How my story begins: I had been doing my dream job of providing psychotherapy to families in my hometown as a licensed clinical social worker. I realized not long ago that I wanted to try and pursue another dream of mine, which is to do research on child and adolescent mental health. I applied for PhD programs but was unfortunately denied admission to these programs. It wasn't until 3 months later that I would really understand the reason why the universe did not allow this to happen for me.
In the summer of 2016, I discovered some minor symptoms that were out of the ordinary for my body. I decided to make an appointment with my gynecologist. My gynecologist discovered a myoma (benign tumor) on my cervix, which was removed. Upon further examination, I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of cervical cancer called neuroendocrine carcinoma.
How I felt after diagnosis: You know how there are people out there who feel any symptom and automatically think they have cancer? Well, that's me. Except, this time, my worst nightmare came true. I felt at this point that any tragedy I could imagine could come true. I felt all the odds were against me especially since the only information I had about this cancer was one medical article that mentioned a poor prognosis and intense multi-modal treatment. So few were the resources for information about this cancer, that when I met my gynecological oncologist, I found him holding the same article in his hand.
My treatment: Thankfully. this doctor is well-known and recognized for his work in the field. He teamed up with other professionals in the field and they proposed a treatment plan that involved 3 phases: radiation and chemotherapy concurrently, a hysterectomy, followed by a more intense round of chemotherapy. I felt my only choice was to put myself in the hands of the doctors. It was hard to fathom that even before considering having children, this was no longer an option for me. Thankfully, my doctors linked me to a fertility clinic where I was able to have some eggs frozen before I started the intense treatment that would result in the loss of my fertility.
What was most difficult for me: Treatment brought a lot of challenges. But the most difficult for me were dealing with some of the symptoms I developed from treatment, including gastrointestinal and bladder problems. It was also difficult to grasp that I was menopausal at my age, which has its own array of symptoms. I did not want to feel that my body was aging faster than normal. Although I would have never thought this would be a particular worry for me, I started wondering if my husband would no longer find me attractive. He and my family already had to enough to deal with this diagnosis and treatment.
What I did to help myself: I was hesitant at first but gradually became more familiar with several resources available at the cancer center in my hospital, including mental health services. These resources have provided me with support, guidance, and simply something to do to keep my mind occupied when I'm not doing treatments. I have found it soothing and therapeutic to record these different experiences with journaling and pictures. I have also shared these experiences on social media, which has resulted in wonderful positive reinforcement from friends, family, and a network of other cancer patients and survivors that I have discovered. Most helpful of all has been the ability to connect with my spiritual self and make sense of why this happened to me. I have several reasons why I believe I was meant to undergo this experience. But the most important of them to me is that I was meant to discover my true strength.
Where I am today: I am currently in recovery from my hysterectomy and will be starting chemotherapy again in a few weeks. I am excited that I am just a little more than halfway done with my treatment, if all continues to go well. My body has responded well to treatment. I feel more confident with each step I take to be cancer-free. I could not have gone this far without the support of my family, friends, and my medical team.
What I want other women to know: I would like other women to know that you know your body best and it is important to pay attention to your body and take care of it. Unfortunately, for some of us, we are still given these surprises even if we follow this advice. However, I am extremely relieved for acting as soon as I did, as this could have been a matter of life or death for me. If you happen to be someone that is currently going through cancer or you are a survivor, I also encourage you to open up and find the reason the universe has put you in this position.