How my story begins: I was 31 years old and followed my pap schedule every year. I missed 2020 due to covid but I was right back on schedule come 2021. I had abnormal Paps in the past but never heard anything back from my gynos so I figured I was good to go and shouldn’t be worried. 2021 my pap was normal. In 2021 I was having constant back pain and bleeding while I had a bowel movement. Then in 2022 my back pain was there almost every night but I didn’t think much of it; I thought it was just sitting in a chair all day or having an hour commute back home. The bleeding while I had bowel movements was constant, I would say 95% of the time I used the bathroom there was blood.
I made an appointment with my gyno in October but I missed it due to my dog passing. It was unexpected and tragic. I put the gyno off for an entire month. I went to my family doctor for a routine appointment and asked him if he would be able to take a look or check with my gyno and he said definitely make an appointment and go see her. So I did and I got in to see her 2 weeks later.
I’ll never forget how scared I was and just how different this appointment felt as I was explaining to her what was going on and she was typing it in the computer; it felt like she was typing for an hour. She finally did the Pap test and she came around to sit next to me and said, “I’m very concerned with the size of this mass. I’m going to do a biopsy”. A few days later I got a notification from my health portal a new test result came back and I immediately threw it into Google and it came back as cancer and five minutes later I received the phone call from my gyno confirming what I didn’t want to believe. She referred me to Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt overwhelmed, defeated and nervous. I felt like I did something wrong. I was nervous for what was to come. I immediately sat down at the computer and Googled everything I possibly could about the disease and what people expect and go thru. I found support groups and shared my story and looked for guidance.
Telling my family and friends: I am super close to my family. I talk to my dad and mom everyday. Everyone knew I went to the gyno and had a biopsy done so they were waiting for the results. I called my dad first and told him and immediately I heard him crying on the other end of the phone; I also heard my step mom crying. They just told me whatever I need they are here for me. They will take care of me and be there every step of the way. Next I called my mom and this was emotional because when she was pregnant with me she actually had cancer as well and never went under treatment. When I was born the doctor told her her body was promoting to a healthy baby and not the cancer. It really felt like a full circle moment. I called her and I asked who was around her and I guess she could tell something was wrong, she was living in New Jersey at this time as well. I told her “I have cancer” she said also she’ll be there for me and immediately made her way down to North Carolina.
My treatment: My treatment consisted of 25 external high dose beam radiation for 5 weeks Monday - Friday; 6 doses of Cisplatin for 6 weeks on Tuesdays, concurrent with radiation, followed by 5 internal high dose brachytherapy treatments.
How I felt after treatment: I felt good knowing the tumor was no longer visible. But extremely fatigued, anything I did I had to follow up with a rest break. Walking the dog followed by a break. Cleaning the house take a break. So I found myself going to stores and just walking so I can build back my strength.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult thing was just trying to deal with going thru all the treatments, isolating myself so I don’t get sick, and dealing with the side effects of the treatments.
The truth behind cancer is that cancer has a stigma: that you will look frail and look “sick” when in fact “normal” looking people can have cancer. No one tells you about the countless trips to the bathroom, or sitting in a tub for hours on end until you prune but doing that is the only thing that makes you feel better. No one tells you about the nausea or having to isolate from everyone. The countless doctors appointments that you become such a regular at the cancer institute the valet workers know you by name. The amount of times you get IVs and them having to dig around in your arm or hands to find one and when they finally do it’s blown. The feeling of getting radiation done and laying on the board and just counting down the minutes so you can go home. No one tells you about the pain you will have during this time. No one tells you about the amount of time you will find yourself in bed because that’s where you feel the most comfortable, or just how tired you are from doing the simplest tasks like laundry or walking the dog. No one tells you about the bruising of your veins and how much they hurt even a month after treatment. No one tells you it’s okay when “clumps” of hair come out when the doctors say it’s only supposed to thin and you’re standing in the shower crying holding your hair. No one tells you how strong you have to be during this time because strong is what you have to be. Also not being able to have kids. I don’t have children and knowing I will never be able to have children hurts on a different level. I chose not to freeze my eggs due to timing. My treatments would’ve been pushed off a few weeks and I didn’t want to put myself at risk anymore then I have.
What I did to help myself: I had a positive outlook. I told myself I am going to go to every single treatment and told myself I was going to beat this. Having a positive mindset is the most important thing and everything else will follow after. Before starting treatment I ate as much as I could to try and gain weight cause I figured I would lose a couple of pounds. I didn’t gain any weight regardless of what I ate and during treatment I didn’t lose any weight at all. I stayed the same weight the entire time which I am extremely grateful for. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed and didn’t want to go to radiation but I told myself if I’m going to beat this and I have to get up.
My life after cancer: Life after cancer is scary. There’s countless scans and a lifestyle change that needs to be done. You need to make sure you eat the correct amount of veggies, fruits and proteins. Every single thing you put into your body can play into recurrence. After doing much research and speaking to multiple doctors and attending dietitian classes, I found out what’s best to help. Also going thru menopause at 32 is a change in itself. They say the battle is during cancer but I truly believe the battle is after cancer.
Where I am today: I am healthy and 4 months out of treatment and dealing with side effects from treatments.
What I want other women to know: Listen to your body! If you feel like something is wrong don’t push it off. Go get checked out. If you are bleeding abnormally go to the gyno.
How I will try to help others: I will push for females to get Pap tests every year and educate yourself on the HPV vaccine. I will advocate myself and tell my story. I will be there for support and answer questions in support groups.