How my story begins: January 2017 - I’m 8 months into a healthy pregnancy with my daughter and I went in for my monthly checkup. I remember going in that day feeling so good due to the fact that I was gaining healthy weight and everything was going so well. She was sitting very, very low in my pelvic area, which made it hard to walk towards the end. But literally, that was my only issue. So, that day was like any other checkup until my strep B swab. My OB said he saw something that he didn’t like and had another OB take a look at what he saw. Next thing I know, I’m being told that he has a close friendship with the only GYN oncologist in town and he was going to personally call him to get me into seeing him right away to make sure it wasn’t anything serious. Since I was pregnant, false positives happen and it’s hard to see any issues when you are that far along without invasive procedures.
I saw my oncologist very quickly - thank goodness! And he was amazing from day one. He treated me so kindly and in fact, he made such a huge impact on me that from the very first day I met him, I felt I was in the very best capable hands possible. At that moment, no matter what happened, I truly came to peace to have complete acceptance of my fate. But whatever I had to do to save my daughter I would do. So I waited to have treatment after she was born. He told me that day that I had stage 1b1 cervical cancer.
How I felt after diagnosis: My exact words after I was told my diagnosis and hearing the words I have cancer were, "I don’t have time for this. I have things I have to do like raise my children." In my naive and numb state of mind, I didn’t understand that I had to make time for this and get through it. I like to be in control and take ownership of my issues in life and I responded with complete ignorance with what I was about to embark on.
Telling my family and friends: The worst is telling the people you love! And telling people you don’t love but have to tell. My husband was tough at first. He said we will get through this and was very optimistic but just as naive as I was. My mom took it hard, but she was so supportive. My 13 year old son was so strong, but thanks to his Dad (my ex-husband) being is a cancer survivor from a few years before, he was able to be such a huge support for both of us. The rest of my family, I honestly don’t remember how they took it. I’m not sure if I blocked it out or I was numb a lot of the time as more people found out. Telling people out of necessity is just awful. I hated telling people who don’t care, but had to know for work reasons or because it affected your everyday life.
My treatment: I had my daughter on March 2nd, 2017. she came into the world perfectly!
Four weeks later, I had a LEEP procedure and had my tubes tied. My doctor was pretty confident that my margins were clear, but something in my gut told me it wasn’t good. A few days later, I was preparing for a promotion interview that I’ve been working hard to get for over a year. My employer was great about letting me do the interview panel over the phone since I was on maternity leave and breastfeeding. My interview was at 1pm. At 12:45pm, I had an incoming call from my doctor...
He said, "I’m sorry, Amber. But your cancer has spread and we need to schedule a hysterectomy as soon as possible."
I honestly don’t remember a dang thing from that entire interview, but when I was done, my notes were covered in tears. I didn’t get the job (yet).
Four weeks later, on May 15th, 2017, I had a radical hysterectomy and several lymph nodes removed. My oncologist was pretty certain things looked good and he got all the cancer. My recovery from my hysterectomy was not pleasant. It instantly changed me. I went home with a catheter - super fun with a 15 month old and breastfeeding my daughter. I couldn’t poop and had no cleanse prior, so I ended up in the hospital with a 4cm impaction and screamed my way through a hospital enema. I got cellulitis from the surgery as well. I also went into premenopausal symptoms quickly. I had night sweats so badly the first few days that my clothes were drenched.
I soon went in to see my oncologist to have the catheter removed and honestly thought I was getting ready to move on with my life and focus on my family and kids. But, instead, he said, "Amber, the surgery went well...but unfortunately, the cancer spread to ONE lymph node."
I’ll never forget the look in my oncologist's eyes. He didn’t want to tell me this and I could see the sadness he had for me. I remember hearing sound but no words after that. My mother-in-law was with me and had to repeat everything. Chemo... radiation... what does that really mean???? He mentioned a trial and that the trial nurse would come in and talk to me about options. I remember being so mad about having options. I just wanted a treatment plan and that’s it. How dare they give me the fate now to decide how to save my life when I’m absolutely clueless about what I should do. I don’t have the time to research what I should do. These were my messy thoughts. I didn't chose a trial and I’m so glad now that I didn't.
On, June 12th, 2017, I went in for my PIC line. I had It placed in my arm and it was traumatizing. I went alone and it was so scary. I hated every second of it. I was scheduled for 6 rounds of Cisplatin once a week and 25 days of radiation.
On June 13th 2017, my oldest son’s 14th Birthday, I had my first day of chemo and radiation. I was terrified. My mom went with me and it felt like we went in blind. Cisplatin did a number on me! I was not handling it well, and every week got worse. I got so bad that I was getting hydration infusions, steroid medication and nausea medication every other day. I lived at the hospital. I gained 40 pounds. I was slowly losing my mobility and mental well-being. I could hardly walk, talk, feed myself - it was beyond my worst nightmare of what I thought I was going to go through and put my family through. And on July 18th, I was done. I finished chemo early due to my white blood count going down. I bruised so much and was in a lot of joint pain. They were concerned about injuries and future side effects. After it all, in October 2017, I’m NED!
How I felt after treatment: I didn’t recognize myself at all. physically or mentally. I literally couldn’t even look in the mirror. I felt shame, defeat, ugly, powerless, a worthless mom and wife. Everything changed, but one thing - my ability to fight. I didn’t know how, but I was going to find a way. I went back to that girl who said I don’t have time for this. I had to dig deep but I found her!
What was most difficult for me: During my treatments, my relationship with my husband was heartbreaking. We had the worst fights and I couldn’t understand why he was being so cruel and heartless to me. We had gone through so many things together and difficult things we’ve always worked through. Why now? Why this time you break down when I need you the most? It was so difficult to have the strength to fight my cancer and fight for my marriage. My poor husband needed support too. He just saw the whole process as me dying and I was leaving him. Watching him go through that was so painful, worse than the treatment. My family and friends pulled together to help once we figured out where the hurt was coming from.
What I did to help myself: It’s not always easy because cancer may be gone but it leaves a residue on your soul. But I had to make peace with cancer, not own it, but have the strength to acknowledge it.
So mental strength was the first step to helping myself and I have to work at it everyday. I meditate and educate everyday at least once, and no matter the capacity, it makes a difference. I'm focusing on healthy eating and lifestyle for me and my family.
Where I am today: I’m 5 Months NED!
I was promoted for the job I’ve been working so hard for in December 2017!
My children are well and thriving!
And my husband and I are working on our new normal marriage!
What I want other women to know: Educate and understand your bodies. Don’t miss your checkups! You are your biggest advocate and don’t be afraid to talk about your health. Silence is a killer! Talk about HPV and cervical health. It could save your life or someone else’s.
How I will try to help others: I talk to everyone women and man I know about annual exams and I will advocate any chance I get. I talk about HPV and prevention. I research legitimate resources almost daily. My teenager has already received his vaccine and my babies will be getting theirs when it’s time!
Any additional information you'd like to share: My daughter saved my life. It was a true angel sent to me. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant with her, who knows how different my story would be - not good, I’m sure. I had no signs or symptoms. My periods were always consistent and no bother. I had my annual exams, in fact more frequent exams because of being pregnant for almost two years straight. No abnormal exams! But cancer does what it wants when it wants.