Alli

Age at diagnosis: 34

Diagnosis: Squamous cell carcinoma

Stage of cancer: II

How my story begins: I've always been pretty healthy! I worked out often, tried to eat right, and stayed on top of my doctor appointments -- on top of raising two young kids with a husband who was in the military and business school. I'm a makeup lover and beauty blogger, lover of wine and fashion -- so that's always kept me pretty busy!

I had one irregular Pap test in 2006, did all the tests and everything was fine and back to normal the following year. I continued getting regular Pap tests and all came back NORMAL. I had healthy pregancies without complications. Everything seemed just as it should be.

I started experiencing lower back pain in November 2017 that felt different than any other back pain I've experienced, and it quickly became very uncomfortable. I ended up in the ER twice for the pain, without any really answers. Kidney stones, bladder infection, maybe pulled muscles? I did a CT scan which showed nothing. The doctors suggested I see my gynecologist, so I did. Upon seeing my doctor, I was in tears from the pain and she knew something was wrong. She ended up finding a large (6cm to be exact) mass on the posterior wall of my cervix with an emergency MRI. She immediately referred to me the Gynecolgical Oncology department at MD Anderson, and they agreed to see me 3 days later. I met with a team of doctors, they performed several tests and took biopsies of my tumor. Two (very long) days later, my doctor called me at 7:30pm and told me, "I've been doing this for awhile, and it never gets easier. I'm sorry to say, you have cancer. I would have liked to tell you in person, but I'd like to start treatment as soon as possible."

How I felt after diagnosis: I remember sitting there in shock, asking myself, "How did this happen? I'm too young for this." I was also shockingly calm about it too though -- after I met with my team of doctors at MD Anderson, I instantly felt better about my situation, regardless if the biopsies were to come back as cancer or not. I also remember telling myself that worrying wasnt going to change anything, so I decided from that moment on out that I'd try to have the best attitude possible throughout this shit show.

Telling my family and friends: Oh man! Telling my family and friends was the WORST part, to be honest. Cancer is a scary, scary word and I know no one was expecting it. There were a lot of phone calls made in the coming days, lots of tears, but also a lot of encouragement and an outpouring of love and support from everyone. My birthday was 6 days after my diagnosis and I swear, my kitchen looked like a floral shop. Although still in pain from my tumor, it felt good to know I had so many people thinking of me during this difficult time.

My treatment: I had 30 rounds of radiation, 6 rounds of Chemo and 2 "weekends" worth of brachytherapy. I started treatment on December 18th and completed treatment on February 12th.

How I felt after treatment: I was exhausted. I remember coming home from the hospital after I rang the bell at MD Anderson and I slept for two days straight.

The side effects from chemo weren't terrible for me. I had some ringing in my ears, neuropathy, and nauseau...but that's about it. However, radiation is a whole different story. The long lasting (and feels like never ending) side effects from radiation are pretty awful. Damaged colon and intestines (radiation enteritis and proctitis), damaged bladder, severe hip and back pain, loss of flexibility, thickening fascia, menopause, you name it. Oh, and lets not forget the damage it does to your actual vagina! It's been 10 months since my last dose of radiation and my doctors said the side effects are just getting started.

What was most difficult for me: We were planning on trying for another child, and now that isn't possible. I think that's been especially hard on me. However, I'm seriously blessed to have 2 beautiful, healthy kids.

It was also hard to try and explain the situation and diagnosis to our children. I didn't want them to worry but we wanted them to feel informed.

Also, lets be honest, getting back to a normal sex life after treatment is terrifying! I was so scared and nervous about that. However, I'm happy to report that it is totally possible!

What I did to help myself: I've looked into adoption, knowing that is always a possibility for our family. I've also seen several specialists to help with the side effects, most importantly a hormone doctor that specializes in bioidentical hormone therapy. That doctor helped get my hormones back to where they should be for a 35 year old. That has a made a huge difference in my mood, sex life, and overall energy.

My life after cancer: It hasn't been easy, but I try and remind myself every day that it could be so much worse. The radiation side effects have become a new normal for me. They aren't pretty, but I'm cancer free and that's all that really matters.

Where I am today: I've been in remission for 6 months! The side effects are a daily struggle, but I'm slowly starting to feel better each day...very, very slowly. I need to remind myself to be patient! I'm back to being active again, which is helping so much!

What I want other women to know: WE ALL GET BUSY. DON'T PUT YOUR FEMALE HEALTH ON THE BACK BURNER.

How I will try to help others: I'd like my story to be heard so other women are encouraged to stay on top of their health. You can have a normal Pap test and still have cervical cancer. I plan on volunterring with MD Anderson, which will match me with other women with similar diagnoses -- so I can share my experience with them. I want women to know that cervical cancer isn't always a death wish!