How my story begins: I am a busy mom and wife, as well as a nurse. I love my job! I was rarely sick with anything other than an occasional cold. Cancer could never happen to me-I was too healthy for that, and besides that - if I had cancer, I would have known it!!!
I missed my well woman check-up for a few years- I just didn't take take of myself. I started to have some abnormal bleeding, and was also interested in getting off my birth control pills because of my age. I made an appointment, and went in. When my doctor went to do my pelvic exam, his attitude totally changed. He was prepared to do a Pap test, but instead, he ended up doing a biopsy of a tumor on my cervix that was the size of about a half-dollar. I was totally in shock. That explains all the bleeding I was having!!! He scheduled me to come back in a week. I was a nervous wreck!!
I went to my appointment alone, which was probably a huge mistake. By this time, I already had myself convinced that I had cancer - and I was right. When he walked into my room, he didn't even have to say anything. I knew by the look on his face. He explained to me what was about to happen to me, the first thing being a referral to a gynecologic oncologist. The whole way home I cried. But most important on my mind was how was I going to tell my family-especially after we had just lost my dad 5 short months before to metastatic renal cancer.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning of my story for years to come.
How I felt after diagnosis: Crushed-Devastated-Hopeless-Worried-Am I going to die??
I was mad at God-how could he do this???? I just buried my dad!!! What did I do to deserve this??
Telling my family and friends: I called my husband on the way home. All I could do was cry. He left work so that he could be there when I got home. The next step was telling my mom, brother, and sister-in-law. I made these calls once I got home. Then I told my best friend. Everyone cried with me, and all asked "Are you OK?".....I didn't really know how to answer that because I had no idea how I was. The hardest part was telling my daughter, who was 8 years old at the time. How do you explain to your daughter that you have cancer? She just lost her papa to cancer. All she knows is that cancer can kill you. Telling her was the hardest part.
My treatment: In November 2008, I had a radical hysterectomy with lymph node biopsies. All my lymph nodes were negative, so I required no further treatment. I continued with regular follow-ups, and remained cancer free until February 2010. I went in for a check-up, and the doctor found a tumor on the right side of my vaginal wall. This required 25 external radiation treatments, and 3 internal radiation treatments. I was declared cancer free once again.
In February 2014, I began to have some bleeding. A biopsy revealed what I pretty much already knew - the cancer was back! In April 2014, I had a surgery that involved removing my vagina, lots of pelvic tissue, part of my bladder, and bowel. For the past year, I had been complaining of some swelling and pain in my right upper thigh. Nothing was ever found, even on the PET scan. During surgery, my doctor discovered a golf ball sized tumor on my obturator muscle-so he removed this. This tumor was found to have formed from the cervical cancer-same cells as all the cells before.
About 2 weeks after my surgery, I began chemo-6 rounds of Taxol and Carboplatin......rough stuff!!!! On July 4th, I began having urinary incontinence-I lost all control of my bladder. A CT revealed I had developed a fistula. In September 2014, I had another surgery to remove the rest of my bladder, parts of ureters, my urethra, and had an ileal conduit placed - they basically took out more of my bowel and made it into a small pouch that comes out into a stoma on the right side of my abdomen. So my pee goes into a bag. Not what you really want, but if that's what it takes to save your life! Finally, after all that, in January 2015, I was once again declared cancer free!!!
In the Fall of 2015, I started to just not feel well. I had a lot of trouble with fever and nausea. Then I started to notice a change in my urine. Turned out I have a stricture or narrowing of my left ureter, caused by lots of scar tissue from prior treatment and surgeries. I had to have a stent placed in my left ureter, and it has to be changed out every 3 months-my problem is that I have only made it about 2 months each time before I start getting sick with it, and he has to change it out early. I may have to have another major surgery. I'm not excited about that possibility, but I'll do what I have to.
How I felt after treatment: So glad for it to be over, but still scared to death everyday that it is going to come back. I also think that if I have made it through all this, I can pretty much make it through anything.
What was most difficult for me: It was really difficult to allow people to help me or ask for help. I learned that it's ok to have help..sometimes you need it. Also, it was very difficult because this last time, I really thought I might die. With my last surgery I was in the hospital for 13 days. I really thought I was not going home. I also missed a lot of things with my daughter. I'm used to being at every function, and there were times i was not able to go.
What I did to help myself: I learned to let people help me, and that it was ok to ask for help. I also learned that it's ok to be sick-you aren't going to feel great all the time, but that doesn't mean it's a death sentence! You have to take time for yourself!!
My life after cancer: Life is good, even though I still get sick and still have to have surgery. I'm currently cancer free, and that's what matters! I'm still here to watch my daughter grow up, and to have time to spend with my family and friends. I take more time to appreciate the small things that maybe I didn't appreciate as much before.
Where I am today: Today I am back to working full-time as a nurse. My life revolves around my 15 year old daughter-her life keeps me very busy and on the go, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I just pray that I continue to be cancer free!
What I want other women to know: I want other women to know that cervical cancer is not a death sentence. You didn't get this because you are nasty or dirty, or because you slept around. HPV is spread by skin to skin contact - you don't have to have sexual intercourse to get HPV. I never had any symptoms whatsoever until I had full blown cervical cancer. I was HPV 16 and 18 positive.
Do not be ashamed-we have to talk about it and get off this stigma related to cervical cancer and HPV. We also need to fight for our right for awareness-I want to see as much teal and white as I do pink!!!!
Also, you don't have to fight this alone! I wouldn't be where I am without the wonderful support of my family and friends-especially my husband-the one who has seen me at my highest and my lowest and is still my biggest fan!!
How I will try to help others: I try to be an inspiration to others. I am always told by people I that I have been an inspiration to them and so many more. They say that after all i have been through, I continue to smile and keep going. I have never given up! I love that my story has inspired so many, and I hope that it continues to!
Any additional information you'd like to share: When my cancer came back in 2014 my sister-in-law, Charity Lane, started a fundraising effort. She started a Facebook page- Team Laura - where you can follow my story. She also did a t-shirt fundraiser with my Team Laura logo -t-shirts were delivered to 12 different states. #teamlaura