How my story begins: I was a young woman with a husband and three children trying to get through nursing school with big dreams. Having three children of my own and being completely in love with the experience of childbirth, I hoped to give the gift of surrogacy to a family at some point in the future.
Being young, healthy, and without health insurance, I had not had a well woman exam in over a decade.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, everyone in my family, including the adults, were blessed with health coverage. Excited to be assured of my excellent health and establish a relationship with a primary care physician, my husband and I made an appointment. There the physician asked if he could do a gynecologic exam while I was there since it had been a while and I obliged. A few weeks later, I got a call telling me I needed further testing with a gynecologic surgeon as my Pap results were abnormal and highly concerning.
How I felt after diagnosis: After hearing "you have" and the "c" word in one sentence, the world changed. My children became even more beautiful and precious, my friends more dear. The birds seemed to chirp at just the right pitch and colors were super vibrant. Time seemed to stand still as uncertainty filled my mind.
My treatment: I was told that I could be treated via radical hysterectomy, which would completely obliterate my fertility but pose a relatively short list of risks and side effects or via chemo and radiation, which had the potential to preserve my fertility but higher risks and potential for side effects. The oncologist erred on the side of the hysterectomy, given my age and that I already had children, and the words I often heard from other cancer survivors was "get it out!" So that was what I did.
How I felt after treatment: A little bit empty. Over the years, I had grown to be incredibly in touch with my menstrual cycles and reproductive anatomy. Women's health fascinates me and to this day I often feel like something is missing. Like a little bit, I'm not as much of a woman as someone else, because I no longer have my womb.
What was most difficult for me: Letting go of such an integral part of my womanhood - the organ that played the key role in bringing all three of my children into the world. The waiting was also hard - waiting for test results, waiting to schedule procedures, and waiting to know outcomes. You learn to not have expectations.
What I did to help myself: Slowed down. I slowed down to take the time to care for me and rekindle the flame of things that I enjoyed. To sing. To dance. To just be. If the house got messy, it was ok. If the grass didn't get cut, it was ok. Because what matters is being content in this moment right now.
My life after cancer: While I'm still a little slower (taking in my surroundings and taking time for me) and patient, there's a fear I never knew before that always, and probably will always, linger. I finished nursing school just before my surgery and now have my bachelors in nursing and plan to pursue a masters in the near future. I work and live to do what makes me and my family happy because these memories are the only thing that are absolutely guaranteed.
Where I am today: I am almost two years out from the surgery that removed the cancer from my body, but must remain on heightened alert for another three years as that's where the highest risk of reoccurrence exists (in the first five years post treatment). Some days I'm able to not think about it; other days it plagues my mind.
What I want other women to know: GET YOUR PAP TESTS! There are resources and supports available for low income or uninsured individuals. No other cancer is so easily prevented or caught early. No matter how healthy or young or conscious you are, you are not immune and getting screened is a minimally invasive and incredibly low risk prevention option.
How I will try to help others: My #1 career goal is to be a Certified Nurse Midwife (likely followed with Family Nurse Practitioner) where I hope to provide care to women throughout the childbearing year. While the main draw is being with women during childbirth, I hope to help women with prevention and early intervention so they won't have to go through what I did.