My Whole New World in the New Year

On December 30, 2020, my life did a loop-di-loop on the magic carpet of life. I was diagnosed with stage IIB cervical cancer. This diagnosis was quite honestly shocking as I happen to be one of those people who never put off a screening of any kind, even during COVID! What led to the diagnosis?

I had only one sign. I started bleeding, which I attributed to heavy lifting and moving furniture while decorating my house for Christmas. I made an appointment with my gynecologist for the very next day and I had an internal sonogram which showed a mass of some kind. She told me to be on the safe side we would set up an MRI which I went home to schedule during my Christmas vacation.

I scheduled the MRI for very early in the day so that I could also go for a mani/pedi and visit my daughter’s new home. As I sat in the pedi chair waiting to have my nails done, my phone rang. It was the gynecologist, which surprised me, but I figured it was the day before a holiday and she wanted to talk to me before the long weekend.

She definitely surprised me when she asked if I was somewhere private I could talk. I went out to my car in pedicure flip flops in the dead of winter to hear her tell me, “It is cancer.” I did not panic. My oldest daughter had had cervical cancer five years prior to this and it was thankfully caught early and was treated. I listened to my doctor tell me to take notes, and the first thing I grabbed was an envelope from a Christmas card, and I furiously wrote notes of oncologists’ names, words like ‘dysplasia’, ‘6 cm’, radiation, and chemo. I made the split second decision to go to the oncologist my daughter had been treated by and my gynecologist told me to stay put while she called him. She called me back to tell me he would meet me on a Zoom call so I quickly ran home for this meeting. Now this oncologist is pretty well known in the area for gynecological cancers and I knew him already so I felt comfortable until we started the meeting and he stoically uttered the words, “THIS IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN YOUR DAUGHTER!”

Phyllis with her daughters

In a matter of minutes on the second to the last day of the year, I had scheduled all my appointments with oncology, hematology and radiology. My biopsy and D&C were scheduled for a week later until my world again turned upside down.

My oncologist told me I had a rare, aggressive tumor and they wanted to switch my treatment plan to try and shrink the tumor in preparation for surgery. Of course it would be me with the rare tumor that only accounts for 5% of cervical cancer diagnoses. I know, I’m an overachiever!

I was set up to begin a Taxol/Carboplatin protocol and with cold-capping to save my hair. I went through the nine weeks like a trooper and was so happy as I suffered only minimal side effects. I was able to continue teaching (remotely because of COVID) and I stayed positive and ready for my battle. But it was short lived.

The tumor indeed shrunk, but not enough so back to the drawing board of the traditional treatment plan. I went through six rounds of Cisplatin (ironically I did lose my hair but I was advised not to cold cap this time) concurrent with radiation and Brachytherapy. Again, the tumor shrunk, but not enough which leads me to my current status — LIVING WITH CANCER. This in itself is a difficult thing to wrap ones’ head around.

Phyllis sporting a cold cap during chemotherapy treatment

In September, I began a course of Topotecan and Cisplatin. Since this would be administered for three consecutive days every 21 days, I decided to take a leave from work and the doctor highly advised it! I am so glad I am off! The side effects are not fun! I have seven days of intense pain and constipation but I am trying to deal with it by wearing a smile and a big win for me was that my latest CT scan revealed a lot of shrinkage!

My biggest lesson learned: YOU CANNOT PLAN WITH CANCER! Things are not what they seem and plans constantly change. All I know in this journey is that it’s important to go with the flow and STAY HAPPY!

Phyllis Adams is part of our Cervivor community and a proud Jersey girl. She is an active member of our Facebook groups Survivor Slimdown and I’m A Cervivor!. Thank you for sharing your story, Phyllis!

Miss USA Advocates for Cervical Cancer Awareness

We must talk about cervical cancer. In our community, you’ll hear stories of loss of fertility, recurrences, ostomies and so many other secondary issues because of a cervical cancer diagnosis. You’ll also hear the stories of those who are no longer with us, their stories still making an impact to prevent others from having to endure such a devastating disease. Cervivor empowers and elevates the stories of cervical cancer survivors everywhere to shine a bright light on what cervical cancer is and who it impacts.

Miss USA has been a sought-after and highly respected beauty pageant since 1952. Their mission is to reimagine pageantry, to encourage the contestants to use their voice and to give back with charitable work. Cervivor’s mission is on par. We give those diagnosed with cervical cancer a patient advocacy voice, empowering them to raise much-needed awareness for a cancer so misunderstood.

Photo from Elle’s Instagram: @officialellesmith

Elle Smith has been crowned the 2021 Miss USA title BUT that’s not all…She’s dedicating part of her platform to cervical cancer awareness! Not many people have chosen a platform with a history of stigma like cervical cancer has had but Elle has a deeper, more personal connection.

Elle lost her grandmother in 2015 to the devastating disease we know as cervical cancer. Someone she cared for and loved so deeply was gone and she knew she couldn’t just sit back. Elle wanted to honor her grandmother by making her grandmother’s story matter.

Elle’s decision matters so deeply to the Cervivor community. No one should have to watch their loved ones die from a preventable cancer. There were tears of joy and words of encouragement from so many in our community.

Photo from Elle’s Instagram: @officialellesmith

Maria Franklin shared, “Watching Miss Universe as every good Puerto Rican and pulling for Puerto Rico of course but, did you guys hear Miss USA talk about #cervicalcancer and the importance of gynecological health!!! Loved that she used this platform for it!!!”

“This is fantastic! We need more women helping us raise awareness!” said Tracy Jimenez.

“What a monumental moment to have cervical cancer awareness on a global platform. As a 20-year cervical cancer survivor and the founder of Cervivor, this is exactly the type of visibility that is needed to help us end cervical cancer. Thank you, Miss USA Elle Smith.” shared Cervivor Founder, Tamika Felder.

We are supporting Miss USA and are forever grateful that she is using her platform to help end cervical cancer. We encourage staying up-to-date on the current screening guidelines. And don’t forget to join us in January for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM).