Cancerversary: February 2016

Age at diagnosis: 32

Diagnosis: Squamous cell carcinoma

Stage of cancer: II

How my story begins: My story doesn't begin in one place, but many small incidences that become one.

Before my diagnosis, I was a newlywed who worked too much (making wedding cakes) and spent any spare money I had on pole dancing fitness classes. Then, in January of 2016, I got the longest period of my life. It lasted for weeks and was heavier than I'd ever seen, to the point that I actually began to wonder if I was having a miscarriage. I had recently come off of birth control, so I wrote it off to hormones.

Around that same time, I started having more pain than normal in my lower back. I work long days on my feet, and figured I was finally at the point in my life where I needed to start seeing a chiropractor.
Then my period started up again, just lightly, but annoyingly close to the last one. A few weeks in, I started having abdominal cramps, which I attributed to the pain in my back. It hurt so bad, it must have been making me sick. I started to lose weight because eating didn't seem so attractive while I was in constant pain.

I finally bit the bullet and went to see a doctor. I'd done my research and expected to hear I had fibroid tumors, which is something that has plagued other women in my family. I was mentally prepared for a hysterectomy and never planned on kids, so it seemed like it would solve the problem.

After a transvaginal ultrasound showed a mass on my cervix, I felt like we were finally nearing an answer as to what was causing all of my pain, but the NP was fresh out of nursing school and inexperienced. She suggested an MRI, but she said she didn't see anything on my cervix.

I left the office in tears, knowing this was not the person who was going to figure this out. I immediately sought out a new doctor. On April 4th, I saw a new NP, who took a look at my cervix and all of the bleeding and immediately got the doctor. No sugar coating it here. My new doctor took one look and said, "That looks like cancer." She took several biopsies and had me booked with an oncologist for the very next day, April 5th. The oncologist was so sure it was cancer, she pushed for a pet scan to be done on April 7th, before the biopsy results were back. I actually received the call that they were positive for cancer just before I walked through the doors for my pet scan.

My oncologist called me at home on a Sunday with my results - stage 2b - and squeezed me in for a colposcopy the next day, April 11th. We met on the 12th where she laid out the treatment plan.

How I felt after diagnosis: I always thought hearing I had cancer would be the most terrifying thing I'd ever heard. But at the time, all it brought me was relief. Finally, we knew what was causing the pain and we knew how to stop it. My biggest fear up to this point would be that all these doctor's appointments would show nothing and the pain would remain. I think I would have been more upset if I hadn't strongly suspected cervical cancer after the mass was found on my cervix, and not in my uterus.

Telling my family and friends: I waited until I had a solid idea of what was happening before I told anyone that it was cancer. I just didn't want to scare anyone unnecessarily. After I had a diagnosis and treatment plan, I told my family and then friends. I'm not a very private person, so I didn't think twice about it. It was, however, exhausting to have to update everyone. Thank goodness for Facebook. I got so tired of texting and calling that it was easier just to be able to post it after I told my family any important updates.

My treatment: My treatment was 5 rounds of cisplatin, 25 external radiation, and 5 brachytherapy.

How I felt after treatment: Chemo caused a lot of heartburn, and towards the end, nausea. Having my taste buds go haywire was incredibly frustrating, as I am very much a foodie.

Radiation wasn't so bad, until it started causing inflammation in my intestines and a ton of other side effects.

By the end of treatment, I just felt exhausted. I'd get downstairs and be too tired to get back up. And I was lonely and bored and longed to feel good again. I was finally feeling like a sick person and I didn't like it one bit!

What was most difficult for me: Brachytherapy was by far the most difficult part of my treatment. For me, it was unbelievably painful and I would just cry on the off days knowing what was coming. When the nurse would come get me for treatment, I would sit in the room crying until we were finished. Between the pain of brachy and the exhaustion confining me to bed most of my days, I found myself sinking into depression.

What I did to help myself: I have a friend who went through breast cancer a couple of years ago. She did it with such grace that I am constantly in awe of her. On my darkest days, I wrote to her, asking how I was supposed to keep going when it only seemed to get worse. Her response echoed with me through the rest of my treatment. She told me she had felt all of that, too. And then she said something that will always inspire me. Just simply, "Life on the other side is good. Really good."

My life after cancer: My friend was right. Life is really good. I still work too much. I still pole dance. I can't tolerate dairy now, but it's a small price to pay.

I have seen the outpouring of love from my friends and family. I am grateful for every one of them. I have been through one of the worst life events with my husband, and I know we're stronger together.

Where I am today: Today, I'm the same person, but I'm stronger. I want my time to count. I want to experience things before it's too late. I'm happy, but sometimes scared. But, I refuse to let cancer run my life.

I got my definitive all clear on February 1st (after a "pretty good" pet scan in September that didn't leave me with the NED feeling). I'm just happy to have made it.

What I want other women to know: This cancer may be caused by HPV, but that's no reason to be ashamed or to feel like you can't talk about it. No one should have to be alone going through cancer.

How I will try to help others: I share my story with as many women as I can in hopes that it could prevent someone from going through what we've been through. I've had so many friends tell me they went in because of my story. One even found out she was in precancerous stages. It makes me happy to know that someone else benefits from my experience and that sharing my story could help another woman save herself from the disease earlier than I did.