How my story begins: My life before the cervical cancer diagnosis was a pretty normal, all-American life. I was married with two beautiful children. I worked full time outside of the home and when I wasn't working, I was traveling with my family to cheer competitions across the United States.
In 2001, I started having abnormal Pap tests. By 2002, I had had my first colposcopy. I didn't know what to expect but the pain was horrendous. Thankfully, the results came back negative and I just continued on with annual Pap tests. Over the years, some would come back abnormal and some would come back normal.
In 2015, I had another abnormal Pap and this time my doctor wanted to do a colposcopy...but I remembered how painful it was the first time and I was scared to have another one. I think I scheduled it twice and cancelled both times. As time went on, I started having abnormal bleeding. It started out as spotting between periods and then, by the time I finally decided to go to the doctor, I was spotting daily. This went on for about eight months. Y'all, I had symptoms for eight months that I IGNORED.
I finally decided to consult my gynecologist. I made an appointment and an ultrasound was done along with a repeat Pap. Because of the bleeding, my doctor wasn't able to see clearly but decided she wanted to schedule a LEEP procedure. After my Pap came back abnormal, she decided she needed more info and an outpatient surgery was scheduled for a LEEP procedure along with a D&C. During the procedure, she couldn't complete the D&C because she found a mass and it was hard to clear everything out from all the blood. It was only about a week after that when I received the phone call from my doctor confirming that the mass was in fact cervical cancer.
How I felt after diagnosis: The day I got the diagnosis, I was driving to work when the phone rang. I was pulling into the parking deck when the news broke. "Mrs. Dougherty, the mass we removed is indeed cervical cancer." I sat in my car shocked. I had no idea what to think, no idea what to do. I didn't know much about this type of cancer. I finally was able to call my then husband and let him know that the results were in. After about 30 minutes in the parking deck, I went into work, spoke with my boss and went home. My mind just went blank. I had no idea what to think or what to do next. My gynecologist couldn't give me any definite answers on the diagnosis as far as staging and prognosis. I had to wait to get into the gyn oncologist. Three weeks went by...three long weeks of waiting before I was finally given the staging of my cancer and what I could expect.
Telling my family and friends: Telling my family and friends about my diagnosis was tough. I told my mother right away but waited a bit to tell the rest of my family and friends. Telling my two daughters, then ages 12 and 7, was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. After everyone in the family and my close friends were informed, I decided to post on Facebook. The outpouring of love was overwhelming. Everyone stood by me as I went through this journey.
My treatment: Originally I was diagnosed with Stage IB1 Cervical Cancer. This would put my treatment plan on the path of a radical hysterectomy, hoping that would take care of everything. Well, during surgery, they found that the cancer had spread to the parametrium and to one of my ureters. I had to have my right ureter dissected 75% of the way and a ureteral stent put in. After surgery, they re-staged my cancer to Stage IIB2 Invasive Squamous Cell Carcinoma with positive margins. Unfortunately, this meant radiation, brachytherapy and chemotherapy. I had a long road ahead.
Just 11 days after my radical hysterectomy, I was back in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism. They kept me over night and I had to start giving myself shots in the stomach twice a day. Those shots were every day for a month and then I switched to an oral blood thinner. Just four days after the hospitalization, I returned to the ER with a bad kidney infection, fever of 102, intense back pain and headache. I was admitted again to the gyn oncology floor. This time I was in the hospital for 2 days on IV antibiotics.
Finally released, it was time to make a plan. The plan was 6 weeks of radiation with chemo and 3 brachytherapy treatments. I went to have the ureteral stent removed and during this procedure, they found a mass on my bladder. They wanted to remove it right away, but I was on blood thinners for the pulmonary embolism and had to put that surgery off until after chemo and radiation. The thought of having a possible cancerous mass in my bladder throughout the duration of treatment was daunting.
Each part of the treatment had a different doctor involved. There was one for chemo, one for radiation, one for brachytherapy and my main oncologist. This was a lot to keep up with. Radiation started and it was every day, Monday thru Friday. Chemo also started and that was once a week for 6 hours each time. The doctor and nurse explained the chemo to me. The type I had more than likely would not cause me to lose my hair and caused delayed nausea. I can't do anything without being difficult though. As soon as the chemo IV treatment was finished, I was in the bathroom throwing up with the nurse holding my hair. Each treatment after that, I had to be treated for immediate and delayed nausea. The day after chemo treatments was really the only day I could eat without getting sick.
At the conclusion of treatment, I went back to the urology oncologist and scheduled yet another surgery to have the bladder mass removed. Thank God that was benign. Then finally, on 1/26/17, I had my CLEAN SCAN. I was CANCER FREE!!!!
How I felt after treatment: After treatment, I was drained both physically and emotionally. I started to get my strength back and everything just seemed like a distant memory, minus the every 3 month follow-up appointments.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult part of my treatment was not being able to spend as much time with my children. They would come in my room and have picnics with me, but I missed my daughter's birthday party because I was too sick to go. That was difficult.
My life after cancer: My life after cancer took a nose dive. Just a few months after my treatment ended, I found out my husband was having an affair. The blows just didn't stop coming. That led to more bad news... divorce...as if my family hadn't already been through enough. With all things considered, I did maintain a positive attitude as much as possible and remembered to be thankful every day for another chance at life.
Where I am today: Today I'm at a different stage of life. I'm a single mother and raising two beautiful young ladies. I'm still working full time and hope that soon, cancer will be a very distant memory. Unfortunately, we had another scare and I had to have another biopsy about 4 months ago, but thankful again that the tissue sample was negative. I'm high risk so we're staying on the every three month visit schedule, but hoping that changes soon. Only three more years until the much awaited five year mark. I can do this!!!
What I want other women to know: The main thing I want women to know is, no matter how old you are, even if you think you are done having children, please, PLEASE consider freezing your eggs. If you are married, consider freezing embryos, but please make sure you freeze eggs too. My husband and I decided together that we were done having children. I was 35. I didn't freeze eggs. I got divorced and I'm still young enough that my future husband (if there ever is one) may want children and I am unable to give him that. Even though I can't carry children, there are other ways to have a biological child, if I would have just frozen my eggs. I worked in infertility so I am aware of these ways and I'm very regretful that I did not freeze any. I may have never had anymore children even if I did, but it's heartbreaking that I don't even have the choice.
How I will try to help others: Right now, the only way I help is by being there. I answer questions about my experience for friends and family, as well as friends of friends. I encourage everyone to stay up to date on all screenings.