Have you recently been diagnosed with cervical cancer? Or are you a 3 year survivor, a 5 year survivor, a 20 year survivor?
Have you always wondered how to talk about your experience in a way that will help prevent others from having to go through what you went through?
Would you like to get more involved in educating your local community about prevention?
Whatever your story is, if you want to advocate to get rid of this disease once and for all...
CERVIVOR is for you!
Help end cervical cancer!
Anyone who attended Cervivor School West last weekend will probably tell you that it changed their life. Words really cannot express the bonding that occurred. Most that attended likely left with new best friends for life.
We’ve all had different experiences, but loss is universal. If you weren’t able to attend Cervivor School in San Diego, we hope to see you around the country or around the globe in the near future.
We know we’ve been posting the Cervivor School West recap video like crazy, but it truly captures the feeling of the weekend. You can also find a photo gallery on Facebook and more videos of our speakers on Instagram.
We love you Cervivor Sisters!
The Graduates …
During Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month we feel like it’s so important to talk about all GYN cancers. I couldn’t let this month end without talking about ovarian cancer. I’ve been trying to come up with the right words all week to describe my beautiful friend Carey who passed away this summer. I feel like I should honor her with the perfect words and they just aren’t coming to me, perhaps I’m just too sad that she’s not here.
I miss her. Carey was a wonderful Mom to her two boys. She loved her sorority. She was one of the fiercest ovarian cancer advocates I knew and now she’s gone. I hate that. I hate cancer. What I love is that Carey was a team player, always supportive and always sharing our Cervivor message. She was witty, smart and a girl’s girl.
I’m honoring Carey the best way I know how. By sharing her story and painting my toes teal. Please take a moment to learn more about my amazing friend Carey and her organization, Teal Toes. It’s not too late to paint your toes teal!
The following was taken, in part, from Teal Toes.
Carey Elizabeth Fitzmaurice, beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend, died on June 15, 2015, at her home in Bethesda, Maryland, with her family by her side. She had ovarian cancer. Carey was the founder, president and animating spirit of Teal Toes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms.
Carey was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2006. In the years that followed, she pursued her vision of using fun—painting toenails teal — for the serious purpose of educating women and men to the subtle signs of ovarian cancer. (Teal is the color for ovarian cancer awareness.) Carey founded Teal Toes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of ovarian cancer. Teal Toes creates a way for survivors and friends alike to show solidarity and support for ovarian cancer survivors, and to use an unusual color to spark conversations about symptom awareness.
Teal Toes has reached tens of thousands of people nationally and internationally, distributing more than 400,000 symptom awareness cards since its inception. The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance awarded Carey the Cindy Melancon Spirit Award for 2015 in honor of her courage, passion, and tireless work on behalf of the ovarian cancer community. Teal Toes has become embedded in the national conversation about ovarian cancer.
Carey lived life to the fullest, before and after her diagnosis. She loved her red Mustang convertible, the Beatles, the Carolina Tar Heels, mint chocolate chip ice cream, poodles and much more. She was an avid traveler, introducing her sons, Elijah and Sam, to diverse cultures through frequent trips around the world. Most of all, Carey was an extraordinary mother to her sons, and wife to the love of her life, her husband Andrew.
Near the end of her life, she wrote: “All you need is love. It has been true for me. I didn’t have beauty, fame, success or other things like that, but I did have the love of family and friends that made me what I was and sustained me when things were rough. Please continue to apply that love to each other. And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Well, we have another NYC Pap Rally & Run in the books. We are beyond grateful to those who came out to support our cause, and those who supported from afar.
Extra special thank yous to Yes! Organic Market in D.C. for providing refreshments; Lane Moore, our event MC who kept us laughing and entertained; Dr. Rachel Masch for discussing the importance of HPV and cervical cancer awareness; Vanessa and Edna for donating water; Music From Thin Places for providing music after the run; and DJs Mike and Damien for waking up the Upper East Side with their bass so early on a Saturday morning.
While words can only go so far, here are some images and video that captured the day.
Dr. Rachel Masch, executive director of Basic Health International Inc., spoke about the importance of HPV education and detection.
