and cried to my mum saying how could I have been so stupid. I just felt completely devastated. I called the doctor and they made me an emergency appointment for a smear test which I had the next day.
“Afterwards, I couldn’t believe I’d been avoiding something that was over within less than a minute. Yes, it’s a bit uncomfortable but you can take some paracetamol beforehand which helps with that. And when it could literally save your life it’s worth it.”
Cervical cancer kills around 850 women in the UK a year and experts say almost every death is preventable. Big Brother star Jade Goody died from the disease in 2009 after missing a smear appointment and slipping through the net. Smear tests take a sample of cells from the cervix and screen them for HPV, a virus that can cause cancer.
Ester’s fears were realised when her sample came back showing abnormalities and she was told she needed to go to hospital for a cervical biopsy. Thankfully, the biopsy was clear, but doctors still felt the cells were concerning enough to recommend removing them, which Ester had done earlier this month.
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“It was mildly painful and scary but I’m relieved they’ve gone,” she says. “As long as I don’t hear anything else from the hospital, I go back in six months for another smear test. They’re going to monitor me for a couple of years as I’m at a greater risk of developing cancer.
“It has been horrible, but I honestly feel like one of the lucky ones. I can’t bear to think about what might have happened if I’d carried on not getting tested.”
Ester is sharing her story in the hope that it might encourage more women to take up their smears. Last year, smear testing rates dropped to their lowest ever level with just 70% of eligible women going for their check-up. Research by the charity Jo’s Trust found the most common reason for young women not attending is feeling scared and embarrassed at the thought of going.
Ester issued a direct appeal to anyone who might be putting off their smear and urged them to make an appointment. “Please, please don’t ignore your letter. Don’t be an idiot like me. We are all human and cancer can happen to anyone. If reading the story of this crazy woman from the Czech Republic helps even one person, then I’ll be happy.
“No one knows for sure what’s going on inside of them and these sorts of cancers can be caught before they’ve had a chance to develop. I want everyone to be in this world for as long as possible so please, just go.”
Her own ordeal has given her a huge jolt and made her reassess a lot of her lifestyle. “It puts everything in perspective. I felt so helpless, so I want to change the things I can control. I eat too much red meat which I’m now cutting back on. There will be no more chocolate or doughnuts and I’m reducing my alcohol intake and trying to lower my stress levels.”
She jokes, “Having said that, I removed myself from RHOC which should have 100% lowered my stress and look at me! Seriously though, I’m just trying to be happy and appreciate everything that’s good in my life.”
One of the very good things in Ester’s life is partner Glynn, 55 – a retired businessman who she has been with for three years. She splits her time between her home in Anglesey and his place in Gibraltar and he has been a huge support through the difficult few months she’s had.
“He has been my rock. He’s supported me brilliantly, but he’s also been upset with me that I should have gone for my tests much earlier.
“Glynn has changed me because in the past I don’t think I cared about how much people loved me and I took a lot of advantages because of that. This time I can see it’s nice to receive love and give it back, and that’s a much better feeling. When you are completely open-hearted and honest in a relationship, it just blossoms.”
She adds, “He also tells me if I’m wrong and unfortunately I do have to admit that 99.9% of the time he is right.”
Ester is the first to concede that her romantic history has been complicated. Her three-year marriage to millionaire John Temple ended in 2018, a year after she revealed on RHOC that she’d been having a relationship with property tycoon Rob Lloyd, the father of daughter Pearl, now seven.
After a rocky road, Ester and Rob are now on good terms and split the parenting 50/50 – Pearl spends seven days with Ester in Wales and then seven with Rob while Ester flies to Gibraltar.
“Everything is good with Rob now,” says Ester. “Pearl loves her daddy and he treats her like a princess. Obviously we have had our ups and downs and I regret that we couldn’t work as partners. But we got there in the end and we work around what’s best for Pearl. We’re all happy.”
The star says she would like another baby, although she’s worried about the impact of her recent health issues. “I hope everything will be OK. It’s something we’ll think about when the time comes. Glynn has three boys and I’ve got Pearl – we feel blessed as it is.”
Ester has no plans to return to RHOC, although confides that she sometimes misses the show she made her name on. “When I’m back in Cheshire I often see the crew traveling around and I think, ‘Ahh!’ but I’m very quick to snap out of that again.
“There was a lot of waiting around because it’s not a scripted show, so you never knew how long filming would take. You might think you’d be finished by 8pm but end up there until 3am.”
She adds, “Life’s easier just being a mum and a girlfriend.”
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