How my story begins: I am a busy wife, mom of two beautiful children, and a science teacher. My days were (and still are) filled with excitement, love, and laughter. I had turned 30 in June of 2017 and just knew in my soul that this was the year that would stick with me forever-I knew it would be a big year!
My 2nd child was born in January of 2017. It was a speedy delivery! Things seemed relatively “back to normal” as a postpartum woman. I had some issues with dryness and discomfort with intercourse, but those are common issues with breastfeeding as well. My Pap and annual exam were scheduled for that April, but I received a call from my GYN’s office that he would not be available, and could I reschedule for June as his May schedule was already full - I saw no issues with this. I went for my exam the end of June and my Pap came back abnormal (AGUS). Now this had happened right before I found out I was pregnant with my 2nd child, but all biopsies came back normal. It was determined it was likely hormonal. The beginning of July, I went for a colposcopy. 7 areas were biopsied - one came back positive for endocervical adenocarcinoma.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was stunned and numb. I had steeled myself for a harsh diagnosis, but I did not even for a moment think it would be cancer. In fact, the cancer center called me to schedule an appointment with my oncologist before my GYN had the chance to tell me my biopsy results. I was so worried that I would leave my two babies motherless, and kept wondering what went wrong in a little more than a year.
Telling my family and friends: It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but honestly, it was just words. I didn’t attach any emotions to the words. I was like Mr. Spell, just giving the facts that I had in a robotic tone.
My treatment: I had a radical hysterectomy 2 weeks after diagnosis. I got to keep my ovaries to prevent menopause. Of all the lymph nodes removed during surgery, one was positive for the endocervical primary (we knew this from the PET scan prior to surgery). This was surprising as my primary tumor was so small and there was no lymph-vascular invasion, yet somehow the cancer had gotten into a lymph node. My case and surgical pathology went before the tumor board, and it was decided that it would be in my best interest to seek aggressive treatment.
About a month post-surgery, I had 28 treatments of external radiation with concurrent weekly cisplatin infusions. I then had 2 brachytherapy sessions. I had my port (Arnold Portszenegger) installed in early November, followed by 6 rounds of Carboplatin, Taxol, and Avastin infusions; my last one was March 15, 2018. I had a CT done after 4 treatments that showed a very small pocket of fluid near my L1 vertebra and psoas muscle, this was speculated to be post-surgical seroma, or necrotic lymph node. The spot was still present, but unchanged in a CT following my 6th and final treatment. I was given the “all clear” on a watch and wait basis. I am done with treatment for 3 months and I will have another scan the end of June 2018.
How I felt after treatment: Strong and confident. I was blessed in that all of the treatment I went through was not all that terrible for me. I did not experience any nausea or fatigue. The only lasting issues I have from treatment are minor digestive issues (managed by thoughtful diet) and mild neuropathy in my feet.
What was most difficult for me: Getting out of my own head! It took a while, but I had to learn to live in the now and stop wondering “what if.” I had to relenquish the illusion of control!
What I did to help myself: Continued my life. I didn’t miss a beat. I was required to miss the first two weeks of school after surgery, and I of course missed the days when I had 6-hour infusions. But other than that, I reported for duty every day! I had to keep doing my life. There was no alternative - I did not have time to “be sick.” I swear that mindset saved me from what could have been worse. I also did not want my own children and students to see someone suffering. I believe I was called to show the young people in my life a positive vision of cancer. All of my students were terrified when they learned of my diagnosis, but they are all so excited now-measuring my hair growth and begging me to grow a Mohawk!
My life after cancer: My life now is more than I could ask for! I am healthy, and my family is healthy! I am adapting to a post-treatment body, and I am hypersensitive to any changes that are out of the norm. I have a small sense of “health paranoia,” but have great communications with my healthcare team to assuage my fears.
Where I am today: I am wrapping up another fantastic school year and making proactive strides in my personal health. I am beginning EMDR with a respected therapist to address some PTSD-related issues, as well as seeing my GYN for hormone testing and treatment for sexual dysfunction (I’m too young to close that door!).
What I want other women to know: You can do this! You are still Mom, you are still a wife, you are still a sister, you are still you! No diagnosis or treatment can or will change who you are.
How I will try to help others: By sharing my story and listening when others need to vent. Truth be told, I read EVERY story on this website after I was diagnosed-it was a comfort to me knowing I was not alone, and that there were other women out there who really knew how I was feeling and what I was going through-I am honored to be a part of that network now.
Any additional information you'd like to share: It is apparently not uncommon to experience issues of sexual dysfunction post gynecologic cancer diagnosis and treatment. While I did not experience any physical impacts, I am certainly experiencing more than one mental/psychological issue when it comes to engaging in sexual behavior. Some of this could be related to hormonal changes: perimenopause, menopause, or just hormonal imbalance post-treatment. I was a bit nervous to address sexual issues with my medical team, after all I had just gone through an epic treatment! Thankfully, I have a fantastic GYN who specializes in sexual dysfunction, and he was willing to help me and point me in the right direction for treatment outside his realm. You do not need to find a “new normal” regarding sexuality post-diagnosis/treatment-there are solutions!