It was November, 2012 when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. At 32 years old, I had been married for 13 years and had 2 beautiful sons. I held a successful position with the company I work for, and was just living life….or at least I thought I was. I quickly realized that life can change in an instant.
I was young when I first became sexually active. Doing the right thing, I went to my mother and asked for birth control. I began seeing my gynecologist at 15, and receiving my yearly Paps.
Between 1995 and 2012, I had received 16 Pap smears. Out of those 16, not one ever gave a positive result for cervical cancer. So when I got the devastating diagnosis after a colposcopy, then cone biopsy, I was completely confused.
How is it that I now had cancer and an appointment with an oncologist? How had this not been caught sooner? My biopsy revealed that my entire cervix was a tumor; a cancer that had begun growing on the back of my cervix, closer to my uterus. A Pap test only scrapes the surface close to your vagina.
In September of 2012, 2 months before my diagnosis, I went in for my yearly Pap. The month prior, I started having some bleeding issues with intercourse. At first it was very light and hardly noticeable. The birth control I took stopped my monthly cycles, so I thought maybe it was just some breakthrough bleeding.
Over time, the bleeding became heavier. My husband and I became concerned, and agreed I needed to see the doctor. This was only 1 month before my yearly appointment.
Since my gynecologist has a very busy practice, I scheduled my appointments a year in advance. I told my husband of my upcoming appointment and that I would address the issue then.
In the weeks leading up to the appointment, the bleeding became heavier but only happened with intercourse. It would stop very quickly, and I did not have any issues during normal life.
When I went in for my yearly exam, I talked to my doctor and explained everything I was experiencing, and she did my Pap. Looking back through my medical records, she saw that there had been no signs of cancer but I had tested positive for HPV on two separate occasions, years ago. It was like I tested positive one year, then negative for a few, and then had another positive. This never concerned her, as I had not had consecutive positive tests.
This Pap came back normal. No signs of cancer cells, no HPV. She called me with the results, and I was shocked. How was nothing wrong? I had already been combing the internet about my symptoms, and was sure it was cancer. The bleeding was getting worse, and I asked what could be happening. What else could we do?
The next step was colposcopy. This test revealed cancer cells. The Doctor took 5 samples from my cervix, and one was positive. This led to a cone biopsy.
It was November 2012 when I went in for the procedure, just one week after my grandfather passed away, 5 weeks after his wife. I was an emotional wreck to say the least.
The biopsy surgery was the first surgery I had ever had and I was scared to death. Scared I wouldn’t wake up from anesthesia, scared to leave my boys and family, scared of what the overall outcome would be.
My gynecologist, Dr. Johnson, was the most compassionate woman I had ever met in that operating room, even though I had known her for years. She knew how concerned I was and understood the fear I was carrying in my heart.
I remember being wheeled down the hallway to the operating studio, the doors opening, and what seemed like the coldest air I had ever felt. I was shaking – from the cold and from fear. On the verge of tears, but staying strong, I lay down on the table. So many people, such bright lights, small chatter everywhere. It was more than overwhelming.
Dr. Johnson had greeted me when I came in. She helped me onto the table, taking my hand in hers and standing beside me until I slipped into sleep, reassuring me with her kind words the entire way. She promised to take good care of me, and I believed she would. I felt more at ease, and loved. The last thing I remember before the anesthesia took hold was her kind face and my hand in hers.
I remember the moment when, a few days later, she phoned me with the results. How could one forget the call that would change their life forever?
My boys had just gotten off the school bus, and we were sitting together talking about their day when my phone rang. Recognizing the number, I jumped up and ran out into the garage for some privacy. I told my boys, then 10 and 6, that this call was important and that I would be right back in, but they followed me into the garage.
This was on a Friday. Dr. Johnson apologized for calling, saying that she wanted to tell me in person, but knew that if she told me then that I needed to come into the office on Monday, I would worry myself all weekend.
She told me the three words I was knew were coming, but was praying I wouldn’t hear…… You have cancer. She told me she was concerned for me, that it was invasive and aggressive, and that my entire cervix was a tumor.
Cervical cancer is one of the slowest growing types of cancer, and for my entire cervix to have been overtaken meant that I had been living with this cancer for many, many years.
My immediate fear was that it had spread throughout my entire body. Dr. Johnson had already contacted my oncologist before she even called me.
We ended our conversation, both of us in tears. When I turned around, my sons were behind me, tears in their eyes too. They were aware of what was going on. They knew I had the biopsy, and was awaiting test results. It’s hard to keep something like that from anyone.
They asked what was wrong, and I could not lie. I told them I had not gotten good results. My oldest asked if it was cancer, and I told them yes. Emotional chaos broke out between all three of us.
My husband was at work, but I called him immediately. I don’t even know how he understood anything I tried to say on the phone. I’m sure all he could understand was the word cancer. He left immediately and came home to us.
I have never cried so hard in my life. There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe everything I was thinking. A feeling of complete numbness overcame me and thoughts were difficult. My mind was going in a million different directions, and it was hard to see or think clearly.
My boys…my precious boys, I didn’t want them to lose me. It was difficult for me to believe my own words of reassurance, unsure I believed myself when I said it would be fine.
Two weeks after that call, I saw my oncologist. He became my first of many “thankfuls”. I shall call him Dr. Hunk (LOL). His name is Michael, and he is a tall, dark, and handsome man with a soul made of gold. He set me on the path of being reborn in a sense, and for that I will be forever thankful. I owe him my life.
