How my story begins: I had just began a new chapter in my life. I had finally let go of a 15 year battle with anorexia and bulimia. I had landed a great job with an eating disorders foundation, and I met the man of my dreams. Life was just starting to take off and I was so excited for the future. When I think back, there were definitely signs that something wasn't right, but I assumed it had to do with one of two things: I've had cysts on my ovaries since my teens, which often caused me pain, and I had an IUD that caused lengthy periods, spotting, and pain.
In September 2015, I had my IUD removed and I figured a lot of the symptoms I was having would clear up. I was so wrong - they only got worse. I had pain, spotting between periods, and bleeding after intercourse. After much persuasion from my partner, I finally went and saw a doctor. He gave me a Pap (which came back normal), but pushed me through to see a gynaecologist. No big deal, I thought. I met with the gynaecologist and she performed a LEEP procedure. I thought nothing more of it.
On March 15th, 2016, I got the call. I had cervical cancer.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was angry. Not so much at the fact that I had cancer, but at the fact I had no power over it, no control over what it would take from me. I immediately saw the last 15 years of my life as a waste. I know the reality of mental illness and I know that I didn't choose to have an eating disorder, but I felt that at some point there were choices I could have made to recover, and I didn't. I missed out on so much and now in an instant, my whole life was going to be different. I struggled to go to work in the initial weeks. I did not want to spend another second on anything that had to do with eating disorders. I figured that I had somehow caused this or deserved it because I had abused my body for so long.
Telling my family and friends: I was in total shock. It didn't seem real in the beginning. I didn't want to at first but my partner pulled my best friends together that night and I couldn't have been more grateful for the support. Telling my parents was difficult. It made it more real. I coped in the beginning with making it a joke. It just made it easier to talk about it.
My treatment: My gyne oncology team was sure that a radical trachelectomy was all I would need. The surgery was successful - 2 of my pelvic lymph nodes were removed. Since it hadn't spread to my lymph nodes, I figured I was in the clear. My surgeon called to say that the tumour was larger than they had expected and he didn't clear margins. I also had extensive lymph vascular invasion. I went on to have 25 external beam radiation, 4 brachytherapy, and 5 cisplatin chemo.
What was most difficult for me: I never gave thought to the idea that I wouldn't survive cancer. What I still struggle to come to terms with is that I can't carry my own children, that I am infertile, that my partner and I will never experience pregnancy or the birth of our children in the way we expected. I was fortunate enough to do fertility preservation and we have 9 eggs waiting for us. I remind myself of that, of the fact that we can find a surrogate or adopt. We will still have a family, but we will just take a different path to get there. I have hope but it doesn't stop the pain or the overwhelming sadness I feel. I work really hard to not let it consume me.
What I did to help myself: I did a lot of self-care during my treatment. I found all the compassion I could for myself and where I was at each day. I connected with some amazing women online who were unbelievably supportive. Therapy!!! I also tried to keep my life as normal as possible. My partner, friends and family were a great source of support. They helped me stay positive!
My life after cancer: Besides the menopause symptoms and intermittent pain in my ovaries, life is ok. It's been almost 3 months since completing treatment and I am working on strengthening my body and my mind. My whole relationship with myself has changed. I have a new love and appreciation for my body and treat it as so. I listen to my body and I give it what it needs. I am growing my self-worth and strengthening the love I have for myself.
Where I am today: I am back at work, getting back in to running and yoga. I no longer focus on the imperfections in my body but rather celebrate it. This body has fought hard. It has accomplished amazing things over the years. It has survived.
What I want other women to know: Listen to your body! Learn the symptoms and do not ignore them. I never would have thought that what I was experiencing were the symptoms of cervical cancer. I had no idea what the symptoms were.
How I will try to help others: It meant so much to me, to have someone who didn't know me offer so much guidance and strength. I would like to be able to give that support to other women.