We were also honored to have survivors and ambassadors share their stories.
And last, but not least, we ran into Ms. Katie Couric as she was out walking with a friend. She was so gracious and it felt like she talked with us forever as she sincerely wanted to know about our cause.
This 5k walk is the perfect opportunity to get involved and raise awareness for cervical cancer and its connection to HPV. We can’t wait to do it again next year!
Would you like to see a Pap Rally & Run come to your city? Contact us.
And now we march forward to Cervivor School West, Sept. 24-27, in San Diego!
It is estimated that 95,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with one of the five gynecologic cancers this year. Of those 95,000, approximately 28,700 will die. Gynecologic cancers don’t discriminate. No woman is immune. September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. This month, we are raising awareness about the cancers below the belt – the ones that we don’t always want to discuss – but that we should be aware of all the same.
One survivor, Marianne, shares her story below.
September holds a variety of feelings for me. My “cancerversary” is September 7. I also get my “big scan” and have one of my three-month check-ups during September. The combination of those both provide me with more anxiety than all of my appointments for the year do! But, then again, waiting to find out if your cancer has returned will do that to a person.
When I was diagnosed two years ago I had a premonition I would be one of those people who would end up “doing something” because their life changed due to cancer. Fortunately, I met a lot of other people like that so I could start my own journey to help others.
But let me start at the beginning. I was diagnosed with stage IV endometrial cancer in 2012 just two weeks before 33rd birthday. Pretty hideous, right?
The severely abnormal bleeding started on the night of January 9. As someone who was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in my teens, abnormalities surrounding my period were not unusual to me or my gynecologist. However, this was more severe. My gynecologist surmised I had fibroids and gave me multiple courses of medications to stop the bleeding. It never stopped. She had me scheduled for a D&C (dilation and curettage). The sonograms I had before the D&C all showed masses on the inside and outside of my uterus (at the time this was believed to be internal and external fibroids given my age and symptoms).
On January 26, I was told I have cancer.
I was home from work with a debilitating migraine when I received the phone call. I told her I would come to her office with my mother that afternoon.
My gynecologist had preliminary information based on the pathologist from the D&C, which showed I had cancer in my endometrial layer. The sonogram showed that my uterus was also affected, not just the uterine layer. When my doctor told me I would need a hysterectomy, I was beyond devastated. Having this choice ripped away from me has remained one of the hardest things I have ever dealt with.
I was prescribed a variety of painkillers for the worst abdominal pain imaginable. The pain was so unbearable that it interrupted a birthday dinner with my parents. I was also grappling with high blood pressure due to the pain and stress. Eventually, I was prescribed anxiety medication. After my blood pressure and anxiety was under control, I was cleared for a 7.5 hour surgery on March 15. The procedure ended up being a two-part operation, as my cancer had metastasized to my liver.
After surgery, I was in for a whole new journey. I experienced hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. My doctor had discovered that I had a microscopic layer of cancer covering my abdominal layer and bladder, chemotherapy would be my next stop. I was even more terrified of chemo than surgery! My doctor gave me the book Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls by Marybeth Maida to help me through. Paclitaxel and Carboplatin (Taxol/Carbo) was my prescribed cocktail- six rounds, one via intravenous, every three weeks. April 10th was my start date. The side effects were horrendous! I could not work, I had debilitating joint pain, neuropathy, and could hardly walk the first week of each round. I am presently still dealing with the joint pain, neuropathy, and the chemo induced asthma.
My doctor told me I should expect my hair to be gone between my first and second round. My hair was coming out in clumps, but I still had enough of it to hide that anything was wrong. With an updo and a lot of hairspray, I fooled everyone. But soon, I had to stop fooling myself. The clumps had left bald spots. I scheduled an appointment with my hair stylist. I cried with her as she sent me off to battle armed with a new look and an introduction to my wig-maker. Thanks to the wig, I felt confident and normal during two of my best friend’s wedding.
As the chemo freight-train kept barreling over me and my life, I did the best I could to hide that I was someone fighting Stage IV cancer. I started camouflaging my lack of eyebrows and eyelashes by being a cancer drag queen. I drew on eyebrows, used eyeliner to give an illusion that I had full lashes, and applied fake lashes to hide the ones that were missing.
