Karla

Age at diagnosis: 34

Diagnosis: Squamous cell carcinoma

Stage of cancer: II

How my story begins: I always kept myself busy, loving my work and enjoying a new relationship. I had just moved to a city close to home, about to start a new project. I'm pretty much in love with my career. Being a civil engineer takes up a good part of my life and moving around was perfect for me. My boyfriend is always supportive and so is my family. I didn't think much about going to the doctor; it had been approximately 5 years since my last gynecology appointment.

In Jan 2016, I decided I wanted to be healthier and start to lose weight. I started dieting and exercising and everything seemed to be going well. On June 2016, I started to gain weight and no matter how much diet and exercise I did, nothing worked. I was sweating horribly and was uncomfortable. In mid-September of the same year, my doctor noticed a lump in my throat. On Dec. 6th, I had surgery to remove my thyroid. The biopsy confirmed it was follicular thyroid cancer. I scheduled an appointment with my oncologist. He had me tested and checked on by every doctor before sending me to radioactive iodine therapy. I decided to go the gynecologist last. I was diagnosed on Feb 24, 2017 with Keratinizing Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the cervix.

How I felt after diagnosis: I was heartbroken. The doctor kept talking and all I could think about was I am not ready for this. What is she talking about?? I felt that it wasn't me in there. I needed a second opinion - she must have made a mistake. My oncologist saw me on March 12. When he started talking, it hit me. It just got real. I've never felt so broken until that day.

Telling my family and friends: My mom was with me the day I was diagnosed. She is my rock. I called my brothers, both of them said: we got this, we can beat it. My boyfriend was incredulous; telling him was hard. But as expected, he was very much supportive. My dad and Nana were the hardest to tell. It took me 4 days after diagnosis to call and tell my dad. Nana was so supportive as she always is. All she said was: "Hijita, God has control and we can do anything in His name." I believed her.

My treatment: I had 8 rounds of chemo (carboplatin) and 35 rounds of radiation. Chemo was every Monday, and radiation was 5 days a week. Forty-five days after completion of chemo and radiation, I had a total hysterectomy.

How I felt after treatment: I was still heartbroken, but I finally felt peace. Around a month prior to my hysterectomy, I got anxious and a bit desperate. I couldn't wait for them to remove it all and finally feel free.

What was most difficult for me: The hardest part of this was knowing I wouldn't be able to have children.

What I did to help myself: At first, I tried to work from home. When I got too tired, I started to read about everything that was happening to me. I started cooking foods I wouldn't normally eat in order to feel better. I even made plans to travel and motivate myself into studying more.

My life after cancer: Life after cancer... crazy. After my hysterectomy, I developed a rectovaginal fistula that was approximately 2cm long. I'm sporting a colostomy, which I've baptized "Jeepers." I suffer from back pain and hot flashes. (I decided not to take hormones for menopause).

Where I am today: I started taking long walks. Sometimes I get to do up to 3km, and today I ran for the first time in almost a year. I'm feeling more active and much more hopeful. My doctors will be performing various tests on me in the next weeks to see if I can be reconnected. (To tell the truth, my stoma is a lifesaver. I have mixed feelings in letting him go).
I also start studying for my masters in February.

Life after cancer can be chaotic, but it's life and I'm grateful for being able to be here and enjoy it.

What I want other women to know: Cervical cancer can be prevented, I'd want everyone to get checked. Don't wait one more month or when you might have time. There will always be an excuse. Getting your cervical cancer screening is quick and easy. Prevention is the cure.

How I will try to help others: I've been very open to talking to others about what has happened to me. In my country, cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer in women and there is very little information out there.