Location: California

Cancerversary: May 2011

Age at diagnosis: 46

Diagnosis: Recurrent metastatic cancer, Squamous cell carcinoma

Stage of cancer: IB2

Cervivor School Graduation: 2017

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.

Life before my diagnosis: I was a busy single mama raising two amazing kids, who were heading out to college and work life. I hiked, Jazzercised regularly, ate well and lead what I thought was a pretty healthy lifestyle.

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 and 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 permanent urostomy and a colostomy, which I call Fred & Ethel.

How I felt after treatment: I had been in some kind of chemotherapy treatment for five years because my cancer was persistent. But I always embrace and celebrate each good moment: my initial N.E.D. status, my first remission, now my second remission and now heading into my sixth year with no evidence of new disease!

What was most difficult for me: I thought if I showed my family and friends my pain that it would scare them more; and it was hard for me to go 'down the rabbit hole of despair' too - but I learned to give myself grace and embrace the hard days. Embracing my pain actually helped me appreciate the good days more.

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.

Where I am today: I continue to count my sunny days and appreciate that I am still here. 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 possibly eliminate cervical cancer with the next generation is empowering to me and I will do all I can to bring awareness to cervical cancer prevention.

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 who are living similar lives and they need 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. You know your body best and it's important to advocate for our own care.

Carol's blog:
Carol's Stirrup Stories Monologue:

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.