When I felt well enough to leave my house, I would take advantage of that time to enjoy summer. I spent time with my friends and worked out with my trainer. Prior to my diagnosis, I had lost over 200 pounds. However, due to the stress and chemo, I had gained nearly 50 pounds. My self-esteem took a big hit, but I had a lot of people supporting me.
My treatment ended on July 30, 2012. Although I was still reeling from some of the effects, I finally started to feel normal again. I was able to live with a renewed sense of purpose. On September 7, I got an email from my oncologist telling me that my PET scan came back clean. The chemo worked.
When I started feeling better, I worked to lose the 47 pounds I had gained during treatment. I even made the decision to start the process of studying with the National Academy of Sports Medicine to become a Certified Personal Trainer. Given my history, this has become a passion where I can help people by using my own experience. In the near future, I will also be working on obtaining certification in nutrition and exercise for cancer patients and survivors. I celebrated my third Cancerversary this year and look forward to celebrating many more.
I was one of those All-American kids. I did life the way I was supposed to. I graduated from high school, graduated from college in four years, and obtained a Master’s Degree and a great job by the time I was 23 years old. Life was good. I had an amazing family, an amazing church family, and an even more amazing group of friends.
That all changed when I was about 30 years old. I was happily married, solid in my career, and thinking about a baby when I started having some health issues. First it was horrible vertigo, then it was abnormal bleeding, and finally a hemorrhage that landed me in the emergency room at a local hospital. With my husband by my side, they asked me some very tough and private questions. The doctor on-call announced they needed to do a biopsy to find the root of the bleeding. I was horrified… the whole night seemed like a bad dream.
Fast forward three days, and I am sitting in an office of an OB/GYN I’ve never met. He said the words I would have never expected, “You have cervical cancer.” I was astounded. I was 30 old and I had cancer. How could this be? I had gone for a pap smear like clockwork, every year since I was 16 years old. I followed the rules. They had to be mistaken. But they weren’t. I was told it was Adenocarcinoma, that it was stage 1B/2A, and that I was lucky they found it when they did. Later, I learned that is was 7 cm tumor that by the grace of God had stayed contained to my cervix.
Much of that day seemed like an out of body experience. I was hearing words and terms I had never been a part of my vocabulary. Words like, HPV, clear margins, and metastasize. I was told I would no longer have the chance to have children and that I would be admitted to the hospital and going upstairs to a room they had ready for me. There were nurses, IVs, CT Scans and X-Rays awaiting my arrival. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I looked at my husband of two years in horror… No Children? Chemo? Radiation? Hair Loss? It was almost too much.
My cancer journey began on a Thursday afternoon on August 25, 2005. I decided that day that I would not let cancer become my identity. I would battle through 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of external beam radiation, and 5 rounds of brachytherapy, and then I would proceed with life. If only it could be that easy. My cancer battle lasted 4 months, but my journey will never end.
After I finished treatment and returned to work, I began to realize I was not ok. I searched for support groups, other survivors, someone, anyone, who could understand what was happening inside of me. With no luck, I then decided a therapist was the best option. That was a temporary fix to a bigger issue of what it means to survive cancer.
Three years later, I did find what I was looking for. A group of women who knew how it felt when you were told you couldn’t have kids, who understood the shame you felt about the cause of your cancer, and Good Lord, those crazy side effects of radiation induced menopause. When I found a sisterhood of women, I felt like I started living again. I took control of my health, took up running, and my childhood love for soccer.
Today, 10 years later, with some literal and figurative battle scars, I proudly call myself a survivor. Cancer taught me to embrace life, to learn the meaning of balance, and to not be afraid to share my story. It’s hard to believe these words, but my cancer battle made me a better woman.
There’s a popular athletic apparel out there called Under Armour. It’s stylish, super comfy, and great for exercising!
My under armor is not stylish at all, not too comfortable, and I don’t wear it for exercising. I wear it to protect against infections caused by lymphedema.
