How my story begins: I was very active before and after my initial diagnosis. Before cervical cancer, I did a lot of speed training for marathons and am proud to say I qualified for the Boston Marathon twice and qualified a third time!
In addition, I have lived through the most exciting time in my career in the 6 years since I was diagnosed - I transitioned from being a psychotherapist and clinical director to the head of an area nonprofit that provides counseling services and case management for at-risk moms of babies.
I had a brownish yellowish vaginal discharge for 2 years pre-diagnosis. I kept going to my gynecologist, whom I had gone to for regular Pap smears and checkups for over 18 years. She just chalked it up to menopause and other than Pap smears, ran no further tests. Suddenly, at the beginning of January 2011, I started hemorrhaging clumps of dark red blood, and from there tests were done.
How I felt after diagnosis: Shocked and in disbelief! After my doctor telling me it was nothing to be concerned about for two years, it was the last thing I was expecting.
Telling my family and friends: Ironically, when the phone call came from my doctor with the news, we were actually waiting for a phone call from our veterinarian to find out when she could make a house call that afternoon to put our beloved Sheltie, Charlie, down. When we found out about my diagnosis, too, we immediately called everyone we knew and had an open house at my mom's place that afternoon to honor Charlie and to process my cancer diagnosis. It was very supportive. I also immediately started a blog on Caring Bridge and wrote my heart out. Getting support from all my friends and supporters was a huge life link for me.
My treatment: In early February 2011, I had a radical hysterectomy followed by cisplatin and 6 weeks of radiation. I was "cancer free" for a full 6 1/2 years. So I was shocked, after 7 months of fatigue, headaches, and vertigo, to discover I had a metastasized tumor sitting on the cerebellum of my brain. Surgery on my brain was successful on July 14, 2017, and they think they got all of it. However, subsequent scans of my abdomen showed at least 2 enlarged lymph nodes near my lungs. Therefore, I have just begun an 18 week course of carboplatin, avastin, and taxol.
How I felt after treatment: I had my first radiation treatment in 2011 and I felt progressively more fatigued and depressed as treatment went on. Also, I experienced some episodes of vomiting.
I felt awesome after the brain tumor surgery. By the very next day after surgery, all the headaches and vertigo were gone and I was actually able to get up and walk 4 miles on the hospital floor!!!
Regarding my current treatment, I have only had one round of 2017 chemo regimen so it's hard to tell, although I spent one full night long feeling nauseous with horrible stomach cramps. That subsided by morning.
What was most difficult for me: The recurrence of cancer. I was kind of naive after the 5 year mark - I just assumed it was all behind me. Metastatic cancer is a whole new deal, since mine is largely in the lymph nodes.
What I did to help myself: During every year after my first diagnosis, I would sit down and write about all the wonderful experiences and moments I had. I'd tell myself that no matter what the outcome, no one could ever take those memories away from me. By the time I got to the 5 year mark, I called them my "bonus years." Now I tell myself that no matter what happens, they can't take those "bonus years" from me and I feel exceptionally blessed!
My life after cancer: Prior to my most recent diagnosis of metastatic cancer on 7/14/17, I had just completed my 26th state, having run the Taos Marathon at 7000 feet! I like to brag that I came in first in my age group (I was the only one in my age group!) and came in third overall in the women's section (there were only three of us in the whole race!!!). Little did I know I was running with a metastasized brain tumor at the time!
Between my two episodes of cancer, life has been pretty normal. In the first two years, we did panic about each and every little ache and pain and would wonder if it was the cancer coming back. But then our focus shifted - it wasn't the cancer we were concerned about; it was all the side effects of the treatment, i.e., chronic lymphedema, partial bowel obstructions, peripheral neuropathy, etc. Resentment about the side effects eventually resolved into acceptance.
Where I am today: Trying to kick cancer's butt again!
What I want other women to know: I know we've got to make room for the whole range of emotions that's going to come up around a diagnosis of cervical cancer. But for me, I decided that my primary commitment was to embrace the joy in every possible moment. I felt the alternatives - feeling bitterness, why me?, etc. - just wasn't the way I wanted to come to the end of my life. Yes, I have moments where I'm sad, cry, or despair, but I am always grateful for the joy I can draw from within myself.
How I will try to help others: I love talking to other Cervivors plus I write a lot on Facebook about my experiences. Plus I'm trying to reactivate my Caring Bridge blog - so feel free to join the conversation!