Cancerversary: May 2018

Age at diagnosis: 38

Diagnosis: HPV

Stage of cancer: No stage specified

Cervivor School Graduation: 2023

How my story begins: My story began, now that I think about it when I was diagnosed with Poliquistic Ovarian Syndrome when I was 24 years old. At that age, it was the first time I visited a Gynecologist because of all the stigma in our community. Although I had suffered from heavy periods and cramps, sometimes my period didn't come since the first time I got it, but I didn't think it was a problem. When I became sexually active, I went for my annual checkups without missing one, and my pap test results were always normal.

I emigrated to the U.S. in 2010. I lived in San Diego but saw my Gynecologist in Tijuana, Mexico, because I did not have medical insurance. I had Medi-Cal when I was pregnant with my last child in 2012. Still, I didn't use it for other things. I did my yearly checkups with my doctor in Tijuana. Finally, in 2017, my husband got a job that gave us medical insurance.

During the summer of 2017, my period hadn't come for a while, and when it came back, it was heavy bleeding that I had never had before. I didn't go to see my Gynecologist after my period ended because I didn't think it was severe. At the time, I decided to look for a Gynecologist where I live because I couldn't travel to Tijuana to see my doctor as often as before, and I finally decided to have a medical file in the United States.

I looked for a Gynecologist around November and got an appointment in February 2018. I went for a pap test and checkup because more than a year had passed since my last pap. The nurse practitioner did the pap test, a vaginal ultrasound to check my ovaries because I have a family history of ovarian cancer and blood tests. She told me to wait about one week for the pap results and two weeks for the blood tests. If something is wrong, they will call me, and I will get my pap results by mail.

I got the envelope with the pap results first; it said everything was fine, nothing to worry about. All my previous pap tests had been the same; nothing to worry about. The blood test results took a little longer because I asked them to give me the CA-125 test to check for ovarian cancer. I asked my doctor to order a CA-125 test and a vaginal ultrasound every year after my mom died from ovarian cancer in 2013.

After two weeks, the doctor's assistant called me and told me that my blood tests showed positive for HPV but wanted to ensure it wasn't false because my pap didn't show anything abnormal. I made an appointment for a colposcopy in two weeks. I went to my appointment, the doctor did the colposcopy procedure, and I could see on the monitor that something abnormal was in my cervix. He didn't say anything, but I saw it. The doctor told me to wait one week or two for the results; I can't remember the exact days. In April 2018, I went to the doctor's office to get my colposcopy results, and the nurse practitioner told me the words I believe nobody wants to hear, and I have never forgotten: "You have cancer because of HPV." "Your HPV type is one of the most aggressive." I was shocked; I can't remember many things from that conversation. I just heard the word CANCER and couldn't focus on anything else. I thought I was going to die. The ironic part is that I was worried and looking for ovarian cancer, and my diagnosis was precancerous cells in my cervix because of the Human Papillomavirus.

Life before my diagnosis: I lost my mom to ovarian cancer in 2013, and it changed the way I enjoyed life and changed all my plans. In 2013, I stopped going to college and got depressed for a year. I didn't sleep well, spent most of the whole year crying, and I couldn't focus. I returned to college in 2014, got a Legal Interpretation and Translation certificate, and stopped pursuing my dream of becoming an attorney. I changed my plans for a Paralegal Associate but left it incomplete because, in 2015, we moved away from San Diego to Imperial Valley, looking for a less busy and cheaper city to raise our three kids. Also, the local college didn't have the classes I needed for my Paralegal associate degree, and I lost interest in school. I left my dreams behind to focus on my kids and my family. I was mourning and crying about the past and constantly worried about the future without enjoying my present.

How I felt after diagnosis: After my diagnosis, I felt shocked, sad, worried, and anxious because, at the time, I had three kids who were six, ten, and eleven years old. I started crying, overthinking what would happen to my kids. I had already lost my mom to ovarian cancer five years before my diagnosis. I thought, why me? Also, I had heard about HPV before, but I didn't know anything about how you get infected. I felt judged and stigmatized because when I asked how I got infected, the nurse practitioner told me, "People get HPV for having multiple sexual partners and don't use protection during intercourse." I answered that I have only had one sexual partner in my entire life. She told me, "If you do not have multiple sexual partners, tell your husband to be more careful if he is cheating." I was double shocked, angry, sad, and disappointed.

Many things passed through my mind. After my reaction, she tried to comfort me and told me that I had precancerous cells and that the good thing was that it had a cure. I had to meet with the doctor in two more weeks to decide what we would do. The following two weeks before I saw my doctor again were the worst weeks of my life because I couldn't stop crying, overthinking, worried, sad, and mad. I thought, 'Why do my kids have to suffer another loss?' I was still grieving my mom. I was desperate to seek another opinion but worried I would have to repeat the process, making my situation worse.

Telling my family and friends: On the day of my diagnosis, my dad was waiting for me in the car. He noticed that I wasn't well and he asked me what had happened, and I told him, "I have cervical cancer, and I am going to die like my mom, and it is Javi's (my husband) fault." I was petrified, still crying, and mad at my husband. When we arrived home, my husband asked what had happened, and I told him, "I have cervical cancer. I am going to die, and it is your fault." I said that with all the intention to make him feel my pain. My husband was shocked, sad, and worried about my situation. He said he had never cheated on me.

