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Friends Across the Sea

Cancer survivors often turn to the internet for community and support when they are diagnosed with cancer. No matter how much of a support system one has, there is absolutely nothing in the world like connecting with someone who truly understands and has been there. At Cervivor, our online community is a huge part of our movement, both in advocacy and support. It was no surprise to us when we found out that two cervivors who had connected online during treatment were going to be meeting one another for the first time at our Cervivor School in Cape Cod, this past fall. However, with Laura being based out of Ireland and Lucy located in Missouri, it felt bigger than usual. These two besties were about to meet for the first time and we had front row seats!

Later we had an opportunity to meet with Lucy and ask her some questions about her friendship with Laura and what it was like to finally meet her:

How did you and Laura meet?

Laura and I first met through an online forum for Cervical Cancer (Jo’s Trust). She reached out to me after reading one of my posts.

What made you continue connecting online?

We were nearly the same age which seemed rare considering cervical cancer isn’t thought to happen in young women in their 20’s. That was an instant connection and feeling like I wasn’t alone in my battle. Laura could tell that I was having a hard time with my diagnosis and that I was feeling down. She sent me a friend request on Facebook and we stayed connected that way.

What support and/or inspiration have you received through the connection?

Laura was a great deal of support for me. She was about a month ahead of me in treatment, so anytime I had questions regarding my treatment plan, I knew she could answer because she had just gone through it.

Is it weird to have such a bond and share personal info with someone you have never (and may never) meet?

Not weird at all. It was so comforting knowing that I had Laura to talk to, even if she was in another country. It’s amazing how much you’re willing to share with someone you feel connected to. I have probably shared more stuff with Laura than my own husband!

What was it like to finally meet each other?

Oh gosh I cried! Laura and I had been talking for a year and a half before we finally met. In the beginning, we always said that someday we would meet. Life gets busy and deep down I was afraid I would never get to meet her in person. I am so thankful for Cervivor for allowing us the opportunity to meet!

Has it changed the relationship (good or bad)?

I truly believe Laura and I have the same soul. She is everything I could have ever imagined and so much more. I am blessed to have met her and to have a friend in her. We still talk all the time and encourage each other through our advocacy for cervical cancer.

What’s next?

I’m positive I will see Laura again. A friendship like this doesn’t just go away or move on. Maybe next time will be in Ireland, we’ll see!

Team Cervivor was delighted to play a part in bringing these two advocates together for the first time. We are sending them both lots of Cervivor love across the miles.

-Team Cervivor

Fertility, Family & Cancer

Four months after our beautiful beach wedding in Tulum, I was diagnosed with early stage cervical cancer.  I had a longstanding history of high-risk HPV and abnormal Pap smears, but it was still a shock for me because I had done everything “right”.  I’m a healthcare professional and was familiar with HPV and the risks of it lingering in my body.  I never missed a Pap smear, biopsy, procedure or follow up, and I still got cervical cancer.  Fortunately, my gynecologic oncologist understood how important fertility was to both myself and my husband, and so I was planning to undergo a fertility-sparing surgery called a radical trachelectomy, where they remove the cervix but not the entire uterus and ovaries.  I met with the onco-fertility team approximately three days after my diagnosis.  They offered to get started right away with egg retrieval and egg or embryo freezing.  I didn’t want to do that unless I absolutely had to since the average cost is about $15,000, and I was still going to have my ovaries after surgery.  In the worst case scenario in which I would need pelvic radiation after surgery, I had six weeks between surgery and the start of radiation to do egg retrieval.  This was a great plan in my mind.

I have always wanted to be a mom.  I’ve been a dog mom for 13 years and have never been more ready to be a mom (to actual people) until I got married in February 2017 to my best friend and partner in life.  We met online, were each other’s first date on one of those popular dating websites, and the rest is history.  We had talked about our future family on multiple occasions prior to getting married, and we wanted to start trying to build our family about a year or so after getting married since I was 32 and not getting any younger.

Three weeks later at my pre-op appointment, I had the shock of my life.  My tumor had doubled in size in only three weeks from three to six centimeters.  My cervix was completely covered in cancer, and I was no longer a surgical candidate since my cancer now had “high risk” features based on how fast it was growing and was now considered locally advanced.  Also, given that my cancer was growing so quickly, it was the recommendation from my gynecologic oncologist and radiation oncologist that I proceed with treatment ASAP.  Given the circumstances and our fear, my husband and I were in agreement to move forward with treatment without doing egg retrieval.  My last resort was to undergo a bilateral ovarian transposition (move my ovaries out of pelvic area) to try to save at least some small piece of my fertility, but more realistically, to attempt to preserve some ovarian function so I didn’t become post-menopausal at age 32.  It was a 50/50 chance to try to preserve my ovarian function and much less of a chance to preserve fertility. 

The ovarian transposition wasn’t successful, and now I’m 34 and post-menopausal.  Fifteen months after the completion of chemo-radiation, my hormone levels are still post-menopausal, and my ovaries don’t show any eggs ready to retrieve.  Sometimes, I feel like my body failed me again (cancer being the first fail), but I have to remind myself it wasn’t me, it wasn’t my body – it was the treatment that did this to me.  The odds were against me, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault, especially my own.

I’ll never know why this happened to me.  Nobody deserves to lose their chance to have a biological child.  Fertility is a loss so great that it cannot be put into words.  I will forever be grateful for my treatment team, support system and my body for healing me, but this loss is permanent and at times, has overshadowed the amazing response to treatment that I was so fortunate to have.  I have gone through every emotion possible over the past 15 months.  The grief that follows is extraordinary.  It is a pain and grief that nobody can fix and no one can comfort.  It is not just my pain though; it is my husband’s pain too.  It is the loss, pain and grief of so many young adult cancer patients and so many couples.  

This past year has been a process.  A process of grief, depression, anxiety, anger and many tears, as well as gratitude, blessings and opportunity.  I have done a lot of personal work, some of which was by myself and some of which involved other people including my husband, family, friends and a counselor.  My onco-fertility team was thoughtful enough to suggest a grief/infertility counselor to help me through this loss.  In seeking the help of a counselor, I have begun to learn to accept my feelings.  I try not to be angry with myself for not pursuing egg retrieval the day I was offered it.  I am trying to practice self-compassion.  

I realize I can and will have children and the family I dreamed of, although not in the way in which I planned.  I acknowledge that sometimes it still hurts, and I will continue to have moments and even periods of time that I will still grieve this loss and re-experience the anger, sadness and hurt all over again.  I understand that this is a part of my life and that’s okay.  I will carry a piece of this grief with me for the rest of my life.  It is not something that goes away, but it is more of something that you learn to live with and something that becomes part of who you are.  It is also a part of my relationship with my husband and will help shape our relationship.  Nothing can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis, and nothing can prepare you for fertility loss.  These life-changing experiences know no boundaries and do not discriminate.  What I have realized though, is fertility loss doesn’t mean I can’t have children or a family.  Cancer has changed my life, but it can’t take this away from me.

Megan Tanner is a 1.5 year cervical cancer survivor, nurse practitioner and pug-lover.  She lives in Houston, TX with her amazing husband, Greg, and their two perfect pugs.  She hopes to one day see full infertility coverage by all employers and health insurance plans in all 50 states.