How my story begins: In February of 2016, I started to have some minor pains in my left leg. I figured that I had just pulled a muscle. By mid-March, the pain was still there and starting to become more frequent. We were driving to Florida for spring break in April so I thought I had better get it checked out before that. I went to my family doctor and based on the fact that I only had pain in my leg and no other symptoms, he diagnosed it as sciatica. This made complete sense. He gave me some stretches to try and said to call him back in a few weeks to let him know how it was.
A few weeks later, it was getting worse. He told me to take ibuprofen (which I already was) and call back in another week. Still worse. At this point, he said we needed to do an MRI to see if there was a disc issue in my back. This was still making complete sense as I only had the pain in my leg, no other symptoms. The pain was getting really extreme. I was constantly taking pills to get some relief. It wasn't working very well. The MRI showed a slight protrusion on a disc but the larger concern was what they thought was an enlarged lymph node on my right side near my pelvic bone. They couldn't tell exactly and needed to do a CT scan. From there, it was a biopsy of the lymph node. They determined it was cancer and HPV cells were evident, My surgeon immediately got in contact with a gynecological oncologist who stayed late that night to give me a Pap test. If you think Pap tests are uncomfortable on a normal day, try having one hours after you have had laparoscopic surgery in your abdomen! Never again. My surgeon also set me up with an oncologist who met with me the next day. We scheduled a pet scan and that came back really bad. I had no cancer in my cervix but the cancer was in the lymph node as originally found and also had marched up the chain of lymph nodes to my chest. We also discovered what was causing the pain in my left leg: a baseball sized mass was growing into my left hip bone. I had the biopsy on Tuesday, was officially diagnosed on Friday, started radiation on Monday, had a port put in on the next Tuesday, and started chemo on Thursday. It was a whirlwind.
Life before my diagnosis: Before diagnosis, I was living the American dream. I have a wonderful husband, two adorable kids, a dog, beautiful home, and a job I'm passionate about. I took care of myself, ate right, and exercised. My husband and I were enjoying the life we were building! We had just bought a camper and had big plans to travel all over the place with our family.
How I felt after diagnosis: My husband and I were shocked to our core at my diagnosis. I had an abnormal Pap test in 2010 and a LEEP procedure was done. I have had normal paps and negative hpv tests every year since then. We could not believe that I was now being diagnosed with stage IV cervical cancer. My doctors said that I had done everything right and done all the right screenings and tests, but somehow this still happened. Their best guess was that a few cells got away and set up camp in my lymph nodes. I immediately went into fight mode and knew that I would beat this. I was determined to stay positive and take it one thing at a time.
Telling my family and friends: Telling my family and friends was hard. Everyone was, of course, shocked and distraught. It got hard to keep retelling the story and talking through it. The support I received was overwhelming. I can still barely think about it without tearing up.
My treatment: I had 16 rounds of radiation. Chemo was 6 very heavy doses of taxol and carboplatin. After the third treatment, it was changed to cisplatin because my platelets were dropping too low. I also had avastin added in for the last two treatments and followed up with only that in the months following.
How I felt after treatment: The radiation made me very tired. I was fortunate enough to be able to take time off of work so I could nap a lot. The chemo gave me extremely severe headaches. I eventually learned how to manage them and found my best bet was to stay in my bedroom for about 4 days and just sleep a lot and be as quiet as possible. I was lucky to not have much nausea.
What was most difficult for me: The thing that was most difficult was not having the energy to do the things that I normally did with no problems. I was an active, working mom with two small kids. Small things like helping my kids get ready for school was exhausting. Running errands felt like running a marathon. This was so unbelievably frustrating for me. My head wanted to be able to complete my very long to do list, but my body was not cooperating. It took me awhile to come to peace with the fact that for awhile, I wasn't going to be able to do as much as I wanted. I had to force myself to rest so I didn't completely wear myself out.
What I did to help myself: I was immediately positive and determined to beat this. I, of course, had rough days, days that I cried, and days that I couldn't understand why this was happening but I tried not to let these feelings last long. They did me no good. Feeling happy was much better. I took it one day at a time and tried to find the good in everything. Some of these things were very silly like my hair falling out would save me money at the salon and on shampoo or I wouldn't have to shave my legs! Having 4 days in bed after chemo allowed me a lot of time to watch Netflix. I'm a teacher and this was all happening in the spring and I took May off so I told myself I was lucky to be getting an extra month of summer vacation. I have now learned that I can find silver linings and good in ANYTHING.
My husband and I met with the dietician at our cancer center and this turned out to be life changing. We already cooked at home a lot and ate very healthy but she recommended changing to a plant-based diet. Willing to do anything to help our situation, we made the change. She suggested watching a documentary called Forks over Knives and it turned out to be so fascinating. We stopped eating meat and started eating meals made of vegetables, beans, and whole grains. We actually really loved it! I firmly believe this type of eating has helped my journey. My husband also lost about 15 pounds right away and his cholesterol dropped as well. It was a win win!
My life after cancer: I'm still battling (a little) but my life after cancer will be watching my kids grow up, traveling all over with my family, and enjoying every single moment!
Where I am today: In September of 2016, I had a clean PET scan. Over the moon does not even describe how we felt! We couldn't believe it. I felt like 50 pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. I continued on the avastin as a preventative measure. In December of 2016, I had another PET scan and a small spot was found on my right psoas muscle. This spot was originally there (and quite a bit larger) on the May pet scan. It disappeared on the September scan but reared its ugly head again. I will do radiation on that spot and two low doses of cisplatin. My oncologists are confident we can zap it right away. From there, we are investigating some immunotherapy options. That part of the story is yet to be told....
What I want other women to know: I want people to know that cancer is not a death sentence anymore. The science is amazing. I firmly believe that the science, nutrition, and positive attitude work together to heal. You choose your attitude.
How I will try to help others: To me, nutrition played a huge role in how I felt during treatment and I believe it has also helped my body fight off the cancer. I would like, somehow, to help more people understand the importance of nutrition and cancer.