I was one of those All-American kids. I did life the way I was supposed to. I graduated from high school, graduated from college in four years, and obtained a Master’s Degree and a great job by the time I was 23 years old. Life was good. I had an amazing family, an amazing church family, and an even more amazing group of friends.
That all changed when I was about 30 years old. I was happily married, solid in my career, and thinking about a baby when I started having some health issues. First it was horrible vertigo, then it was abnormal bleeding, and finally a hemorrhage that landed me in the emergency room at a local hospital. With my husband by my side, they asked me some very tough and private questions. The doctor on-call announced they needed to do a biopsy to find the root of the bleeding. I was horrified… the whole night seemed like a bad dream.
Fast forward three days, and I am sitting in an office of an OB/GYN I’ve never met. He said the words I would have never expected, “You have cervical cancer.” I was astounded. I was 30 old and I had cancer. How could this be? I had gone for a pap smear like clockwork, every year since I was 16 years old. I followed the rules. They had to be mistaken. But they weren’t. I was told it was Adenocarcinoma, that it was stage 1B/2A, and that I was lucky they found it when they did. Later, I learned that is was 7 cm tumor that by the grace of God had stayed contained to my cervix.
Much of that day seemed like an out of body experience. I was hearing words and terms I had never been a part of my vocabulary. Words like, HPV, clear margins, and metastasize. I was told I would no longer have the chance to have children and that I would be admitted to the hospital and going upstairs to a room they had ready for me. There were nurses, IVs, CT Scans and X-Rays awaiting my arrival. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I looked at my husband of two years in horror… No Children? Chemo? Radiation? Hair Loss? It was almost too much.
My cancer journey began on a Thursday afternoon on August 25, 2005. I decided that day that I would not let cancer become my identity. I would battle through 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of external beam radiation, and 5 rounds of brachytherapy, and then I would proceed with life. If only it could be that easy. My cancer battle lasted 4 months, but my journey will never end.
After I finished treatment and returned to work, I began to realize I was not ok. I searched for support groups, other survivors, someone, anyone, who could understand what was happening inside of me. With no luck, I then decided a therapist was the best option. That was a temporary fix to a bigger issue of what it means to survive cancer.
Three years later, I did find what I was looking for. A group of women who knew how it felt when you were told you couldn’t have kids, who understood the shame you felt about the cause of your cancer, and Good Lord, those crazy side effects of radiation induced menopause. When I found a sisterhood of women, I felt like I started living again. I took control of my health, took up running, and my childhood love for soccer.
Today, 10 years later, with some literal and figurative battle scars, I proudly call myself a survivor. Cancer taught me to embrace life, to learn the meaning of balance, and to not be afraid to share my story. It’s hard to believe these words, but my cancer battle made me a better woman.