How my story begins: It all started with light bleeding after sex. Initially, I wasn’t concerned since it didn’t happen every time. I eventually paid my Gynecologist a visit in January. Her initial assessment was BV, and I was sent home with a prescription for antibiotics. The post-coital bleeding continued, which prompted an early pap. The results were abnormal, so I had a colposcopy (March). I don’t remember having any concerns about the potential of cancer. A few days later, the Physician Assistant calls me from her vacation to let me know the cells were cancerous and that I would need to see an Oncologist the next day. The thing is, “cancerous” wasn’t definitive for me. My brain registered the word cancerous as “it may or may not be cancer, but we’re not quite sure.”
The Oncology appointment started with the doctor saying something along the lines of, "So with most women, we recommend a radical hysterectomy"…*continues talking about the recommendation and process*
When she said “most” women, I still didn’t think she was talking about me. Confusion was written all over my face, so she paused and started over. That’s when I heard the words, “You have cancer.” I couldn’t believe it. I went into a rapid state of shock and then immediately into problem-solving mode, which I realized later was a method of trying to stay in control.
Life before my diagnosis: I was physically healthy, and I maintained all my routine health appointments, including annual paps. I remember being so determined and ambitious, with a primary focus on advancing my professional skills and career. I was in my final semester of a rigorous three-year dual master's program at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and I was in the process of exploring potential post-MBA career opportunities. I was also freshly deep in the emotional, self-excavation, and therapeutic healing process from Child Sexual Abuse.
It had only been 2 years, 2 months, and 11 days since I had decided to actively engage in that healing process, a decision that was abruptly prompted by a text from my abuser, a family member: “If I had the opportunity I’d do it again.” Before then I had mastered compartmentalizing and had never spoken about it except to a few people, not even my parents. I had been diagnosed with and treated for depression shortly after. I share that to provide context to my already stressed and fragile emotional state in March 2019 when I received the initial diagnosis.
At the time, that was the most challenging and darkest season of my life. I was hanging on by a thread in deep despair in private and presenting as a strong and positive Black Woman in public, all while tackling the stresses of completing my final semester of graduate school and finding a post-graduation job. Then, on March 29, 2019, I was diagnosed with Stage 1B1 Endocervical Adenocarcinoma.
How I felt after diagnosis: I had so many feelings at once. I felt distraught, disheartened, worried, shocked, resentful, and ashamed. I also felt like I had to still be strong, the kind of “strong” that’s overrated and overpraised. I remember my primary concern was being able to preserve my fertility and protect my uterus. During that time, I mostly felt a lot of grief and resentment - the grief of potentially losing my fertility as a result of treatment and resentment of my experience surviving child sexual abuse.
Telling my family and friends: I only told a few people the first time. I didn’t want many people to know, and I wasn’t ready to be that vulnerable. I also just didn’t know how to talk about it. Initially, my partner at the time was the only person privy to what was going on. Thankfully, he was very supportive. I waited until after the Oncology appointment to share with my close friends and family. Those were some really hard conversations. As sad and distraught as I was, I couldn’t let go of my metaphorical SuperWoman cape. My focus when telling my friends and family was to make sure they were okay and that they knew I was going to be okay. I tried to hold back the tears. I wanted to be “strong” even though I was crumbling inside. Everyone responded with love, prayers, and support. I am grateful!
My treatment: My initial treatment was a radical trachelectomy (removal of the cervix) on May 13, 2019. That procedure was suggested to honor my fertility goals. My Oncologist also recommended radiation after surgery to minimize the chances of cancer returning, but I made an informed decision not to do radiation to preserve my uterus.
Since my initial diagnosis in 2019, the disease has progressed to recurrent metastatic cancer, and I’ve had multiple rounds of treatment.
August 2020: Recurrent disease - Chemotherapy (Cisplatin); Internal & External Radiation
February 2021: Recurrent metastatic disease - Chemotherapy (Carboplatin, Taxol, Avastin)
August 2022: Recurrent metastatic disease - Chemotherapy (Carboplatin, Taxol, Keytruda)
May 2023: Slight disease progression - Avastin + Keytruda
How I felt after treatment: I was excited to return to my normal life after healing from my surgery. For a long while, I still struggled with the idea of potentially losing my fertility.
What was most difficult for me: Throughout my Cervivor journey, the mental and emotional turmoil, depression, and feeling of being out of control have been some of the most difficult experiences in these processes – all the things that no one really tells you, that the public doesn’t often talk about when discussing cancer. It seems that each round of treatment exposed another physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental challenge. The beauty is, it’s forced me to grow in ways that have made me a better version of myself, one that is able to better love myself and others fully and wholly. The downside is it takes continuous hard work and uncomfortable moments.
What I did to help myself: Therapy. Therapy. Therapy. I committed to weekly therapy sessions to process my changing emotions, the trauma of cancer, and many other challenges. I eventually opened up and shared with my village of people, which helped me to grow in receiving and asking for support from others. It’s still an everyday process, and I still find myself grieving the life I used to have from time to time. I’m grateful for the moments when I’m feeling good, energized, and like myself!
Where I am today: Today, I am still receiving treatment. I have been getting infusions every three weeks since February 2021, moving from Chemo to Maintenance, and back to Chemo and Maintenance again. I’m currently on Avastin and Keytruda. Today, I am feeling the best I’ve ever felt in over a year. I’ve started working out again, being more social, and I’m feeling good in my body (for the most part). I want this feeling to last a while!
What I want other women to know: Cancer is not a death sentence! Also, your mindset during the process is a large part of your experience, so it’s important to speak life into yourself and allow others to support and speak life into you when you can’t do it yourself. The tough days are inevitable, and allowing a village of supporters and encouragers can help make it better. Also, ask as many questions as you need, and try to be as informed as you can so that you can feel good about the care you are receiving.
How I will try to help others: I love connecting with other cancer survivors, especially those who have just learned about their diagnosis. I try to make sure they are aware of their fertility preservation options, including financial support that may be available. I eventually want to become a patient advocate to help ease the burden of the cancer patient experience, especially as it relates to being informed and receiving adequate, fair, and inclusive care from providers.