How my story begins: In 2008, cervical cancer screening revealed that I had the HPV virus. I started having GYN visits twice a year. However, my life got hectic, like our lives sometimes do, and in 2011 I realized it had been over a year since my last GYN appointment. I noticed some spotting and I was having 'hot flashes'. The women in my family went through menopause at 45 so I thought I was just following suit. I made an appointment with a GYN who specialized in pre-menopause. I was pretty damn shocked when the first thing she noticed was a 'large mass'. Four days later, I found out that mass was a 7cm squamous cell carcinoma tumor hanging out on my cervix.
Life before my diagnosis: I was a 46-yr old single mother who was enjoying a new-found love, hanging out with my grown kids and working my butt off at a big, high-tech company in Silicon Valley.
How I felt after diagnosis: The news brought me to tears - I cried so hard my body shook and I couldn't stop. The words floated in the air around me, expanding until the room was filled with "I HAVE CANCER."
Then the anger came, rage really. I beat myself up; how could I have let this happen? Why did I make the choices I made? None of my abuse helped me.
Telling my family and friends: The hardest conversation was with my kids. Even though they were young adults, the reality of what we were facing was overwhelming. Now, we hold each other tighter and "I love you" is part of our daily conversations.
It is true that you find out who your real friends are in the face of adversity. I was surprised by the love from those I considered slightly more than acquaintances; and the lack of compassion or response from others I thought more of.
My treatment: Pre-surgery chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, a radical hysterectomy and post-surgery chemo & external radiation due to one lymph node being cancerous.
My cancer reoccurred ten months later and I had a second surgery called a pelvic exenteration (yikes!). I now have a urostomy and a colostomy, which I call Fred & Ethel.
How I felt after treatment: I have been in some kind of chemotherapy treatment more than not. But I always embrace and celebrate each good moment: my N.E.D. status, my first remission and now my second remission.
What I did to help myself: I let go of stress big time. I remind myself daily that life goes on. That the things I cannot change will always be the things I cannot change and I can only change my attitude. Cancer even empowered me to never hide my true self.
My life after cancer: I am living, fighting and thriving with my cancer. I want to make my story count. I want to be the last generation to face cervical cancer so I advocate for the importance of the HPV vaccine and bring awareness to the fight against cervical cancer by sharing my story.
What I want other women to know: Give yourself a place for your anger but don't let it drive you. Share your story. It's so important because there are many women who are living similar lives and they want to know they are not alone.
How I will try to help others: Connecting with other cervical cancer thrivers and survivors and sharing our stories. And if I can give one piece of advice, it would be to listen to your body; if something feels different, make that appointment. Our annual well-woman exams are crucial to our well-being.
Carol's blog: www.canceravenger.com
Carol's Stirrup Stories Monologue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kT6aYS1IIDs
Any additional information you'd like to share: What I took away from Cervivor School:
After connecting with the Cervivor community online, it was wonderful to meet these women in person at Cervivor School. I had personal growth and healing through the art sessions, and I gained important knowledge on HPV, the global impact of cervical cancer and how I can potently influence policy change in my state/community.