Anne

Cancerversary: February 2017

Age at diagnosis: 34

Diagnosis: Squamous cell carcinoma

Stage of cancer: I

How my story begins: I am a mother to three amazing little girls, Clara, and twins Julia and Katie. I am also wife to my wonderful husband Dean. In addition to family life, I work for my state's consumer protection division of the Office of Attorney General.

I gave birth to my twins via cesarean section in November 2015. By December 2015, I had my six week follow up visit. My OBGYN did a Pap test at that visit, and reported that it was normal.

By February 2016, I began experiencing some odd symptoms and I wondered if they had anything to do with the tubal ligation I'd had with my c-section. In May 2016, I found that I had a "never ending" period. I contacted my OBGYN at that point, and she ordered a sonogram to rule out endometriosis and ovarian cysts. After the sonogram, I was informed that they found nothing wrong. I kept bleeding. I would have fevers, I felt run down and exhausted all the time. I would have terrible cramps some days. The cramps would cause me to double over in pain. I would lay in bed with a heating pad, and sleep for hours. I would call my OBGYN to report my symptoms. Eventually, she decided that the best course of action would be to schedule an endometrial ablation. It was scheduled for August 12, 2016.

My husband went with me for the procedure that morning. By the time that I awoke from the anesthesia, I heard the post-op nurses mention that the procedure had not been done. I was so confused (and still pretty out of it) and asked what was going on. My OBGYN told me that she couldn't do the ablation because I had cervical cancer. I can still remember feeling as though the room was spinning. My OBGYN set up a CT Scan and referred me to a gynecological oncologist through KU Medical Center.

How I felt after diagnosis: I felt as though everything was hurry up and wait. After my initial CT scan, I was told that the cancer was confined to my cervix and the tumor appeared to be about 4cm. By the time I met with my oncologist and had a PET scan, my tumor measured approximately 6 cm and they found some lymph node involvement. It seemed as though the tumor was growing rapidly, and I felt nothing short of terrified. I didn't necessarily feel sick though, so some days I could only wish that my diagnosis would turn out to be a cruel joke. I wanted to learn everything I could, and I wanted to know all about potential treatments. I read every credible source I could find that would answer my questions without a lot of medical language. I primarily read the American Cancer Society's site. I bombarded my oncology team with questions. Thankfully, my husband attended every appointment, so he could help me remember the information we received. He also asked a lot of questions that I hadn't thought to ask. He was my rock through the initial diagnosis.

Telling my family and friends: I was hesitant to tell a lot of people at first, primarily because I didn't want them to ask a lot of questions of which I wouldn't know the answers. As I told more friends and family, the support poured in. Friends brought meals, offered to watch our kids, and drove me to appointments when my family was unavailable. The outpouring of love was tremendous. I don't think that I will ever be able to fully express my gratitude to them for all of the assistance provided.

My treatment: I was informed that a hysterectomy would not be a viable option in my case, so I had 6 cycles of chemotherapy, 29 rounds of external radiation therapy to my pelvis, and 5 rounds of brachytherapy concurrent with the last few rounds of external radiation.

How I felt after treatment: Treatment was hard, but I know it could have been a lot harder. I felt nauseated for about four days or so due to the chemotherapy. I had anti-nausea medicine, and some days it was more effective than others. Radiation therapy made me tired. It also caused some gastrointestinal problems, as I'd been warned to expect. I had radiation burns on my lower back and on the front of my pelvic area. They itched so badly, and also burned when touched. There was not enough Aquaphor around to help! The brachytherapy is what truly caused me to break down into tears. I'd held my emotions together fairly well until brachytherapy. It was hard on my body, since I was having some side effects primarily from the external radiation. I cried a few nights. I just couldn't help it.

What was most difficult for me: Physically, the external radiation and brachytherapy was hardest for me. Mentally, I live(d) with a fear that I wouldn't survive to raise my daughters. It's a fear that I still struggle with today.

What I did to help myself: I talked with friends and family. I found a cervical cancer support group on Facebook which helped me to realize that so many other women are having the same experience that I had. That helped tremendously.

My life after cancer: I was given the all clear in February 2017, so I am now six months cancer free. I have anxiety about my health now, as well as my family's health. I tend to over react to any little symptom now, whereas before my diagnosis I would underreact. I think I could benefit from some therapy to help bring me back to a less anxious state of mind.

Where I am today: I am six months cancer free. I'm enjoying planning home renovations with my husband and family vacations. I'm back to work full time.

What I want other women to know: I felt a bit stigmatized by my diagnosis because cervical cancer is so often the result of HPV. I want other women to know that it's okay to come forward and tell your story as well. You are nothing less just because you have cervical cancer.

How I will try to help others: I think it's important to inform women in my age range about cervical cancer, and what signs and symptoms to watch for.