When I was first diagnosed with cervical cancer, the goal was to survive. No one mentioned lymphedema. While going through chemo and radiation, the goal was to make sure all cancer was gone. No one mentioned lymphedema. During the first couple of years after treatment, the goal was to make sure HPV and cancer did not reoccur. No one mentioned lymphedema.
Then my leg began to swell and I started getting cellulitis infections … the doctors mentioned lymphedema.
It amazes me how little most of us know about our own bodies. When I was trying to get pregnant at first, I read many books and was fascinated with how intricately it all really did happen. I remember thinking, “This is amazing, how did I not know all these details until now?”
When I was first diagnosed with HPV and realized how common it is; I remember thinking, “How can this virus attack so many of our bodies, and I’m just learning about it?” When my leg began to swell and I was hospitalized with infections; I learned about the amazing lymph system. I remember thinking, “I’ve heard of lymph nodes, but a whole system? Who knew!” Perhaps I should have gone to medical school!
The lymph system is an amazing part of our bodies! Imagine delicate, little vessels running all over your body connected by lymph nodes – congregated (mainly) in the neck, under the arms, in the groin, and abdomen. Some are close to the surface of your skin, others are deep inside. These vessels carry a protein-rich fluid called lymph which is passed through the lymph nodes to rid your body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials. It’s a pretty important system!
My cancer treatment included a radical hysterectomy along with the removal of 20 lymph nodes in my lower abdomen. Even though our bodies contain hundreds of lymph nodes, a handful of missing ones can alter the effectiveness of the whole system. It simply doesn’t perform as well because the lymph fluid doesn’t get pumped as efficiently in order to rid the body of toxins.
About two years after I finished my cancer treatments, I noticed my left ankle and thigh were a little swollen. Not much, but enough for me to notice a difference and become paranoid that something was wrong. This is when I first heard about lymphedema. My doctor referred me to a physical therapist who specializes in lymphedema, and she taught me some self massage I could do to stimulate my lymph system and keep it moving. It helped with the swelling, and soon I stopped the self massage.
About a year later, I had my first cellulitis infection which hospitalized me for four days. Cellulitis can be a common occurrence with lymphedema. The lymph system gets backed up, which means the toxins aren’t eliminated efficiently, and bacteria can grow causing infection. Over the last five years, I’ve had six cellulitis infections; all of which have hospitalized me from 2-7 days. Once released from the hospital, I usually have to go and get daily antibiotic infusions for about two weeks. Each infection damages the lymph system even (a little bit) more which makes me more prone to the infections. It’s a vicious cycle, and it isn’t fun. However, I’ve learned to listen to my body and know when an infection is coming so that I can act quickly to minimize the complications.
Lymphedema is a condition that doesn’t go away. I will always have it. However, there are things I do everyday to manage it in order to keep swelling down, avoid infections, and ultimately keep the lymph fluid moving throughout my body. This is where my Under Armour comes in handy. Everyday from the time I wake until I go to bed, I wear prescription compression hose that go from my toes to the top of my thigh on my left leg. I also wear compression shorts that go from mid-thigh up to just under my bra. This compression provides gentle pressure which helps to keep the lymph fluid moving. It interferes a bit with my wardrobe, but I’ve learned to fashionably adapt. On the bright side, the compression garments give me somewhat of a slimmer and smoother look. In addition, every night at bedtime I spend about 20 minutes doing manual lymph drainage massage. Lastly, once a month, I get a lymph drainage massage from a therapeutic massage specialist.
No one mentioned lymphedema when I was first diagnosed with cancer. I’m not saying they should have; the focus was surviving cancer. Plus, lymphedema doesn’t happen to all patients who have had lymph nodes removed. Even though my case is mild, lymphedema has become one of the main “after-effects” of cervical cancer that I deal with on a daily basis. It is cumbersome (literally) and overwhelming at times, but I know it’s what I need to do to stay healthy. And, I suppose, it’s a small price to pay to be cancer free.
If you have signs of lymphedema, please contact your doctor in order to get the best care possible!
- Heather Banks
I always thought I would die young, but not because of cancer.
