“Your cervix looks different this year”

“Your cervix looks different this year,” said my primary care doctor several years ago, as she performed the pelvic exam part of my annual exam. I remember chuckling to myself, not fully grasping the severity of her comment yet. Instead, I laid on the table thinking, “How does she remember what my cervix looks like from year to year?”

My doctor referred me to a gynecologist when the exam was over. I didn’t understand, but I also didn’t ask any questions. I visited the gynecologist two days later. She performed a colposcopy and referred me to an oncologist. Two days after that, I met with the oncologist and he told me that I had stage 2B cervical cancer. What started out as a routine exam had quickly turned into a life-threatening diagnosis.

What if…? What if…? What if…?

How could I have cervical cancer? I didn’t feel sick. I had no symptoms. (Cervical cancer symptoms can include, but are not limited to, abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, or pelvic pain during intercourse.) I went to my doctor every year for my annual well-woman exam and the results of my Pap tests always came back normal. But somehow, in the span of only one year, a 4 cm tumor had grown on my cervix. In one year, I went from having a normal Pap test result to having cancer. What a difference one year can make.

I started chemotherapy and radiation treatment to save my life. Doctors declared me cancer-free after I completed these treatments over the course of a few months. Today, I am a seven-year cervical cancer survivor. But my story could have been drastically different if I had skipped my well-woman exam that year.

What if I had used an excuse, like “I’m too busy”, to justify putting off that appointment? Or what if I had told myself that skipping one year wouldn’t hurt anything because I’m a generally healthy person? What if I had assumed my Pap test results would continue to be normal like they always had been? How much longer would my cancer have gone undetected? How far would my cancer have spread without my knowing? Would my prognosis have been different if my cancer wasn’t detected when it was? Would I even be alive today?

The importance of annual visits and cancer screenings

A cancer diagnosis is life changing. A cancer screening is lifesaving. Scheduling my annual exam saved my life. My cancer was detected early enough to be effectively treated because I went to my doctor every year.

If I had not scheduled my exam that year, my cancer would have continued to grow undetected and my life would have been at risk.

Preventative care exams are a breast exam, pelvic exam, and a Pap (and HPV) test. A Pap test looks for abnormal cells. If needed, these can be treated before they become cancerous. The HPV test looks for high-risk HPV that can cause abnormal cells. This lets your healthcare provider monitor you more closely for cell changes.. When the Pap test and HPV test are both performed during an exam, it is referred to as co-testing.

What are you waiting for?!

  • Reduce your risk for cervical cancer through screening tests, like the Pap test and HPV test.
  • Take care of yourself by scheduling your annual well-woman exam.
  • Raise awareness for cervical cancer detection and prevention by telling your family and friends to schedule their annual well-woman exams.
  • Benefit from Iowa’s Care for Yourself program, which provides free or low-cost cancer screenings for Iowans. Many other states have free or low-cost cancer screening programs too. Be sure to visit your state or county health department’s website.
  • Make a resolution to protect your health all year long.

About the Author

Emily Hoffman is a seven-year cervical cancer survivor who was diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer at age 30. She is a patient advocate and Cervivor Ambassador who shares her cancer story to raise awareness for cervical cancer and educate others on the importance of cancer screenings and prevention. Emily is the recipient of the 2020 Cervivor Spark Award. She is currently pursuing her certification to become a cancer registrar.

Mother’s Day When You are Struggling to Become a Mother

While Mothers Day is a beautiful day to celebrate motherhood, it can also be a difficult day; especially if you are missing your Mama or struggling to become a mother yourself. The journey to motherhood isn’t always smooth or what you may expect.

I spent six Mother’s Days wishing, more than almost anything in the world, that I was a mother. While I was thankful to celebrate my Mom, who is and always has been great Mom!, part of me was also sad; very, very sad. I mean truthfully I was sad every day for a long time, but Mother’s Day always brought it home.

You see, I have three younger sisters, spent years babysitting, and spent several years working with mothers and babies as a nurse. I’d had lots of practice. I knew without a doubt that I wanted children; being a mother was just something I always wanted to be. But at 25, I was diagnosed with cancer that immediately robbed me of my fertility.

The specialist took one look and said, “It looks like you have cervical cancer. We’ll do what we can to save your fertility.” Cancer? My fertility? I hadn’t even attempted to conceive. I thought I had time, a lot more time. But, my tumor turned out to be too large for the procedure I hoped to have. So instead, in January of 2009, I had a complicated surgery that included a hysterectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation.  I knew I would become a mother, but I knew my journey to motherhood would no longer be a traditional one. 

After that, my journey to motherhood was a rollercoaster. It involved more heartache than I could have imagined. But, I did eventually become a mother.  We had our son, Carter, in 2014. 

After that, we thought we were done. We thought our family was complete and, to be honest, we weren’t completely sure we could survive going through it all again. But, Carter had more faith. He started doing things like pointing to an empty chair when we were at a table for 4 and saying, “someone is missing there.” We finally decided that maybe he was right. Maybe he was seeing something that we were too scared to see. Maybe we were supposed to try again. Amazingly for us our same angel of a surrogate was willing to try again. And guess what, it worked – the first time! We had our Caroline in 2019!

I am now the proud mother of two beautiful children, my Carter and my Caroline, who I wouldn’t trade for anything in the entire universe. I’m more than a little bit obsessed with them! I tend to take a lot of pictures and videos of and with my kids. And now, you know why… Although I’ve been N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease in the cancer world) since 2009, I like my family to have the ability to look back on our love and adventures together. And, I like to share the happiness we’ve found with others.

Struggling to grow your family is difficult, no matter the circumstances. My biggest piece of advice is to remember that there is no right or wrong way to add members to your family. What is a “traditional” family today anyway? Sometimes you have to open your mind and/or get creative. For now, remember that you can be a Mother in many ways. 

If you ever want to talk to me about my journey to motherhood, please reach out. I have personal experience with fertility preservation, adoption, and surrogacy (gestational & traditional) and would love to help support you during your journey in some small way. You can find me @cervicalcancersurvivor, @infertilitysurvivor, and follow my family @crystalcoastfamily.

Sending love to all of you Mothers out there – past, present, and future. Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

Love,

Kristin

Kristin Ferree was diagnosed with cervical cancer December of 2008, at the age of 25. After treatment left her infertile, she vowed not to let cancer keep her from her dream of becoming a mother. Now a 10-year Cervivor, she lives in Morehead City, NC with her loving husband, David, two miracle babies, Carter and Caroline, a sweet rag-doll kitty, Lilley, and a snuggly puppy, Toby. She is currently taking time off from being a Family Nurse Practitioner to spend more time with her children and loving every minute of it.