How my story begins: In 2018, I had an abnormal Pap test that was positive for high-risk HPV. I was told we would retest in a year and if it was positive I’d go for further testing. If it was negative then it meant my body fought off the HPV infection. In 2019, I was pregnant with my second child and my Pap was negative. In 2020, my Pap was still negative.
My story begins in February 2021. My Pappy had just passed away at 93. My family and I were grieving his loss. I had my pelvic exam scheduled with my gynecologist around the same time. I had my Pap test a year prior so I wasn’t due this time. My doctor did a pelvic and breast exam and noticed a small polyp on my cervix. He didn’t seem concerned but told me he would remove it and send it for testing.
Then on February 11, 2021, my doctor called me to tell me it was cancer. Endocervical Adenocarcinoma. He didn’t have many answers at this point and referred me to my gynecologic oncologist for further testing and evaluation.
Life before my diagnosis: I was a busy mom of two littles, a wife, working full-time as an in-home family counselor, and trying to help my daughter with virtual school. Life was so busy and crazy being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt alone, sad, and very scared. I had no idea what stage I was or what this all meant for me and family. Would I be okay? How sick was I? What was my treatment going to be? Right after the phone call from my doctor, I burst into tears to my husband. We both were working from home and immediately called out of work. Neither of us could focus. My boss was so supportive. My husband helped me call and make the appointment with the gynecologic oncologist. I was in shock as I had no symptoms whatsoever.
Telling my family and friends: I told my sisters first on a FaceTime call. They were so supportive of me. Later that night, I called my mom and told her. My mom and sisters are my best friends and I knew it hurt to tell them this. We were all in shock. I waited a few days later to tell my husband's family. I didn’t tell extended family or close friends until after I had more answers from tests and scans.
It was really hard for me to share it because it stung every time I said, “I have cervical cancer”. I didn’t want to hurt or cause anxiety to anyone in my family or my friends by sharing. Everyone was so worried. My daughter knew I was sick but didn’t really understand “cancer”. My husband and I were careful with what we shared with her as we didn’t want to scare her or cause her to worry. We tried our best to keep both kids' routines the same as possible. Our son was only a year old.
My treatment: After many tests and scans, it was determined I had stage 1B1. I had a life-threatening hemorrhage after my colposcopy/D&C/conization procedure (a whole crazy story by itself) that was very scary for my family and I.
I had to heal and recover from that, which pushed off treatment another six weeks. On May 4, 2021, I had a radical hysterectomy with pelvic lymph node removal and I was able to keep my ovaries. On May 10, 2021, my doctor called me to tell me all my surgical pathology was negative for cancer. I was officially in remission and didn’t need further treatment.
How I felt after treatment: Due to COVID restrictions, I had to recover alone in the hospital. My husband and kids FaceTimed with me to keep me company and lift my spirits. Recovery took some time after the hysterectomy. It was open abdominal surgery so I was very sore the first several weeks and I wore a catheter for a week after surgery. My hormones were a bit off but finally stabilized after a few weeks. I was proud of myself for making it through surgery and being in remission.
What was most difficult for me: Doing doctor appointments, surgeries, and hospital time alone due to COVID. I was sad to lose my fertility, even though I was blessed with my two children; it was so final but at the same time, I was thankful for my life!!
I had survivor's guilt as I knew other women going through this were not done with their fights and had to do more treatments. My mental health was struggling and I was dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, and fear of recurrence. Everything happened so quickly over a short period of time and I was trying to process it all.
What I did to help myself: I relied on the support of my family and friends. Everyone who was there for us helped us more than they know. My mother and my mother-in-law helped my little family so much during this time. I began therapy to cope with my emotions and my anxiety. I practiced daily mindfulness and mediation while in recovery to help me relax. My husband and kids were the best medicine!
My life after cancer: Emotionally, it has been a whirlwind of emotions but I am truly blessed and grateful I am here. Physically, a year later my body is mostly back to normal. I still have some aches and pains and I have my scar but I am proud of my body and all that it went through.
Where I am today: On May 10, 2022, I celebrated one year cancer free!! I am learning to not sweat the small stuff and living each day. I focus on my loved ones, my mental health, my physical health, and my career. Most importantly, I am being a lot kinder to myself these days and make self-care a priority. I have made mindfulness, mediation, yoga, and prayer a big part of my life.
What I want other women to know: You are not alone and there is hope!! After I was diagnosed I felt alone like no one understood what I was going through. But you aren’t!! I found lots of supportive women around the world on social media going through the same thing. I found Cervivor, which is an amazing organization!!
My family and friends were amazing too!! There are others going through this that are here with open arms to support you and show you love. You don’t have to walk this journey alone!! It’s okay to feel all the feels too. It’s okay to not be okay and show your vulnerability. Let others who want to help be there for you.
How I will try to help others: I hope by sharing my story it will raise more awareness around cervical cancer and HPV. Getting the HPV vaccine can help prevent this awful cancer and other cancers associated with it. It’s very effective and one day will eradicate cervical cancer. It is best to get it at a younger age - around age 9.
When I was younger I didn’t get the vaccine as it wasn’t talked about by my regular doctor at the time. I don’t think there was much information on the HPV vaccine back then as there is now. It can save lives!! I am receiving the vaccine now as they changed the approved age to 45!! It’s so important to go for your cervical cancer screenings when they are due but also going yearly to your gynecologist for other preventive screenings. These appointments are easy to push off but don’t! They could save your life!! Know your body and if something doesn’t feel right get it checked.