My mother died from early-onset Alzheimer’s when she was 53. I was 17. For the entirety of my 20s, I believed I had to accomplish everything I wanted to in life before I turned 40. Then if I started to lose it, I’d at least be somebody regardless of remembering being somebody.
The Year of 35 was going to be my year of triumph, but a couple of months before that magical age (January 2014), I went in for an exam. I hadn’t gotten one in far too long and, because of my looming age, my soon to be husband and I were thinking more seriously about trying to have a baby. We were still on the fence about it, but figured we should make sure I was OK first. I’d never had issues in the past so I wasn’t worried.
Then I got THE CALL. You know the call. It had been a week since my appointment and as soon as I saw that number, I knew. I had abnormal cells and needed a colposcopy. Somehow I knew it was cancer even though I wouldn’t find out for months. Something had felt off for awhile and I was too scared to go to the doctor. Effing stupid is what it was, but I didn’t have health insurance.
I immediately signed up for some through the Affordable Care Act. The insurance wouldn’t kick in until March, on my birthday, but I had things to keep me busy to avoid obsessing about it.
The day before my 35th birthday, both of my books became Amazon best sellers. A month later, I was married. That seemed like a good sign for the rest of the year. I almost forgot that I probably had cancer. I had my colposcopy in April, then my first LEEP in June. That’s when sh*t got real.
They hadn’t gotten everything and they’d have to do another LEEP.
The doc didn’t tell me I had cancer at that point, at least I don’t remember him telling me. They hadn’t cut into my cervix far enough and there were cells in the deep tissue sample he took. I didn’t have children so it seemed to complicate things. The medical community all but shamed me for not having children yet. If I’d spawned mini-me’s it would make my treatment options less complicated.
“If you were done having children, he would just take everything,” the nurse said. “The fact that you haven’t had kids changes things.”
I wondered how much of my cervix would be left after a second LEEP.
I hadn’t thought about marriage or children until I met my husband. I never planned to get married or have a family because of the aforementioned Alzheimer’s fear. I couldn’t put someone through that. Still, I’d always been fearless, or at least emulated a lack of fear.
If someone told me I couldn’t do something, I’d do everything in my power to prove them wrong.
“Oh, you think I can’t? I’ll show you,” I’d say with enough determination to move a mountain. “Oh, I have cancer and can’t have kids? I’ll show you …”
2014 seemed to take forever. I had my second LEEP and countless medical appointments during the second half of the year. After my second LEEP I was so sure I was OK that being referred to an oncologist didn’t trigger panic.
“Sonja you have Stage 1,” the oncologist said. I stared at him. “What that means is we’ll have to do a radical hysterectomy. We won’t take your ovaries if they still look good. We’ll also take your nodes to make sure it hasn’t traveled anywhere else.”
At least that’s probably what he said. All I could think about was how I’d tell my still newlywed husband I couldn’t give him children. Finally, I said, “Are you sure? Are you really sure it’s cancer?”
“Have you heard nothing I just said?” he asked. “I want to get you into surgery next week.”
“No, no. That’s not convenient. I just started a new job this week. I can’t go in and tell them I have to be out for month. Can we wait until February?”
At this point, the oncologist used his dad voice on me. “SONJA, we have to go in now so it doesn’t spread.”
I just sat there. I didn’t like his tone and I was going to get a second opinion from a hot woman doctor who knew something about vaginas.
Turns out, after calling around, everyone knew my oncologist, including my aunt (“That’s a name drop.”), and said he was the best in town. The week before Thanksgiving, he operated on me and saved my life. He retired before Christmas.
As far as I know, I won’t die young. The hysterectomy took care of it. I didn’t and don’t need further treatment. I was lucky. Well, as lucky as one can be in this situation.
I always thought my one cause would be Alzheimer’s, that I would be the voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves, but it never felt quite right. Turns out, I needed to be a voice for myself.
And now, because of my involuntary membership in the cervical cancer survivors club, I will get to finally meet so many of you going through this at Cervivor School next month in San Diego. I know it will be intense, but it’s necessary.
