How my story begins: I always tell myself that I'm very in tune with my body. But in 2014, I felt as though I somehow missed the signs it was giving me. That April, I noticed my period was a little heavier than normal, but I simply brushed it off, just assuming my body was changing. After all, it wasn't like I was hemorrhaging and when my cycle was over everything seemed fine, never thinking anything of it. The next month, I noticed I had a watery discharge, no odor or any alarming color or blood. Again, I just assumed my body was changing. But after a week it became more concerning.
I then called my PCP and made an appointment to be seen. She actually got me in right away. As I'm laying there on the table with my legs in the stirrups, I truly had no clue what was going on! Once she inserted the speculum and took a quick look, I noticed her face. She looked just as confused I did. She told me my cervix was inflamed and bleeding and how she never saw anything like it. After my Pap, the Nurse Practitioner said I would have to wait a week for the results. Honestly, I didn't have a week to wait even though I had no idea what was to come. Still sitting in the parking lot of my doctor's office, I decided to call my gynecologist. This is someone I've known over a decade and who had delivered both my boys! He told me to come right in after I explained my symptoms and what the Nurse Practitioner saw and relayed to me. Once again, I'm back in the stirrups, another speculum and for whatever reason I just had a sick feeling, like I've never felt before. While he was taking a look and swabbing my cervix, he said, "This doesn't look good." That sick feeling just intensified and I blurted out, "DO I HAVE ADVANCED STAGES OF CANCER?" It was like my body told my brain before I could even comprehend anything. I knew NOTHING of cervical cancer, let alone the symptoms! He rushed my results and two days later, pathology showed it was cancer. He then referred me to a gynecologic oncologist in the city and I was seen the very next day, thank God. My best friend and I went in to him and I had a biopsy done to confirm it was cancer. After speaking with him, I felt a little relieved. He reassured me we caught it early. We spoke about the options I had and about what actually causes cervical dancer.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt as though I was floating, I was numb and for the first time I didn't have much to say. After learning about HPV and HPV-related cancers, I just couldn't understand. HOW? WHEN? WHAT and WHY? My last recollection of HPV was in 2006, when I denied the Gardasil vaccine because I knew nothing of it or HPV. I can never say for sure if it would have helped because I was already sexually active and I was turning twenty six in September. I was truly devastated, I wanted to know how this happened after having well over ten years of normal Pap tests and never testing positive for HPV.
I just wish I knew more about the preventative measurements that could've helped me. HPV can be very sneaky. After my second son, I was given the ok to return in three years for a Pap. According to the ACOG guidelines, I was over thirty and never had a abnormal Pap so my chances of having cellular changes to the cervix would be low. HPV had it's own agenda and within two years I had cervical cancer.
Telling my family and friends: My friends and family were so upset. They were in just as much disbelief as I was. How could this happen to Jill? I mean, I went to the doctor for everything! My friends and family were very much involved and I'm so grateful. I'm usually a strong-willed person but this time I just needed to break down and I needed them.
My treatment: A month after being diagnosed, I had my radical hysterectomy, removing my cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and seventeen lymph nodes, which were all clear. My case was a bit different. My cancer was confined to the cervix but the cancer cells were making their way down the vaginal canal. What once was supposed to be 1B1 Cervical Cancer became Stage 2A1. I then needed 28 rounds of external pelvic radiation and three brachytherapy treatments (internal radiation).
How I felt after treatment: I was so happy! Of course naturally, I did sometimes wonder and worry if it would ever come back. After treatment and given the clear, my doctor reassured me I would totally die of something other than cervical cancer and let me tell you, as strange as it was, I was happy.
What was most difficult for me: The hardest part was my children. I couldn't stop thinking of them. I couldn't help but wonder would I be taken away from them. It's the worst pain ever, just when you think a breakup is bad.
Where I am today: Fast forward to 2015: my cancer returned and with a vengeance. I just couldn't believe it! What did I do to deserve this and why me? I had three more tumors, the cancer was eating at my left ureter, and also crushing the right, causing hydronephrosis (swelling of the kidney due to build-up of urine) to both kidneys. I met with the team again and we discussed my options, which weren't great due to my tumor locations. They offered chemotherapy, which wasn't curative and would only prolong my life, or a pelvic exenteration, which includes removing the bladder, urethra, rectum and anus with a 20% cure rate. It didn't feel right so I chose chemotherapy knowing it wasn't curative. I also used cannabis oil to manage the pain from chemotherapy, which I found helped a lot.** After six months of hard chemotherapy, I'm happy to tell you I've been in remission for six months.
What I want other women to know: I want other women to know they're not alone and that there is nothing to be ashamed of! I totally believe if there was a screening for men it wouldn't be such a big deal. It's a virus that we will all come in contact with at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, we don't know why one person will develop cancer and another won't.
How I will try to help others: Most don't understand or know the facts of cervical cancer, HPV or HPV-related cancers. I made a promise to myself everyday that I'm given, I will Inform, empower and educate others because I know how I felt. That's why I joined Cervivor and I'm happy to be a part of a sisterhood where we understand one another and make it our goals to help prevent another woman from dying from cervical cancer.
Any additional information you'd like to share: "WE MUST EMBRACE PAIN AND BURN IT AS FUEL FOR OUR JOURNEY."
**Note: Cervivor does not promote or recommend any treatment or therapy, including the use of cannabis oil for pain management. Please consult your healthcare provider with regard to any treatment or therapy. These stories are for informational purposes only and should not be used for medical advice.