How my story begins: Life before my diagnosis had its ups and downs. I was recently divorced (December 2015), and learning to navigate the world in a new way. I was doing things a typical 33 year old does - focusing on work, my home, etc. I was extremely active, working out 5-6 days a week and trying to stay in shape. Life seemed pretty normal!
In June 2015, I had been having awful spotting...basically, it was a period for months on end. I went to see my family doctor and she attempted to do a Pap. But due to my nerves, she wasn't able to get a sample. Since I had already been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), she said she wasn't too worried about my cervix and the bleeding was likely due to the PCOS. She sent me to get an ultrasound of my ovaries and a script for some anxiety medicine and told me to come back for a Pap whenever I felt comfortable. The ultrasound came back fine. Since I was just approaching the window of being overdue for a Pap (3 years), I figured I could wait a but longer to come back. Well, life got in the way and I noticed more spotting and lots of discharge. I was getting alarmed. I finally made myself go in for a Pap in January of 2017. On Friday, February 10, 2017 at 6pm, my life was changed forever when my doctor called and said my Pap came back positive for malignant cells and my HPV test showed I had high risk HPV.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt terrified. I felt mad at myself.. why did I go so long without getting screened? I was a year late getting this simple test that could have caught this early. HPV????? What is HPV and HOW in the world did I get this???? Everyone was trying to comfort me, telling me it's going to be ok - they can cure this type of cancer with a simple surgery. But I knew deep down that this wasn't going to be simple. However, through the fear and the confusion, I immediately took this as an opportunity to make some things right in my life. Maybe this was a wake up call. I wanted to use this as a time to get closer to my family and friends and refocus on what is important in life.
Telling my family and friends: I came out and told everyone right away. Thankfully, I have such a wonderful support system and everyone was just there for me. I couldn't imagine going through this alone. This was hard, but literally everyone in my life was supportive and did what they could to help.
My treatment: I am stage 2A, so my treatment has been 5 weeks of chemotherapy, 25 external beam radiation sessions, as well as 4 additional weeks of chemo and 5 brachytherapy sessions. As I write this, I have completed the 5 weeks + 25 external beam sessions and 1 brachytherapy session so far. Treatment didn't seem so bad when the doctor described it. Going through it was a different story. I was perpetually tired, had bowel issues and lots of depression. I had intended on working as much as I could during this time, but so far I have not worked much at all.
What was most difficult for me: For me, what's been most difficult is knowing this is a lifelong challenge. My body will never be the same; my mind will never be the same. I am not through with treatment and I already feel like everything is just different. However, I do have hope that I will be stronger because of it. Different, but stronger.
What I did to help myself: I spent time with family and friends and I rested. I tried to remain positive. In addition, I tried to remain active by working out, but that proved to be difficult as treatment progressed.
Where I am today: I am 3 weeks from finishing treatment. I am hopeful that it worked. My doctor did a physical exam while I was under anesthesia this week and informed me that the tumor is shrinking and responding to treatment. I was so thankful to hear this. I know the battle is not over... in fact, I feel like it's just begun. I know I will have to rebuild myself from the ground up after this experience. I don't feel like I've even been able to process all the changes (menopause, not being able to have children, etc) that I will face after cancer yet. It's one step at a time, and right now I am focusing on just getting rid of it!
What I want other women to know: It can happen to anyone.
How I will try to help others: For the 25 days of external radiation, I prayed the same prayer 4 times, each session. 4 times was the number of the machine would circle around me. During this prayer, I asked as a result of this, that I would be able to help others in the same situation. I then heard about Cervivor, and it was like my prayers were answered. This is a way that I can actually make an impact. So I plan to try and help others by becoming an active member of Cervivor. I want to be a part of Cervivor, I want to help women get educated, and I want to be there for them if this happens to them.