How my story begins: I was trying to live a healthy lifestyle. I had undergone a gastric bypass in 2008, and was exercising and eating right. In the summer of 2010 I l even learned to swim!
In November 2009, I went for my Pap smear. It came back abnormal and the doctor wanted to do a colposcopy. I refused, having had a bad experience with one a few years before. We agreed to do a repeat exam three months later. In February, when we did the follow-up exam, it was still abnormal but it had decreased in severity. So the doctor told me we would just wait until my regular checkup in November. In June 2010, I started to have slight bleeding during intercourse. I made an appointment with a different doctor, and he performed a colposcopy. On August 31st, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB cervical cancer.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt scared, sad, unsure and angry!
Telling my family and friends: It was hard, especially telling my sons and my parents.
My treatment: My gynecological oncologist said we would do a radical hysterectomy using the DaVinci robot, and we scheduled it for early October. I was sent home after a two day hospital stay. A few days later, I began to have stool come out of my vagina. I rushed to my Dr and was immediately diagnosed with a recto-vaginal fistula and taken to the hospital. The Dr wanted to give me a temporary colostomy but I balked at the idea. So he said he would put me on two anti-diarrhea medicines to help stop the stool from coming out my vagina. Subsequently, I developed a pelvic abscess, so I had to have a drain inserted. After about a month, I noticed urine in my drain. Back to the doctor I go, and I am told I have a blocked ureter and much urine is leaking into my pelvic area. In December the pelvic drain is removed, and is replaced with a nephrostomy tube, which is a tube inserted through my back and into my kidney. It is attached to a urine drainage bag attached to my leg.
In January 2011, I returned to work. In February, I went to my doctor for my 4 month checkup. He does a Pap test, and when I get my results, my cancer has returned. I am ordered to go through chemo and radiation. In May, I am told that while the tumor has shrunk, it is still a problem so we plan on doing some internal radiation. The day I am supposed to have my first internal radiation treatment, I have stool coming out of my vagina again. I am sent for a CAT scan, and the results come back that my cancer has spread to part of my intestine and bladder. I am told my only choice is to have a total pelvic exenteration. I am devastated!
In July 2011, I have my surgery, leaving me with a colostomy, urostomy and a piece of my intestine that has replaced what was once my vaginal canal. After almost two weeks in the hospital, I am released to go home. After 3 days, my incision has opened so I go back to the hospital. Then I am diagnosed with a C-diff infection and a blocked ureter in my other kidney. I now have a total of four bags attached to different parts of my body. In December of 2011, I get both nephrostomy tubes removed. I try to get back to some form of normalcy.
In 2012, I start experiencing some leg pain. I brush it off and keep going. In January 2013 I experience a blockage that lands me in the hospital. I go for a CAT scan and my doctor finds I have a tumor on my abdominal wall. I have it surgically removed, and my doctor sends me for a PET scan. Now I am diagnosed with metastatic cancer in my iliac fossa. I go through chemo and radiation for the second time. In September 2013, I finish my treatments and go for a PET scan in October.
Finally, I am declared no evidence of disease!
Chemo and radiation, twice!
How I felt after treatment: The first time wasn't too bad. I didn't even lose my hair. The second time though, my hair fell out, I developed nerve damage, was exhausted and nauseous all the time.
What was most difficult for me: It was difficult not being able to be a "true wife" to my then-husband, because of the surgical removal of most of my vaginal canal. Needless to say, I found out he had been cheating on me, and it was hard to not feel like it was my fault.
What I did to help myself: I refused to let cancer win. I always made sure I wore makeup, big or long earrings and scarves in all colors and designs.
My life after cancer: It has been a long and, at times, an uphill battle. But I firmly believed that I was chosen to go through this trial because I was strong enough to fight it.
Where I am today: I am now divorced, but God replaced my ex-husband with a beautiful grandbaby.
What I want other women to know: Never ever ignore the signs your body is giving you. Go every year for your check-up - this disease can be treated if caught early.
How I will try to help others: I tell all my female friends to get their annual well-woman exam. Also, every year at the high school I work at, we have a breast cancer awareness week, and I am always invited to share my story with the students, in the hope of spreading the word about this horrible disease.