How my story begins: It all started with a pair of Ugg sweatpants... aka the working title of my one-day autobiography. My husband (then boyfriend) gave me a pair of super fancy Ugg sweatpants for Christmas in 2015. I was afraid to wear them because that meant I would have to wash them after every wear. At the time I was having clear leakage regularly that started to require me to wear a panty liner - the fact that I was hesitant to put these super luxurious sweatpants on was my first sign that something was seriously wrong.
I went into the doctor in February 2016 and was told to do kegels and if I really wanted to pursue this issue further my doctor could reluctantly refer me to a urologist as she felt it was probably an overactive bladder. I was treated for an overactive bladder for a year. My PCP and my urologist NEVER did a Pap. I had to have several painful bladder procedures and my condition (the leakage) only got worse. My next symptom started showing up - intercourse became painful and I would regularly bleed. In fact, one time after a particularly romantic trip, I had to throw out the sheets and pillows in the hotel room because I was afraid they would think some horrific injury took place in the room. Finally in December, I decided to switch urologists and went to a new expert in January 2017.
The new urologist thought that maybe it was something to do with my birth control, I was on the "ring" at the time. She removed it and told me to get an appointment with my OBGYN to see what my other options were. I finally had an appointment with my OB in March 2017, when she performed a Pap. She was pretty concerned, stating that my cervix was hard. She then performed a colposcopy right then and there. I went home bleeding and in tears with no answers. I stayed off the internet and then finally, 10 days after my colposcopy, my OB called and informed me that I had cervical cancer. My life changed in that moment.
The next step was to get an MRI and have an appointment with a gynecological oncologist. The MRI results revealed that I had 3 - 4cm tumor growing on my cervix. This meant that I would ultimately need to have a hysterectomy and lose my fertility. We had always yearned to be parents – both individually before we met and together as a couple. Finding out I had cervical cancer made us feel that that door, at least in the traditional sense, closed before we even started trying. Immediately proceeding my first oncology appointment, we headed over to an infertility clinic and began IVF treatment so that we would have a chance to have our own biological children. This meant daily blood work, daily shots, and nearly daily ultrasounds. It was clear that we were in it together and for the long run, and that having a family of our own was critical and important for us. Sean attended every appointment with me at the infertility doctor and became an expert at giving me my daily shots. This brought us even closer and furthered our commitment to each other.
Two weeks later, my eggs were harvested and mixed with Sean’s sperm and we created eight beautiful embryos.
Life before my diagnosis: I was a relatively healthy person. I worked out regularly, ate relatively healthy, and was in pretty good health, or so I thought. I had been dating my now husband for three years and had plans to get married and start a family in the imminent future. I worked in hospitality as an HR director and had a pretty stressful day job. I had a solid friends group and lived in San Diego.
How I felt after diagnosis: Lost. Scared. Alone. Angry at my PCP.
Telling my family and friends: I told a very small group at first before I knew what my treatment plan was. I then shared my story in an email to my larger support system and I'm so grateful that I did. I was able to bring awareness to cervical cancer as well as get some additional support.
My treatment: Three weeks after we completed IVF, I went in for the hysterectomy. Sean and my mom patiently waited for me as I underwent a five hour surgery. Sadly, when I got out of surgery, the doctor did not have great news for me. It turned out that the cancer was beyond Stage 1, as was initially diagnosed by the oncologist. During surgery, he redirected his plans and halted the hysterectomy. He then detached my ovaries and moved them to her upper abdomen – a procedure called ovary transposition surgery.
When I woke up from surgery, I was informed that I would need to undergo both chemotherapy and radiation over the next two months. I completed 30 rounds of radiation and six rounds of chemotherapy (Gemzar & another one). The goal was to shrink the tumor so that I could have a radical hysterectomy. I had the radical hysterectomy in August 2017 and was deemed "cancer free" upon waking up from surgery. But that was seriously just the beginning.
I've spent the last three years in pelvic floor physical therapy as radiation caused my vagina to heal back together and sealed up - leaving me with a 1cm depth. I then had to wait for two years until I was healed enough from radiation for vaginal reconstructive surgery and then another year for the doctors to determine the appropriate surgery for me. It was hell. I finally had the reconstructive surgery in July 2020, and spent seven days in the hospital during COVID. This was my last procedure to finally be done with cervical cancer.
How I felt after treatment: After chemo/radiation and my hysterectomy I felt completely broken and alone. Everyone was celebrating that I was cancer free but meanwhile I had to deal with losing my fertility and not being able to have intercourse. I felt like everything about being a woman had been stripped away from me.
What was most difficult for me: The loneliness and stigma surrounding having cervical cancer - it is hard to tell people you are grieving your sex life. It is also hard to put on a happy face when your friends start having babies left and right.
What I did to help myself: I did a complete overhaul of my health and fitness routine; I lost 50 pounds, I sought a therapist, I found a different doctor, I started doing chiropractic work and I saw a naturopath. I wanted to hit cancer from every angle and live the healthiest life possible, which I've been able to maintain for the last 2 1/2 years. I feel healthy, loved, and connected.
My life after cancer: In April 2020, we were matched with our surrogate and we are now parents to twin baby boys. Our boys arrived safely and lovingly via our surrogate in March 2021. I've switched jobs outside of hospitality, in a less stressful environment, but stilling doing HR.
Where I am today: I am doing well but I still feel alone sometimes and angry at my doctors for misdiagnosing me. I am hopeful and grateful and know that things will continue to get better. I am a proud mama to twin boys and I've been able to help Cervivor's dear founder and chief visionary start her family. We donated our remaining healthy embryos to Tamika and her husband. There's no greater gift than being able to pay it forward.
What I want other women to know: Get your annual Pap! You are entitled to it!! You have no idea how much cervical cancer can take away from you so do what you can to prevent it.
How I will try to help others: I encourage others to take charge of their health and be their own best advocate - if something feels wrong, say something! Go to your cancer screenings!
Any additional information you'd like to share: You have to be your own best advocate for your health. Listen to your body. And believe you are WORTHY of healing and the life you have always dreamed of. It’s easy to start going down a path of self doubt after treatment, constantly remind yourself of the badass you are for facing cancer. You have hidden strength and power that can help you face the next challenges. Ask for help when you need it and lean on your people. I am happy to help other women considering surrogacy after cancer and always happy to lend a listening ear to fellow Cervivors.