Cancerversary: November 2013

Age at diagnosis: 24

Diagnosis: Squamous cell carcinoma

Stage of cancer: IB2

Cervivor School Graduation: 2019

How my story begins: My story began when I was pregnant with my second daughter in early 2013. I had heavy abnormal bleeding all the way through the pregnancy. I was not well for much of my pregnancy - I had complications and I knew something was not right. Fast forward to after my daughter was delivered in Oct 2012. I had a year of hell. I was sick every day. I was constantly bleeding after intercourse. I went to the doctor and emergency department several times in pain over that year. I was told that I had "glandular fever" and that this is why I have been so sick with little energy. My Pap tests were normal. Even the Pap test I had 3 weeks prior to my diagnosis was marked as normal! But I was literally wasting away. The gynecologist performed a colposcopy (reluctantly). He felt that due to my age and normal Paps, it would be "nearly impossible for anything serious to be wrong." It only took a few minutes for him to see with the naked eye the tumor that was visible on my cervix. Even without confirmation on the biopsies taken, he had already confirmed the cervical cancer. I was eventually staged at SSC 1B1.

Life before my diagnosis: Life before diagnosis seemed carefree. I was a young mum working full time with a toddler and a baby. I was planning a wedding and enjoying my young family with the prospect of expanding it after our January 2014 wedding.

How I felt after diagnosis: I was completely numb and mostly angry at myself for not being more proactive in my care. I knew my body was not well. I was so sick over that one year, with so little energy. I had just put it down to being a young mum with a new baby. I ignored the post-intercourse bleeding and put it down to an issue with contraception and regular "female" issues. I ignored the abdominal pain and also put that down to female issues. There were so many huge warning signs, but because I was being told that I "was fine," I accepted it! I was angry that my Pap tests were marked incorrectly and that my cervical cancer started out slow and steady years prior as cin 1 then that progressed, undiagnosed. Mostly, I was just numb. I could not talk, eat or really function those first two weeks. Cancer is a scary word and at age 24. I just thought I was already dead and that I had no hope. I naively could not see another option. I was so frightened. Looking at my kids was difficult. I almost detached myself from everyone. iI found it easier to cope on my own. I felt sad seeing everyone I love so sad but being so strong. I couldn't cope with the pity I saw on other people's faces for me. I know that was just my perception, but it was what I felt at the time.

Telling my family and friends: My husband and mum took over telling people, as I couldn't say the word about the cancer without shaking. I had in my head that it was a death sentence that I wasn't surviving. My mind and body just went into shock. Looking back now, I wish I had the mental capacity and strength to fight through it and be brave and face it head on. But I was just consumed with fear.

My treatment: My treatment consisted of a radical hysterectomy followed by chemo and external radiation.

How I felt after treatment: I struggled with treatment. I was unable to finish my last round of chemo due to an allergic reaction. My body was just not being strong enough. I feel this had a great deal to do with my mental state at the time.

What was most difficult for me: The most difficult for me was facing my mortality at age 24 and having a young family. It was the scariest. Still to this day is the scariest thing I have ever faced! The pity and the looks I received in the waiting room during treatment just made it all that much worse. Many people assumed I was taking my mother to her treatment and that was a hard pill to swallow. I had to go ahead with my wedding day. The venue was booked and that was a blur. The first two years of my baby's life was a blur. Life before cancer is one big blur!

What I did to help myself: Just making it to treatment was an accomplishment for me, especially since I had the "i just want to roll over and give up" mentality. Admitting to myself that I wasn't okay and that I was struggling helped me in a huge way. Getting informed also helped. I needed to know all that I could about this cancer and so I armed myself with knowledge. Some of that information was scary, but I needed to know the stats and studies. It made me feel empowered!

My life after cancer: The effects of radiation damage and early menopause have been hard living with. The fear has been crippling. For a long time, I was scared to plan ahead. Now, six years out, I am feeling more confident with each clear appointment. Cervivor School this year (2019) changed my whole perspective. It really encouraged me and gave me the push I needed to move forward and help in this fight! I came out of it a different person with a different story!

Where I am today: I'm working full time. I'm healthy, minus some issues from damage from the treatments. But I'm okay. I'm grateful to be alive. I never thought I would be in this place! My children are growing up and I'm just blessed to be a part of it. My "baby" is now 7. They were so young that they don't really remember that time in my life when I was so sick.

What I want other women to know: Please, please advocate for your bodies and your medical care! I was brushed away so many times. I was told I was to young to have cancer. I went a whole year without answers. Early detection is key ! Regular screenings are key!

How I will try to help others: I will inform woman that this cancer is preventable and that we can stop the next generation from going through this. The HPV vaccine is the answer for our boys and girls - for the next generation. If I can inform and educate, my diagnosis will not be for nothing!