How my cancer story began: In October 2012, while I was walking through the booths at a local festival my life was forever changed. 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 and I was told a hysterectomy, at the age of 27!
My diagnosis: Initial diagnosis – stage IB2 cervical cancer; Current diagnosis – Recurrent Metastatic
My treatment: I found a gynecological oncologist who said I was a candidate for a special procedure that 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. At the end of treatment, I received a phone call that I was cancer free. However, this story doesn’t end here.
The recurrence: I went on living life, 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 that completely blocked off my right kidney. With this recurrence, surgery wasn’t an option as the cancer had progressed too far.
Second round of treatment: First, I had a port placed for treatment and a nephrostomy tube to help with the blocked kidney. I went through six rounds of Carboplatin/Taxol/Avastin chemotherapy and then six weeks of external pelvic radiation, with an additional chemotherapy, Cisplatin. As cancer doesn’t wait for anyone, my now husband and I went ahead with our wedding. I had my second round of chemo just two days later. This treatment took a toll on my body and I had to take a six-month medical leave, just like I did during my first treatment. But 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.
Living with cancer: Although relief came in March 2015 with a clear PET scan, a new cancerous lymph node was found in May 2015. I am now facing another recurrence of cervical cancer, which is scary and frustrating. After much back and forth with the doctors, we found out that we would not be doing radiation. Instead, on my 30th birthday, I had an extensive surgical process where they removed a quarter size lymph node that tested positive for cancer. But unfortunately, after a CT scan and then a PET scan, they found out the cancer had spread. There were affected lymph nodes in multiple spots, including: my right top hip bone, two in my pelvis, one on my ovary, and one adjacent to the one we just removed surgically. It seemed like a never ending cycle.
We decided not to aggressively attack the tumors, but to use Avastin with the hope that my cancer would not spread or grow. It meant living my life with cancer. For the next 12 months, my cancer remained pretty stable. In August 2016, however, I went for my scan, hoping to see my existing 7 spots of cancer and nothing more. But that was NOT the case. The 7 spots were still there, but there were 5 additional areas of concern. Given this latest development, we decided to move back into more aggressive chemotherapy treatment and give Avastin a break.
This isn’t the result I was hoping for. But we are moving forward with the treatment – a treatment to extend life. Our goal is extension and quality of life with my family and friends. There are more options as the time comes. For now, here I am, living my life with cancer and no end in sight.
In spring 2017 my body was having difficulty with staying healthy enough to get chemotherapy. So, we decided it was time to search for a clinical trial. The clinical trial process is quite an interesting complex process, however, we ultimately found a Phase I clinical trial to try out. Since August 2017 I have been on this clinical trial which we are hoping will maintain my cancer and quality of life. Each of my scans have shown mixed results with some growth, some shrinkage, and some stability. I continue living my life the best that I can. I am looking forward to my upcoming scan to have an idea of how the clinical trial is going.
Learning about cancer: My son is now 8 years old and he 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. We have even authored a book together that is designed to help families cope when there is a parent living with cancer.
My message to others: I believe women need to listen to their bodies and always be strong. Don’t miss your OB-GYN wellness check-ups! If cancer taught me one thing, it is that you never know what you can endure until you don’t have any other choice; be strong, persistent, and don’t give up. Screening and prevention are key elements that no woman should skip. HPV testing, Pap testing, and HPV vaccination are all essential health tools.
Today, I am defeating cancer by how I live my life. Cancer is not defeating me.
Check out Erica’s website with blog: www.livinglifewithcancer.com
Read her husband’s account here.
Check out these Cervivor blog posts by Erica:
- Why I’m a Cervical Cancer Advocate October 2015
- Dear Santa December 2017
- Cervivor Visits Advaxis January 2018