How my story begins: In 2008, cervical cancer screening revealed that I had HPV. I started having GYN visits twice a year. However, my life got hectic, like our lives sometimes do. And in 2011, I realized it had been over a year since my last well-woman appointment. I noticed some spotting and I was having 'hot flashes,' but I still did not connect these symptoms to cervical cancer. Instead, I made an appointment with a GYN who specialized in pre-menopause. I was very shocked when the first thing she noticed was a 'large mass.' Four days later, I found out that mass was a 7cm squamous cell carcinoma tumor on my cervix.
How I felt after diagnosis: The news brought me to tears - I cried so hard my body shook and I couldn't stop. The words floated in the air around me, expanding until the room was filled with "I HAVE CANCER." Then the anger came, rage really. I beat myself up; how could I have let this happen? None of my abuse helped me.
Telling my family and friends: The hardest conversation was with my kids. Even though they were young adults, the reality of what we were facing was overwhelming. Now, we hold each other tighter and "I love you" is part of our daily conversations.
It is true that you find out who your real friends are in the face of adversity. I was surprised by the love from those I considered slightly more than acquaintances; and the lack of compassion or response from others I thought more of.
My treatment: Initially, I went through pre-surgery chemotherapy and a radical hysterectomy. Then I had post-surgery chemo & external radiation due to one lymph node being cancerous. My cancer reoccurred ten months later and I had a second surgery called a pelvic exenteration, which removed my vagina, bladder, colon and rectum. I now live with a urostomy and a colostomy, which I call Fred & Ethel.
How I felt after treatment: I have been in some kind of chemotherapy treatment more than not. But I always embrace and celebrate each good moment: my N.E.D. status, my first remission and now my second remission.
What I did to help myself: I let go of stress big time. I remind myself daily that life goes on. That the things I cannot change will always be the things I cannot change and I can only change my attitude. Cancer even empowered me to never hide my true self.
My life after cancer: I am living, fighting and thriving with my cancer. I want to make my story count. I want to be the last generation to face cervical cancer so I advocate for the importance of the HPV vaccine and bring awareness to the fight against cervical cancer by sharing my story.
Where I am today: There is something truly empowering about sharing my cervical cancer story. Cervivor has given me the tools to educate and advocate for cancers that are all too often shunned. Knowing we can eliminate six cancers within a generation, and one of those being the cancer that has taken so much from me, empowering me to do all I can to bring awareness to HPV and HPV-related cancers.
What I want other women to know: Give yourself a place for your anger but don't let it drive you. Share your story. It's so important because there are many women who are living similar lives and they want to know they are not alone.
How I will try to help others: Connecting with other cervical cancer thrivers and survivors and sharing our stories. And if I can give one piece of advice, it would be to listen to your body; if something feels different, make that appointment. Our annual well-woman exams are crucial to our well-being.
Carol's blog: www.canceravenger.com
Carol's Stirrup Stories Monologue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kT6aYS1IIDs
Any additional information you'd like to share: What I took away from Cervivor School:
After connecting with the Cervivor community online, it was wonderful to meet these women in person at Cervivor School. I had personal growth and healing through the art sessions, and I gained important knowledge on HPV, the global impact of cervical cancer and how I can potently influence policy change in my state/community.