Cancerversary: September 2015

Age at diagnosis: 51

Diagnosis: Cervical cancer (unspecified)

Stage of cancer: III

Cervivor School Graduation: 2016

How my story begins: I was married for 20 years and was blindsided by divorce in 2012. My life took a sudden turn of uncertainty. I found myself jumping through hoops in order to find my way and deal with unforeseen circumstances that fell in my path. I had to make the best decisions I could in order to find a life for myself.

On September 28, 2015, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer at Rush Medical University by Dr. Jacob Rotmensch.

How I felt after diagnosis: I was shocked, stunned, and emotional and I thanked God that I was diagnosed as Stage 3b instead of a Stage 4 as I am an overachiever. I felt numb and the realization of what life really meant came to me at an instant. I couldn't think, just do. I had to prepare for radiation and chemotherapy, finalize my last wishes, and secure my finances. I realized at that moment that all the possessions we have in our life are just materialistic. In life, it is about people - not things, but how did we treat others? Were we good to others? Do I have any regrets? Have I done well in raising my child? What legacy can I leave in case the inevitable happens? Can I meet my maker without fear? Can I battle this?

I felt good about everything and sad at the same time. I ran through my life and with the passing of my mother a year prior, with how I took care of her. I tell you - if my lot in life was to be born and to live my life accordingly and be brought back to my mother at 50 in order to take care of her in her senior years, I am good to go - hands down! I know what I did for her was the bestest and I have NO regrets in how I assisted her in end of life. Now it was time to see how I can do for myself and it was extremely hard to do that.

Telling my family and friends: Telling my family and friends was not difficult. I cried and they cried. What can I do? I spoke to my childhood friends and some who are in the medical field and some I haven't seen for over 20 years, nor spoken too, but still have that bond. Must be something of how we grew up and went to a Catholic School - we grew up with each other and moved on in years together and then dispersed to have our separate lives. We live our lives and move on, but that friendship that developed years ago is and will always still be there. A big part of adulthood is realizing our childhood and how life was carefree and the friends we forged and those we continue to have friendships with NO MATTER where we move on in later years. We still have each other. The support I received on their end was amazing and even though years have passed, we still know each other.

My treatment: I started treatment on October 12, 2015. I received 40 hits of radiation and 6 rounds of Cisplatin. The last 12 hits of radiation were highly intense because it was deemed that I was not a candidate for brachytherapy.

How I felt after treatment: After treatment, I was exhausted. I was sad and mad. I started getting mad towards the later days of my radiation. I tried to assess what was the issue - I had been doing things accordingly, taking notes, looking at my cancer outside the box, taking care of myself alone, doing ok with that, keeping track of things the best I can, and realized that I was angry because I wasn't going to see my team anymore. Now what? What happened to me. "Okay, Catherine, you are done! Good Luck. Bye Bye." What? What now? Uncertainty and plenty of it.

What was most difficult for me: The most difficult for me was taking care of myself alone. I seriously shut down emotionally and looked at everything coming at me. I had to do what I had to do or I was going to be toast and I am a fighter and a doer. I don't go down easy. I see that now. I have come to realize that I am relentless. I have taken care of others and it is rather difficult. But I will say one thing - it is a MUCH different story to take care of an ill person WHEN YOU ARE the ill person! I don't know how I did what I did and am still going strong.

What I did to help myself: To help myself during my treatment, I found a coping mechanism. I looked at everything outside the box, maintained all the house bills, and went to Facebook and opened up a Secret Page and enlisted all my friends in there and blogged about my ordeal. I am so thankful for Facebook. I cannot begin to tell you how much so. I had to move due to my divorce and have no friends that live nearby. IF there was no Facebook, I seriously do not know how I would have coped or gotten through my ordeal.

My life after cancer: I was very happy to not have brachytherapy; however, during my follow-up in 2016, when I pressed for more information on recurrence and what exactly happened to me, I was told that by NOT having brachytherapy, my chances for recurrence are MUCH greater than those who DO have the Brachytherapy. Also, by being radiated those extra 12 days, I am now fused. My bladder, colon, uterus, ovaries are now one big ball. I am now looking at another biopsy as my numbers are up and my doctor wants to see what is going on. Worst case scenario... Pelvic exenteration. I have yet to be declared NED.

I have been in therapy since March of 2016. My life still has much uncertainty. I have spent the year checking on my health after radiation and chemotherapy. I had a colonoscopy and everything is alright there. I am in massive depression as all my past has caught up with me. With all the stress, I just cannot handle anymore. I have much left to do to find my way after my divorce.

Where I am today: Today, I am very sad. I realized that it will be 5 years since my divorce and MUCH has happened. I gained a lot of goodness and my losses are much greater than I care to think. I handled everything to the best I can and I am still going strong in avenues. I am encouraged to spread the news of my cervical cancer to others and to inform women about the importance of maintaining your screening exams. I went to Cervivor School in October of 2016 and became an Ambassador in order to advocate for the cause.

In time, my life will get better or, at least to a point where I can really focus on what to do for myself and where I am headed. Right now? Still much uncertainty and i will not give up or stop fighting - it is not in my nature. I have great doctors, and thankful for all the support that I have been given by my family and friends and sad that I am here alone as the mind is terrible when you are alone and no one to talk to. I am hoping to be able to get out more and be around people; however, I am diagnosed as severely depressed, so I must work on that to overcome and continue with my therapist and hope for the best. I have done my best with my Cancer and that is all I can do.

One day soon, I will see the light and hopefully not that Perpetual light - i hope that is not in my near future but for a long time!!!

All will be good.

What I want other women to know: I want women to know they are not alone. Just because you think you are in menopause, don't think you don't have to worry about anything down there. It is OK to make that doctor's appointment for your Pap and HPV tests even thought it has been years since you went.

I want women to know that there is hope that by the year 2050, HPV will be eradicated but there has to be compliance and vaccination is key to ensure this eradication.

I want women to know that they are empowered in their choices and that they are not alone.

How I will try to help others: Advocacy work and yapping my yap about my ordeal with cervical cancer to those that ask. Spread the word of HPV to make it a household word. There should be no shaming in cervical cancer NOR HPV. I am surprised how many are very quiet about it and ashamed. There is no shame in it.