How my story begins: I went in for my normal Pap test on October 25, 2011. My family doctor asked if I was having unusual symptoms because she had noticed bleeding after my exam. Nothing was abnormal to me, since I had brought (to what I thought were) abnormalities to her attention on previous visits. i.e. spotting, extremely light menstrual cycle, and cramping.
I received abnormal Pap test results, which was nothing unusual to me. I had abnormal tests for years, but this time, HPV was detected. My doctor suggested getting further testing.
In November 2011, I had a colposcopy and cervical biopsy. When the results came back, my gynecologist advised me to schedule a LEEP procedure to get the abnormal cells from dysplasia and further testing. I opted to wait until the New Year since she didn't think it was cancer. My first surgery was scheduled January 6, 2012 and my results came back very quickly. On January 9, my gynecologist was very persistent with meeting with me. I was working two jobs at the time and wasn't getting home until after 8 pm. After a couple of phone calls, the nurse told me my doctor would wait for me at the office until I could get there. At first I was annoyed, never giving it a second thought that I might have cancer. Throughout the day, I thought it could be serious and had my husband and mother meet me at her office. That evening, I was diagnosed with stage 1 squamous cell carcinoma and CIN III - cervical cancer. She then referred me to a gynecologist oncologist.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt like my whole world was spinning in front of me and left the doctor's office in a fog of uncertainty. I was told it was caught early, therefore it was treatable and left me with a couple of options: a cone procedure or a hysterectomy. I was told chemotherapy or radiation therapy would not be needed as long as the cancer didn’t spread.
I would have never thought at the age of 34 I would be diagnosed with cancer and have such a difficult decision to make.
With the first option, choosing the cone procedure, I would still be able to have a baby, as long as I could conceive, but the final result would end with a hysterectomy. I went back and forth with pros and cons: I was told as long as I could conceive, I would have a greater chance of miscarriage and also be on bed rest, but if they did not get all of the cancer, it could spread. This concerned me - How much was I willing to risk my health and/or my unborn child’s?
The second option was to get a hysterectomy. This of course would allow me to never bear a child again. Yes, there is adoption or being a foster parent. But for me, there is an absence of giving birth to my own child.
This was a heart wrenching experience and I had a difficult time with my decision but at least I had options.
I had an appointment on January 23, 2012 and believe that visit changed my mind on everything. I wanted the cancer out of my body no matter how small it was - as soon as possible. Cancer has a mind of its own - I was scared to death that the cancer would spread into my lymph nodes. I was scared that I wouldn’t be here to watch my son grow up. My doctor said that it is a moderate-severe aggressive form of cancer and set up appointments for a PET and CT scan. The PET scan was not authorized by my insurance company so I had a CT scan of my abdomen, pelvis and chest.
I had an appointment on February 1, 2012 to go over my CT scan; as far as the Dr. could tell regarding my CT scan, the cancer had not spread. He would have liked me to get the PET scan, but the insurance company would not pay for it. He said it is a very controversial topic with insurance companies. He said he would have gotten a better reading and been able to see more.
He kept mentioning that I didn’t have any "clean margins," so I checked off on getting the cone procedure. Since I didn't have clean margins, this concerned him, or I would have chosen the cone procedure.
Telling my family and friends: I only told some family members and a few close friends. I didn't want pity and to be known as a girl with cancer. I also felt somewhat shameful of my diagnosis so I kept it secret.
My treatment: On March 15, 2012, I went through a modified radical robotic hysterectomy and a pelvic lymphadenectomy, which took out my cervix, uterus, surrounding tissues, the top of my vagina, and the surrounding lymph nodes. I still have my ovaries because I wanted the choice to freeze my eggs to possibly get a surrogate and also so it didn't kick me into immediate menopause.
What was most difficult for me: In the year before my diagnosis, I had thoughts of having another child, with hopes of having a girl. I had often thought of being able to dress her in frilly girly clothes and putting her hair in pigtails, like my parents did when I was a little girl. I even gave my unborn daughter a name.
I was mad at myself for always overthinking and analyzing why or why not to have another child but came to the conclusion that my blessing is my one and only son. I had a hard time telling my son. I wondered if he would be mad at me later in life when he found out his mom had cancer or if he would be mad at me for telling him. I had concerns with him pulling himself away from me or starting to get bad grades in school because he was worried about me.
I felt that some days were easier than others but I felt like I was putting on a facade. I pretended to be happy and forced a smile every day. My mind was in constant movement and I either cried at the snap of a finger or laughed the next minute.
What I did to help myself: I continued to work long hours and work two jobs. I think I might have picked up a third at that time to keep myself busy and keep me from self pity.
My life after cancer: I went back to work May 10, 2012 and went back full force. For a year and a half, I continued working three jobs (to escape my reality) and in November 2012, I started getting dizzy spells. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in February 2014. I honestly think I needed more time off from my surgery and should have eased back into my crazy life.
Where I am today: Today, I have minor complications from surgery. I am not able to empty my bladder completely and have leakage.
How I will try to help others: To raise awareness for other women to get annual exams so they can catch it early like I did.