If you haven’t, send a big THANK YOU to Tamika for all the work that she does for this cause. We wouldn’t be a community without her.
You may have heard my story before. The quick version – I was diagnosed at age 25, had a radical hysterectomy shortly after my diagnosis, and was left infertile and depressed, certain that no one would ever marry me.
But my story is just one of many cervical cancer stories.
There’s Christine. She was diagnosed at 30, also had a radical hysterectomy with chemo and radiation, and ended up without the ability to have children with her husband.
Heather. She had two young kids when she was diagnosed, a happy life as a 5th grade teacher, and a rough treatment schedule that left her exhausted and worried about leaving her young family without a mom.
Kelly. She was a gymnast, a newlywed, a woman passionate about following her dreams, and a woman who died from cervical cancer at the age of 33.
And there are many more stories…some of women who have gone on to have wonderful full lives and some of women who died way too young from a disease that we can now prevent.
I was lucky that my cancer was found early. And women today are even luckier because we have new and improved tools to help protect us from this disease!
So how can you protect yourself? Here are our 5 top tips for preventing cervical cancer:
Don’t let MY story be YOUR story. Don’t let Christine’s story be your best friend or sister or mom’s story. Don’t let Heather’s story be the story of your neighbor or cousin or daughter. And don’t let Kelly’s story be any woman’s story ever again.
Get vaccinated. Get tested. And if needed, get treated. Help us to eradicate cervical cancer so no other woman has to suffer or die from this preventable disease.
“In September 2012, I had a pap smear as part of my routine maternity care during my pregnancy with my third child. The pap smear came back abnormal, so I was referred to a regular OB/GYN for a colposcopy, a test that uses a vinegar solution to highlight possible abnormalities. There was also the possibility they would perform a biopsy.
It took about two weeks for me to get the results, and when the doctor called, she sounded like she was giving me the worst news of my life (little did I know). I was told that the biopsies had come back showing intermediate to high grade dysplasia and that I would need to come back in my third trimester for another colposcopy. I was also advised to consult with an oncologist. Treatment options were not really available during pregnancy (this is usually when they turn to LEEP or a cone biopsy), but it would be good to have options lined up after I gave birth.
When I got off the phone, I didn’t know what to think. About 10 years earlier, LEEP was recommended after I had an abnormal pap smear and a colposcopy, but I got a second opinion and was told these things sometimes go away on their own. I decided to wait and see, and every pap smear since was normal. This was my first abnormal PAP in 10 years.
On May 23rd, 2013, I give birth to a healthy, happy baby boy. Six weeks later, I returned to my midwife for a postpartum visit. Knowing I hadn’t done any follow up on the abnormal cells, my midwife did another pap smear, and felt what she described as a mass about 1 cm large. This time, I made an appointment to see an oncologist.
During my examination with the oncologist, I was told the mass didn’t look like cancer, and was likely just a fibroid. To be on the safe side, they took a biopsy. After the exam, the oncologist went over tests and lab results with me to explain what they may or may not mean. He reviewed the statistics, repeating what I had already read:
My husband and I left that appointment feeling pretty good; we had dodged a bullet. A week later I received a phone call asking me to come back in as my test results were abnormal. Once I meet with the doctor, he gave me the news: It’s cancer.
After my diagnosis, I underwent anesthesia for a planned cold knife cone biopsy. Once I was under, the determined that my tumor was too large to be removed that way, and I would require a radical hysterectomy.
When my son was 6 months old, I had the surgery that removed my uterus, cervix, part of my vagina, and the surrounding tissue. The pathology report from my surgery came back with 2 out of 3 high risk factors for recurrence, and my doctor recommended chemotherapy and radiation treatment. I had 4 chemotherapy treatments, 25 external radiation treatments, and 2 internal radiation treatments.
I’m still trying to figure out how having cervical cancer and being a cancer survivor fits into my life. Having cancer came as a shock to me. I have always been a very healthy person. I have 3 wonderful children, and I was planning on having more. Cancer took that choice away from me. Cancer brought me to some very low places. It’s also brought me to some unexpected highs. I have met amazing people. I have been loved and supported by family members and friends. My strength has been tested and I survived.
