How my story begins: My story starts with having discharge for several months. I’d gone to my new primary physician, who just told me it was pre-menopause and prescribed Lotrimin, essentially like I had a rash. I used it for a while, then stopped because I knew that wasn’t the issue. Later I saw a commercial about symptoms of gynecological cancer one day and the nagging voice in my head got louder. And louder. And louder. I finally decided to see a gynecologist, and my friend recommended a particular gynecologist. That doctor wasn’t accepting new patients, so I saw a nurse practitioner in her office because she was taking new patients. My appointment was Feb 20, 2014. The nurse practitioner did her exam, and while I’m laying there in the stirrups, she said something like "I want to have Dr. X have a look at this," the doctor who wasn't accepting new patients. I thought, “Oh, crap. The lady who couldn't see me is now being asked to come see me. That ain’t good!”
Life before my diagnosis: I was healthy and physically fit. I was that health nut that people got annoyed with because I had the willpower to resist sweets and bad stuff. And I follow my doctors' instructions (pretty much anyway :) )
How I felt after diagnosis: I was shocked and in denial because I’ve always led a healthy lifestyle and gotten Pap smears every year and they’ve always been negative. It wasn’t fair. We don’t have any gynecological oncologists in my community, so I was referred elsewhere. And being the thorough woman I am, I got a second opinion. Lucky for me, the two sets of docs agreed on my course of treatment. I chose the 2nd set of doctors though because I liked how they related better.
Telling my family and friends: Telling my friends and family was hard. It depended on the person. It got tiring very, very quickly. I didn't need to see long faces because I needed to stay positive. I learned to appreciate it when people heard from others so I didn't have to do "the tell."
My treatment: My first date of treatment was April 11th. My treatment had been delayed because my doctor wanted to give me IMRT (intensity-modulated radiation therapy - a type of high-precision radiation) since I am a petite gal and she was trying to prevent long-term damage to my other organs. But because I hadn't had a hysterectomy, my insurance denied that type of radiation. So here I was, newly diagnosed with cancer and having to battle with my insurance company. LOVELY!! I got one extra round of chemo because of my battle with my insurance company.
In all, I had 7 infusions of cisplatin chemo, 25 external radiations, and 5 internal brachy radiations. I was not at home for my treatment, so I stayed at Hope Lodge. (Hope Lodges ROCK! If you have any extra money lying around, throw some their way. That was the most supportive environment a person could have!
How I felt after treatment: My last day of treatment was May 29, 2014. It was wonderful because I felt like I’d climbed a huge mountain and I was on the summit cheering, but it was also scary because I still had some cancer in me when I left my treatment facility and I had to trust my docs when they said it was going to ultimately go away. And I wanted a scan of some sort right away to get confirmation that it was GONE. I wasn’t going to get that PET scan till August 28th and I was never so happy to get a huge medical test. I wanted to know that the cancer was GONE. And it was! THAT’S when I was declared NED and the true cheering took place!
What I did to help myself: I did research to be informed and I doubled down on my healthy lifestyle techniques.
My life after cancer: I’ve been blessed that I haven’t had to go through the accusations and stigma that several of the women in the movie 'Someone You Love: the HPV Epidemic' have gone through. If it was discussed, it was behind my back so I was blissfully ignorant and I’m good with that. In fact, I didn’t know that my cancer was HPV-related until recently because no one told me. Doctors really don’t like to worry about causes so much with cancer; they just look forward to the solution.
Where I am today: Today, I am very active with all of my old hobbies and a few new ones -- like being a Cervivor Ambassador! I have a renewed energy for life and I enjoy life more and don't take it for granted.
What I want other women to know: What I want all women to know is to trust your bodies. To doctors, trust that your patients know their bodies. And to EVERYONE: getting this cancer is not your fault. If this were about a growth on our arm, no one would blink an eye.
Let’s work toward a cure so no more women have to endure cervical cancer!
How I will try to help others: Be a Cervivor buddy, educate others and help end cervical cancer!