When I knew something was wrong: Unfortunately, I had known something was wrong for quite a while. Over the summer of 2014, I experienced a range of symptoms that began to worry me. My cycle had never been irregular in my life, and now it was, and not only that, but it was very heavy. I was also experiencing bleeding and discomfort during intercourse. I had always had a little discomfort after sex, so that’s why I didn’t think anything of it at first, but it continued to get worse. I also began to experience pain in my left hip, which turned out to be the tumor growing and putting pressure on my hip from the inside out. Finally, by Thanksgiving, the bleeding became so bad that my hemoglobin had dropped and I was hearing my heart beat in my ear. So I made an appointment to see my gynecologist, who sent me for an internal sonogram and imaging. I hadn’t been to the gynecologist in over three years, thinking “I’m in a monogamous marriage and if something was going on, it’s probably just another yeast infection,” because those medications had stopped some of the symptoms in the past. I hadn’t been tested for HPV in almost 10 years! I thought there was no way I could have an STD like that… Wow, my ignorance and the lack of knowledge most people truly have about HPV blows me away today . Sadly, there are so many misconceptions.
My diagnosis: Stage 2B Regional Metastatic Cervical Cancer (Spread to the paraortic lymph nodes)
First thing I did when I found out: I went into action mode. I wanted to know when I could start my treatment and push to make it happen immediately. I went for an MRI, CT and PET all in one week to make sure there were no delays. In hindsight, I wish I had given myself a moment to breathe, to give myself permission to feel the barrage of feelings going through me, but I was doing what I knew I could do. I was controlling the controllables, since there was so much out of my control at that point.
My treatment: 5 rounds of Platinol and 25 radiation treatments, originally, which got bumped to 29, followed by 4 rounds of brachytherapy. Then, after a six week break (which I desperately needed because I had become neutropenic at this point), I started another protocol of four rounds of carboplatin and paclitaxel, also known as carbotaxol. Being young with no co-morbidities, I pushed my oncologist to do six and she did. Talk about the power of asking for what you need!
Why I tell my story: I’m sharing this story because there are so many misconceptions out there about cervical cancer and HPV. I hope that something in my story triggers something in another woman, even if it’s just to practice more self-love and care and that she is enough. I also share my story because of the countless stories I’ve read that have offered me hope and strength when I had none. To those before me who have shared, I’m eternally grateful! Plus, I share my story for me, as a way to honor my experience and everything my family and I have been through. Those of you going through it now, you may not feel very strong or brave (you may even hate those words at times like I did), but you are and you will see it.
What was most difficult for me: Sitting with the fear! I think as human beings, we’re taught to be positive all the time and to suppress negativity. I learned that sitting in the darkness, the fear, the anger, the “why me” and not trying to change it or sugar coat it, is the validation that I needed. I don’t have to be courageous and strong every day – sometimes it just sucks and that’s okay. I just felt my way through and learned to love all parts of myself, even the not so pretty parts.
Complications/Side effects of treatment: The carbotaxol left me with numb toes, which if anyone has to go through that, I’d like to warn them to ice your feet and hands while they’re at chemo. I didn’t know until the last two treatments to do this, and it stopped the ever-growing numbness in my feet.
I have also experienced a lot of musculoskeletal issues in my hips and lower back, and fortunately, I have a wonderful chiropractor and message therapist who are helping me work through the pain.
How I found hope/support: It found me! I’ve always had a hard time asking for the support I needed or help in general. But my beautiful husband along with amazing family and friends were there to hold me up when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, when I couldn’t move or get out of bed due to the pain and nausea. They loved me when I wasn’t very lovable, through the tears, anger and disbelief. Steroids help you eat, but they sure don’t make you very charming. I needed them all, I had to ask for help, and learning to do that is one of my most valued life lessons.
My life today: Wow, my life today doesn’t even look like the same person lives in this body anymore. I’m working very hard to regain my strength and build up my immune system. While always making sure my kids ate everything organic and that they got the rest and exercise they needed, I smoked, ate a lot of processed food, never slowed down to take care of myself and barely slept. There was always something that I needed to do! Now, I’ve learned that I can’t take care of anyone else unless I take care of me first. The house is a lot messier these days, but I walk, I run, I meditate, I go more places with my family, I cook real food, I love myself, I don’t smoke and most importantly, I’m learning to trust my intuition and do good things for myself.
What I want other women to know: You didn’t do anything to deserve this! As women, sometimes we take responsibility for everything, even things we didn’t know or understand. There’s a fine line between taking responsibility for your health and blaming yourself. Be kind to you! Kindness and love are what you deserve.