Cancerversary: March 1997

Age at diagnosis: I was nine years old when my mother was diagnosed at age 36.

Diagnosis: Recurrent metastatic cancer

Stage of cancer: Not applicable

How my story begins: I was asleep in my attic bedroom one night when I heard a loud boom and I ran downstairs. My mother had fainted on the toilet and blood was everywhere. I know now she was hemorrhaging, but at the time I couldn't really understand where the blood was coming from. We called my uncle who was an EMT as my dad was out of town. She went to the closest hospital which was about 40 miles away. They eventually transferred her to a hospital about 250 miles away because it was the closest one to our home that could provide the kind of care she needed. I was terrified. It was 1997 and I was nine years old. I had no idea what going on. She spent weeks in the hospital and I was absolutely certain she would die.

Life before my diagnosis: Before my mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I always assumed my parents were both invincible. Even now, I still find myself thinking that she will pull through because she always has.

How I felt after diagnosis: After my mother was released from the hospital the first time I was confused and no one really told me what was going on. I don't even remember knowing that she had cancer. I just knew she was "sick" and had "female troubles." My brother and I were mainly cared for by our grandmother, who was also going through breast cancer treatment at this time and she would eventually die from this disease. I felt a lot of fear.

For years, I was absolutely terrified to leave my mother alone for even a night. I don't think I had a "sleep over" with a friend until I was high school age. I would always end up going home in the wee hours of the morning because I was so afraid she would die while I was gone... or to a lesser degree, need something and I wouldn't be there to help her. I felt a lot of guilt.

Any time we had a typical pre-teenager/parent fight, I was guilt stricken. After all that she has been through, she has to deal with my attitude too. I felt resentment and then guilt for feeling the resentment. I felt fear that I would end up with the same cancer. I don't think I fully understood what cervical cancer was until I was in college. I very much confused cervical and ovarian.

Telling my family and friends: My mother never wanted anyone to know what was wrong with her. She even hid it from her best friends and family. They all knew she had cancer, but she was very secretive about what type of cancer she had. This was due to shame. She was born and raised in a very small, conservative town. Because cervical cancer was a cancer related to sex, she was very much shamed. She was made to feel shamed. As if it were her fault.

My treatment: She received two 48- hour radium implants and seven weeks of extreme external radiation. 13 months later, she had bi-lateral stents in her urethra tubes. Those lasted for seven years before collapsing. After the collapse, she started getting bi-lateral nephrostomy tubes. She will have those for the rest of her life. The treatment also destroyed her colon causing a fistula and severe deiverticulitis resulting in a colostomy bag for life. The radiation destroyed her ovaries, urethra tubes, 5th and 6th ribs, and caused permanent damage to her legs.

How I felt after treatment: She will never be the same. I am 34 with two children. She was 36 with two children when she was diagnosed. My son is 8 years old. I was 8 (turning 9) the month she was diagnosed. I can't imagine living with the things she has lived with for the rest of my life.

What was most difficult for me: I think the shame has been very difficult for her. Physically, I think the colostomy and the neph tubes have been the most difficult for her.

What I did to help myself: My mother has been involved with the American Cancer Society. She always focused on the positive and has an iron will.

My life after cancer: After cancer, my brother and I grew up. We both finished college, got married and had children. My mother now has five grand children.

Where I am today: I am a high school ESL teacher.

What I want other women to know: You did nothing wrong. This is not your fault. Please continue to get regular checkups. Please get the HPV vaccine if it is recommended by your doctor and please vaccinate your children.

How I will try to help others: I would like to become an advocate for HPV vaccines and screenings.

Any additional information you'd like to share: The vaccine is most effective in 9 - 11 year olds so please get your children vaccinated! We can eradicate this disease. No one should have to suffer the way my mother has.