Most people I talk with know next to nothing about cervical cancer. I didn’t before I got it. I want women to understand their bodies; to know what these exams and tests mean. I want women to know that there is a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer. My cancer was caused by HPV, and there is a vaccine for HPV. I plan on vaccinating all three of my children (my daughter and two sons) when they are old enough.
I haven’t quite come to grips with being a cancer survivor yet. I still worry about recurrence, and I still have bad days where I cry about what I’ve lost. But, I do take pride in being a survivor. I know my own strength. And I know that if you are facing cervical cancer, you are not alone. There is an amazing network of women out there who care deeply about helping. I hope by adding my voice, and telling my story, I can make a difference.” – Juliet Glaser
If you would like to read more about Juliet’s fight with cervical cancer, check out her blog: ButIAteSoMuchKale.wordpress.com
“I am Erica Frazier Stum, a mother, wife, and teacher who is in a continued battle with cervical cancer.
In October 2012, I was walking through the booths at a local festival when my life was changed forever. That is where I received a call from my OB-GYN giving me the results of a biopsy: I had cervical cancer.
I was told that I needed to see a gynecological oncologist as soon as possible. When I asked my OB-GYN what the typical treatment plan was for cervical cancer I was told a hysterectomy – even at the age of 27!
I found a gynecological oncologist who subsequently identified my cancer as stage 1B2. This specialist said I was a candidate for a special procedure which could preserve fertility. It was decided to do a trachelectomy, a 16 hour procedure to remove the cervix and surrounding lymph nodes. This approach was selected over a hysterectomy in an effort to preserve fertility; the panel of oncologists reviewed my labs after surgery and decided no further treatment was needed. During this diagnosis and treatment I had to take medical leave from my teaching position. At the end of treatment, I received a phone call that I was cancer free. However, this story doesn’t end here.
I went on living life; I was engaged to be married in June 2014, and was loving life. However, in April 2014, I was diagnosed with a recurrence; my cancer had progressed significantly. This time, I had lymph nodes involved as well as multiple tumors, including one which completely blocked off my right kidney. With this recurrence surgery wasn’t an option; the cancer had progressed too far.
First I had a port placed for treatment and a nephrostomy tube to help with the blocked kidney. I went through six rounds of carbo/taxol/avastin chemotherapy and then six weeks of external pelvic radiation and with an additional chemotherapy, cistplatin.
During this time, myself and JR went ahead with our wedding. Cancer doesn’t wait for anyone. We were married on June 28th and I had my second round of chemo just two days after the wedding. This treatment took a toll on my body as I had to take a six month medical leave yet again. This treatment also took something else away, the opportunity to expand my family. At the age of 28, these treatments led to the start of menopause and loss of fertility.
Relief came in March 2015 when I had a clear PET scan that left me feeling like I could move forward and leave the daily thoughts of cancer behind once and for all.
Unfortunately, 3 months later, during a routine PET scan in May 2015, a new cancerous lymph node was found. I am now facing another recurrence of cervical cancer, which is scary and frustrating.
I am getting ready to begin treatment for my third occurrence of cervical cancer. On my 30th birthday, the treatment will be an extensive surgical process. What is frustrating is that this surgery might not cure the cancer. I might face more radiation and/or chemo after this surgery. There is a fear that the cancer could go away and come back again. It seems like a never ending cycle.
My son is now 6 years old and has had to cope with his mother having cancer for half of his life. He has lots of questions. Some days he wouldn’t want to share my drink because he didn’t want to catch cancer.
Now, he honestly knows more about cancer than anyone should, and certainly more than any of us did when I started this process. We all learned a lot going through this experience, and I want to share what I know in order to help other women with a similar diagnosis. That is why I started a blog to chronicle my journey.
When someone asked me what one message I would give to women, I said: Women need to listen to their bodies and always be strong. Don’t miss your OB-GYN wellness check-ups! If cancer taught me anything, it’s that you never know what you can endure until you don’t have any other choice; be strong, persistent, and don’t give up.
Today, I am still working towards the goal of being “cancer-free.” With strength and persistence, I won’t give up.”