I told my siblings, some friends, and family about my diagnosis, mainly to the people that I knew wouldn't judge me. My little brother was very helpful. He had HPV before; he had a procedure in Tijuana because he had a genital wart to check if it was cancerous, but thank God it wasn't. He was the person who helped me to understand better my diagnosis and to stop blaming my husband. I didn't say anything to my maternal side aunts because they are very judgemental. I didn't care what my extended family thought, but I was avoiding unnecessary stress and questioning. My extended family knew about my diagnosis because my dad posted something on Facebook about me being in the hospital. After that, I made a lengthy post on Facebook, talking about what was happening and asking my friends to get screened. I am very vocal about what happened and never ashamed of talking about it.

My treatment: My doctor's appointment was on April 23, 2018. I remember the day very well. The doctor told me the best procedure for me would be a hysterectomy since I already have a tubal ligation and will no longer have kids. I told him I agreed but wanted a radical hysterectomy and taking away my ovaries, too. I was 38 years old at the time. At first, he said no because that procedure would anticipate my menopause and undergo hormonal treatment for 20 years. I explained to him that I have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer, and these two cancers are related. I preferred to deal with anticipated menopause than to live worried about ovarian cancer. Also, I told him I didn't know if it was related, but I have the same blood type as my mom. Cancer is like the flu in my maternal side of the family, and I had already dealt with Poliquistic Ovarian Syndrome.

My Gynecologist changed his mind, and he agreed to do a radical hysterectomy and remove my ovaries. He scheduled my surgery for April 25, 2018. I got nervous when I heard the date because April 25, 2013, was unforgettable. Five years before my surgery, April 25 was the last time I talked to my mom and saw her awake and alive. My mom died on April 27, 2013. I don't know if it was a coincidence. I don't know if that was a sign that she would care for me during surgery or if something terrible would happen to me. Before the hysterectomy, I had just had three C-sections. I hadn't had other surgeries. The anesthesia terrified me since it didn't go well on my last C-section. I told my dad to take care of my kids if something happened to me. I was still mad at my husband for making me go through this. Finally, on April 25, 2018, I had a laparoscopic radical hysterectomy and my ovaries removed. I stayed in the hospital for half a day and went home to recover.

How I felt after treatment: After treatment, I felt happy to be alive and that the cancerous cells were found in time. Also, I feel grateful for my family's support. On May 8, 2018, the biopsy came back clean, and I was declared NED (No Evidence of Disease). I didn't need chemo or radiation, but I was still afraid that it would come back. Also, I felt like I was in limbo because I didn't know if I had had cancer or not. The doctor never explained to me if I was a cancer survivor or not because, to me, being a cancer patient means having chemotherapy or radiation. Also, I didn't see an oncologist at the time. All the procedures were made for my Gynecologist. I still have to deal with the effects of menopause, such as mood changes, hot flashes, and other things, but I am good.

What was most difficult for me: The most challenging part for me was my mental health and getting rid of the feeling of betrayal I felt towards my husband. The way the nurse gave me my diagnosis got deeper into my mind. I couldn't stop thinking. I wanted answers, confronted my husband often, and said hurtful words. Also, every time I got my annual pap, I got PTSD because I was afraid of cancer or HPV returning and having to go through the process again.

What I did to help myself: I stopped overthinking and looking for someone to blame. I decided to believe what my husband said and forgive. I joined Cervivor and understand better everything I went through. Also, I returned to school during the pandemic to keep my mind busy and focus on finishing my associate's degree. I got involved in many activities in college to keep my sanity. As an overthinker, I must keep my brain focused on other things.

My life after cancer: After cancer, I decided to enjoy my life more. I lived mourning and crying about the past, worrying about the future, and forgetting to enjoy the present. Nowadays, I am still mourning the loss of my mom, but I know that she wanted to see me happy. I returned to college, participated in many activities, led a group of student mothers, won a few scholarships, finished three Associate Degrees with honors, transferred to University, and am pursuing my goals again.

I enjoy my life one day at a time. I do things that I would not have done before. Also, I stopped worrying about my looks or how others perceive me. I don't care what others think about me. I am doing things that I enjoy, such as dying my hair in crazy colors, going to concerts, and spending more time with my family and friends. I cut ties with anything or anyone that disturbed my peace. Also, I finally decided to share my story, educate myself about cervical cancer and HPV, and get involved in bringing awareness.

Where I am today: Today, I am a student mother dealing with menopause, two teenagers and a pre-teen, and taking care of my family, but I am grateful and happy for the opportunity to be alive. I am educating myself about HPV and cervical cancer to raise awareness and educate other people. I met wonderful people in the last few years who helped me gain confidence and get out of my comfort zone. Also, I am trying to fulfill the promise I made to my mom that I would fight against the cancer stigma by being an advocate because I don't want more women going through this.

What I want other women to know: I want other women to know that cervical cancer is preventable and curable when detected on time, that HPV vaccination works, and that it is crucial to vaccinate children — also, the importance of going to the doctor to get your cancer screenings. If you don't have insurance to pay for doctor appointments, many organizations can help. There is help, but we have to look for it. Reach out to organizations like Cervivor. Finally, getting a cancer diagnosis is not your fault. Nothing of what you go through is your fault.

How I will try to help others: I will try to help others by educating myself about cervical cancer and HPV more and educate others. I want to stop the stigma about gynecological cancers, mainly in the Latino community. I joined Cervivor in 2018, but at the time, I felt like I wasn't a cancer patient enough, and I didn't get involved. In 2023, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post about Cervivor School that caught my interest. I attended Cervivor School in Seattle in 2023 and learned many important things to share with others. I have always shared my diagnosis on my social media and with my friends and family, but now I have better tools and information to share. I am also getting more involved in my community and have started to advocate for better medical conditions in my area.

Any additional information you'd like to share: Thank you, Cervivor sisters, for giving me the confidence to share my story and realize that it doesn't matter what stage of cancer you have. Each story matters!