Cancerversary: December 1999

Age at diagnosis: 26

Diagnosis: Cervical cancer (unspecified)

Stage of cancer: II

How my story begins: I was young, in my 20s, in a relationship, working and going back to get my college degree. I loved my life, and had thought about having children, but it was not my focus - more like an afterthought of perhaps, maybe, someday. I was focused on my school, job and relationship at the time.

I religiously got my obgyn exam each year, and everything always came back normal. One year in 1999, I think it was in October or November, I got a call from my doctor following my exam. The nurse said they wanted to do further testing and to not worry - many women have abnormal screenings and are fine. After two biopsies and an outpatient procedure - i found myself sitting on an exam table with a young female doctor telling me I have cancer. I was numb. I was in the hospital in December 1999 for a hysterectomy. Luckily it had only spread to my uterus and no further. I did not need additional treatment. But I often think how bad it could have been had I not been so diligent about my annual exams.

How I felt after diagnosis: I was very depressed and had a lot of anxiety. I was scared of what they would find during the surgery and what would happen afterwards. I was very upset that even though I was not focused on having kids - now not having the option at all was quite sad for me, as if I did not fully appreciate that part of being a woman until I was told it would never happen. I cried a lot, and had many sleepless nights. It was a tough time - probably the toughest in my life.

Telling my family and friends: I have a great family and supportive friends. I stayed positive in my telling them - "I have this but it is no big deal" type of attitude. I never really told anyone how truly scared I was. My family wanted to blame someone or something - they could not accept that it just happened. I was dealt the cards for some reason and now I had to be brave and put up the strongest fight of my life. They could not help me with this, and it scared them for sure.

My treatment: Luckily, it was only the surgery and three years of exams every three months. I am very lucky to have not gone through chemo or radiation.

How I felt after treatment: Anxious, scared, depressed. My life was different. I found I even missed having my period. She was with me for many years, and to not have that in my life anymore was very odd to me. I missed buying pads and having cravings and cramps! I still feel like something is missing in my body and life.

What was most difficult for me: My body being different. Not being a fertile woman. Not having the ability to create and carry my own human.

What I did to help myself: Lots of therapy!

My life after cancer: It has been great. While I am in a very different place in my life, and in a different relationship, I know this experience helped to shape me into who I am today. I also get to share my story with others, of survival and making it through the darkness.

Where I am today: I am a massage therapist and personal trainer. I manage a massage school, and I get to help people realize their potential everyday. I am healthy, I am alive, I am grateful. I run marathons and have come to truly appreciate myself and my body for the strength it has and what it can do. I no longer focus on what it can not do! I also have two stepsons, and I feel lucky that I can influence their lives and have that similar connection of mother and child.

What I want other women to know: Love your body and yourself. Your body can do and accomplish many amazing things. Realize and be grateful for its strengths, focus on the grandness of your existence, and not the worries of what cannot happen.

How I will try to help others: Stressing the importance of regular exams, and getting things checked out at the slightest inclination that something could be wrong. I had no symptoms and I believe had if I not gone to my appointment that year, I may not be here. I also would like to somehow fight those insurance companies that have policies only allowing exams once every two-three years. That is ridiculous and could be fatal to some.