How my story begins: Not long into my pregnancy, we suffered a miscarriage. My OB still wanted me to keep my initial prenatal appointment since I was over a year overdue for a pap test. My pap came back abnormal and positive for HPV 16, which I wasn't too concerned about at the time. Shortly after, COVID-19 became a serious issue in the United States and appointments were being delayed.
We found out in April 2020 that we were expecting again. My initial prenatal appointment was supposed to be in June, but was pushed back due to COVID. I had a colposcopy in July, a whole five months after my abnormal pap and positive HPV test. My OB was concerned about what she saw, but didn't think it was cancer. I was referred to a GYN oncologist for the biopsy since I was pregnant. I received my initial diagnosis of 1A1 squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix after my biopsy, which was later amended to 1B1 after my cone surgery in August. I was 20 weeks pregnant with my baby boy at the time of my diagnosis.
Life before my diagnosis: My life before diagnosis was good and much like it is now thankfully. I know others aren't so lucky. I still reside in the small town that I grew up in. I have a bachelor's degree in human services with minors in sociology and psychology and I work full time as a community-based leader at a mental health center. My husband and I got married in 2016 in the mountains in Gatlinburg, TN when our daughter was 18 months old. I also have a bonus son that is 16. My husband and I were expecting our son with a due date of Christmas Eve 2020. We were a little nervous after suffering a loss before becoming pregnant again. We had no idea of the rollercoaster we would soon be on.
I had family members that had different types of cancer before, some passed away from their cancer. I never imagined it would happen to me especially at the age of 34. I didn't notice any signs before my diagnosis, but looking back now I did have some unusually heavy periods months before.
How I felt after diagnosis: Finding out you have cancer is a scary thing no matter what your type of cancer, stage, or diagnosis is, especially when there is a tiny life growing inside you. I was terrified and feared more for my baby boy than for myself, especially after already having a miscarriage.
Telling my family and friends: It was a hard thing to share, but I knew I needed to tell our family and friends in order to get the support that I needed.
My treatment: Even though my initial cone surgery showed clear margins, it was difficult to know for sure if the cancer was gone and hadn't spread since I couldn't do the proper scans while pregnant. At the recommendation of my oncologist and the tumor board, I agreed to do chemo treatments every three weeks and was referred to maternal fetal medicine for additional monitoring for the remainder of my pregnancy. After undergoing four rounds of chemo with Cisplatin and Taxol, I delivered my miracle baby boy, Karson, via a scheduled c-section at 37 weeks with a higher incision on my uterus so my cervix wouldn't be disrupted. At three months postpartum, I had a radical hysterectomy, taking everything but my ovaries.
How I felt after treatment: I was lucky to have minimal side effects from the chemo and prayed it did it's job. I hated the idea of a c-section, as I hadn't had one with my daughter, but I knew it was best. It was an overwhelming feeling of relief when I saw my baby for the first time; my beautiful little miracle. I cried so many happy tears. It was a tough recovery and it seemed like when I was finally healed from my c-section it was time for my hysterectomy and I had to start all over again. It was a relief to finally be done and on the path to healing.
What was most difficult for me: I was worried I would have to choose between my life and my baby boy's. I was worried how the treatment might affect him. It was a very scary time, full of anxiety and uncertainty when I should have been overjoyed and excited at having a new baby.
What I did to help myself: My cancer journey brought me closer to God. I prayed more and put my trust in Him to help get me through. I connected with Hope for Two The Pregnant with Cancer Network, and joined support groups to meet other women who had gone through treatment for cervical cancer while pregnant.
Where I am today: My baby boy celebrated his first birthday and he is as healthy as can be. I feel like going through my cancer journey together has created a special bond between us. I celebrated my one year NED anniversary in January 2022. My journey has brought our family closer to each other and to God.
What I want other women to know: I want other women to know that if you are pregnant and facing cervical cancer, you are not alone and there is hope.
How I will try to help others: I love sharing my story with others and offering support. I also use my experience to raise awareness for cervical cancer and prevention.