How my cancer story begins: Thanks to my diligent and wonderful mother, I had been going to get annual well-woman exams and Pap tests for 13 years before my first abnormal one. In December of 2006, I had a normal Pap test. Eight months later, we found out that I was pregnant with my second child. It was the result of a routine “you’re 6 weeks pregnant, let’s do a Pap test” for which I received a call from my doctor’s office saying that the results came back abnormal. I also had HPV. At this time, I was reassured that many women have abnormal Pap tests for a multitude of reasons. A quick colposcopy with no glaring concerns, and I was off to enjoy pregnancy bliss…with the hope that these HPV cells would get flushed from my system during birth. Six weeks after birth, a routine postpartum exam showed that those pesky HPV cells were still there, and as my doctor said, “weren’t going to go away on their own.” At the end of July, I had a LEEP procedure to get the precancerous cells out of my body for good.
One week later, I heard those words…”You have cervical cancer. If this can happen to you, it can happen to anybody.” These are the words I remember most when my doctor called to tell me I had cervical cancer. I remember them the most because she said them over and over. I could literally feel her state of shock through the phone. She was in disbelief, and so was I. So why did this happen to me? Who knows, there’s no way of knowing and no reason to try and figure out why.
I was 32 years old, a new year of teaching was starting in just 6 days, I had a 3 year old daughter and a 3 month old son, I had a wonderful husband I’d been married to for 8 years…and I had cancer.
The 48 hours after diagnosis: I was filled with sadness, fear, and hopelessness. I could only focus on the fact that I had cancer; something that people die from. I was a young mother and wife. My heart broke wondering if my husband would lose me and broke even more as I tried to fathom my kids growing up without me, tore more as I thought about ME not being able to relish those milestones that parents love to witness, and shattered again as I realized they wouldn’t even remember me…their mom. To this day, these thoughts are the ones that bring tears to my eyes; even though they are no longer worries I have to bear. The thoughts still break my heart.
Finding hope: Soon we began to rally. Hope crept in as we did our research, heard success stories of others who walked a similar path, and as we shared our news in hopes of gaining prayers and support. We soon began to realize that we could beat this and that we were not alone. An aggressive attack was what we intended, and we mentally prepared to fight with all we had.
Treatment: Treatment included a radical hysterectomy followed by 6 weeks of daily radiation at the same time as weekly chemotherapy (Cisplatin) and then 3 rounds of weekly internal radiation (brachytherapy).
My life today: It’s now seven years later, and I’m lucky to be cancer free! There are still health issues I have to deal with and even some mental and emotional stress that exists. Since they took out so many lymph nodes, my lymph system is compromised, and I have a condition called lymphedema, which has caused me to be hospitalized 6 times in the last 5 years due to infections. I’ve learned to manage it with daily lymph drainage massages, monthly drainage massages done by a professional, and the daily wearing of compression hose and shorts to keep my lymph system flowing.
And seven years later, I’m lucky and proud to call myself an advocate for HPV and cervical cancer. My work has led me to Cervivor, as well as other wonderful people and organizations that share the passion I have for helping and educating others. I do it for my family, I do it for my friends, and I do it for strangers I have yet to meet. Along the way, there have been tears and fear, hope and encouragement, anger and pain, passion and courage; but there has never been any shame, because if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone…but it doesn’t have to.