How my story begins: Prior to my diagnosis, I was living a very stressful life –– I was commuting 4 hours every day to get to a demanding job, and I was seeing my son for just a couple hours a day as a result. I was also recovering from a rough breakup.
I didn't see an ob-gyn for many years because my primary doctor performed a Pap as part of my annual physical. In December 2014, he told me my Pap results were abnormal (I had HPV), and suggested cryotherapy treatments (3 sessions). In January 2015, I went to his office to receive the first treatment. During the session, while my legs were on the stirrups, he decided to “help ease my pain” by rubbing my clitoris. I got very upset and asked him to stop. When the session ended, I stormed out of his office in tears and never went back.
I needed 2 more sessions to complete the treatment, but my life became very chaotic just then, so I failed to find a doctor right away. I started spotting after having sex, and when I broke up with my boyfriend, I started spotting between very abundant periods. Only after quitting my job was I able to book an appointment with an ob-gyn.
The nurse who performed the Pap saw "a polyp." It was about 1.5cm. When she received the results, she referred me to another doctor, who examined me and saw a lesion that was about 2.5cm and performed a biopsy. She then called me to her office to give me the news: I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma stage IB in June 2016.
I was then referred to an oncologist, who examined me in order to create a plan… in a couple of weeks, the tumor grew to 3.5cm. He suggested a hysterectomy or radiation/chemo. I was leaning towards surgery but decided to get a second opinion. This new oncologist ordered an MRI and other exams. The results indicated the tumor was already 5.5cm, and the cancer had spread to my pelvic lymph nodes, so she gave me a new diagnosis in July 2016: carcinoma stage IIB.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was completely numb for a while. One day it hit me, and I started crying a lot. I realized the cancer in my body was not a curse, a punishment, or something I had to fight. It was a wake-up call. It was a message and I needed to listen. It generated from HPV, but also from a lack of self-love, incoherencies, and bottled up emotions, so I consciously started to be more loving towards myself, to let go of many stressful situations and fake friendships, and to confront people to deal with resentment issues.
Telling my family and friends: Quite a few women in my family have died of cancer, so the news hit pretty hard. My son, who was 13 at the time, was mostly worried about my sadness. My mom was devastated, and my brother was beyond worried. I had a brand-new job and was afraid of losing it after giving my boss the news, but fortunately, he was very supportive. I chose to tell just a couple of friends who were part of my tiny but strong support group.
My treatment: I had a bilateral ovarian transposition surgery to avoid radiation exposure, 6 rounds of Cisplatin (my body could only accept 4 rounds), 27 rounds of external radiation, and 5 sessions of brachytherapy (internal radiation).
I started treatment with a very positive attitude, but a couple weeks before it ended, I nearly lost my sanity… I weighed 92 pounds and my immune system was super low, despite receiving 4 doses of Neupogen. I felt like I wanted to die, but I really didn't want to die. Once I processed these feelings by crying and letting that hopelessness melt away, I found the strength to continue with the rest of the treatment.
The last day of internal radiation I was very happy. Somehow, I knew I was completely cured.
What was most difficult for me: Not feeling the support of my oncologist.
After receiving my final diagnosis and the treatment plan, I asked for a couple of weeks to prepare my body with an alkaline diet. She laughed and rolled her eyes but agreed to my request. When I was ready to start the treatment, I found out she was on vacations for a month. I asked if someone else could perform the ovarian transposition surgery (first step of the treatment) while she was away, but I was told that could only be performed by my oncologist, so I had no option but to wait.
I felt very frustrated, especially since I could not stop bleeding, and felt very weak. She performed the surgery when she came back, but the PET-CT scan that followed showed the tumor was now 8cm, and the cancer had spread to my iliac lymph nodes, meaning I would need to receive radiation in a wider area of my abdomen, which included the new location of my ovaries. The surgery ended up being worthless.
Fortunately, I spoke up and could change oncologists in the middle of my treatment. I felt much better after knowing I had a doctor who was on my side.
What I did to help myself: I tried to take it easy, hour by hour, day by day. I ate what I could when I could. I used a lot of humor, joking with nurses and technicians all the time. I watched Breaking Bad during chemo to empathize with Walter White. I continued working from home as much as I could to keep my mind occupied but rested when I needed it. I also connected with Kristin, an Imerman Angel and Cervivor member who shared her story with me and gave me very useful tips and lots of encouragement.
My life after cancer: I made peace with my changed body. I entered menopause almost right away, with hot flashes and night sweats. My bladder got reduced in size, as well as my vagina. My digestive system changed, too, and now it doesn't agree with some foods. And after two years, I'm still suffering from fatigue.
Like many women, even when I was 42 and I already had a child, I grieved my fertility. And the fact that sex would never be the same. However, in a weird way, giving away part of my femininity allowed me to get in touch with what remained. This is the most feminine and sexy I've felt in my life, and I'm enjoying it very much.
Where I am today: I'm grateful to have a second chance in life. I learned the lesson, so now I'm my #1 priority. I nourish my body with good foods, I went back to dancing (my favorite workout!), and I make sure to spend quality time with my son, family, and new, positive friends (cancer buddies and people I'm truly compatible with).
How I will try to help others: I want to share my story so people can learn from it. I'm a graphic designer and a translator, and after going through this I really want to lend my skills to a good cause, an effort to educate women and men about HPV and what they can do to prevent it, to promote vaccines for children, and to motivate women that are living with cancer today to feel empowered.