My husband and I went into the appointment still numb. Dr. Hunk explained where my tumor was, and all of the medical garb that they say, but I don’t think I heard much. I already knew my anatomy. I had already spent countless hours on the internet researching cervical cancer. All I wanted to know was what the plan was. I wanted that cancer out of my body, immediately.
The first step was a CT scan to see exactly what we were dealing with. My second “thankful” came from that scan. The tumor was contained. It was my entire cervix, but had not grown anywhere else. It had been there for years, but had stayed put. A surgery was scheduled for January 9th.
We went home, told the family, and celebrated Christmas the best we could. I took a leave of absence from work, and received a radical hysterectomy. My hospital stay was supposed to be 4 days but due to some complications, that turned into 8 days.
During surgery, I was given two pints of blood, and another two pints a few days later while in the hospital. I had a bowel obstruction that caused my stomach to swell tremendously, and the pain and discomfort was unbearable. They ended up putting a tube up my nose, down my throat, and into my stomach to try to relieve the pressure that was building.
My pulse raced the night they put that in, and at one point I was suspected to be in cardiac arrest. They thought I might have had a blood clot in my lungs, causing the elevated heart rate, so another scan and X-ray were done.
My third “thankful” was that there were no blood clots, and I was given a second blood transfusion. A day later, they removed the tube, my heart rate went back to normal, and I eventually got to go home. Before I did, Dr. Hunk came to me with the pathology results from my hysterectomy.
17 lymph nodes were removed from around my uterus and cervix, and 2 of them had tested positive for cancer. The cancer was starting to move and I was a stage 3B. There were no tumors in the lymph nodes, just cancer cells.
I was devastated. But, this became my forth “thankful”; we had caught it just in time. Even though I was terrified by the thought of cancer cells moving throughout my body, I am so thankful there were not any more tumors.
It was decided that I would need chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I had more scans, more appointments, and another doctor.
In one of the radiation placement scans they discovered I had a blood clot in the lower main vein of my abdomen. This meant daily blood thinner shots into my abdomen for 8 weeks.
Another scan revealed a massive pelvic abscess, requiring daily IV antibiotic treatments and a PICC line placed in my arm. I gave myself the treatments at home for 10 weeks. All of these complications caused my chemo and radiation therapy to be delayed, but I finally started my treatments in March of 2013.
In May 2013 I went back to work, finishing my treatments in August, 2013. 2 rounds of chemo, 10 treatments total, and 33 radiation treatments later, I was completely cancer free. My second round of chemo caused me to lose my hair, and I was forced to see myself in a different light.
The fifth “thankful” came in July of 2013. My friends and family held a benefit for me at a state park with a small lake. The day went by so fast, but it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Seeing everyone’s love and support for my family and I was amazing, and it reminded me that no one fights alone. Many of my friends even shaved their heads to support me.
My sixth “thankful” came in September 2013 when a PET scan came back completely clear. I was finished with all of my treatments, and on my road to recovery.
In January 2014, I was featured on a local news channel for a spot on cervical cancer awareness. I was thrilled to share my story. It aired several times and helped spread the word of just how important regular screenings and Pap tests are.
Along the way, I have met many other people battling cancer, and I spread my words of encouragement to everyone. Being given the opportunity to share became my seventh “thankful”.
Having cancer opened my eyes to life. I feel that I truly live now. I laugh often, cherish the memories, and make it a priority to connect with the loved ones around me.
In the past few years I have also lost loved ones to cancer. Each life lost makes me question why I am still here and they are not. Even though I am happier than I have ever been in my life, I live with guilt. Survivor’s guilt is real, and it can be a dark experience.
Attitude is everything. I have to keep telling myself that, reminding myself daily that it’s ok. I am obviously still here for a reason, and I plan to make the most of it.
I have been told by many that I am an inspiration, and I plan on living up to that every day. I now walk with my purpose, my head held high.
One thing Dr. Hunk asked my husband and I in our initial visit was if we were done creating our family. We have two wonderful boys, but we both always wanted a little girl. We always felt we couldn’t afford another child, our house was too small, and that we just shouldn’t.
Now, the decision was being made for us: no more children. Up to this point, I had not read any other stories from others affected. I was oblivious to how so many women never get the chance to have even one child due to cervical cancer.
I am beyond blessed that I have my boys. They are my main purpose in this life. My husband and I divorced earlier this year. We had many struggles, and I think my illness pushed us over the edge. We lived many years angry and upset in the marriage.
The divorce became my eight “thankful”. We are no longer in a relationship surrounded by anger. I have never stopped loving my husband, and I never will, but now I can be happy. Many trials have been presented to me over past couple of years. Each one has opened my eyes, taught me a lesson, and centered me. Each one has made me a better person.
My fight was difficult, but it taught me that I wasn’t living my life the way I should have been.
Now, every day is a “thankful” to me. I am beyond blessed to still be walking this earth. I can hold my babies every single day, even though they are bigger than me now. I find beauty in everything, maintain a positive attitude, and I look forward to a future.
At one point I was very unsure of having a future at all. I mourn those who have lost their fight, and pray for all that are still fighting. I may not have cancer in my body at the moment, but I still fight.
As much as I hate cancer, it was a blessing in disguise for me. I am a much better, stronger loving person because of it.
by Melissa Beeson