How my story begins: Two years before becoming pregnant with my son, I went to an OBGYN to get birth control and they made me do a pap test. The results were irregular - HPV 16, and he recommended I do a colposcopy. I had endured a colpo before, the worst pain EVER (or so I thought) and the doctor really didn't tell me WHY he wanted me to do one, or the risk of not doing one so I quietly pretended like he never told me to do that and didn't go back to an OBGYN until two years later when I was pregnant with my son.
When I met my new OBGYN, she immediately told me that it was serious, and that they would need to "monitor" me during my pregnancy, and eventually do a colpo when I delivered. All three times they looked up there, they said that while they saw some spots they would biopsy, nothing appeared too serious. I had to remind them to do the colpo after I delivered, where they found precancer everywhere. A cone biopsy and a pet scan later I got the results I never expected, stage 3C1 cervical cancer. My son was three months old and it was only a couple weeks before my 36th birthday.
Life before my diagnosis: My life before diagnosis was... perfect. I know a lot of people say that, but in retrospect, it really was. I had the husband of my dreams, the world's greatest step-daughter, and had just given birth to a beautiful healthy son. We lived in a big house with our two dogs, in a quiet neighborhood and were even lucky enough to purchase a lake place right next door to my in-law's cabin. I had a less than easy childhood so often times I'd find myself thinking, is this a trick? Something has to give... life can't always be this incredible.
How I felt after diagnosis: The first thing you think of when you are told about cancer is your own mortality. Death. It sits in your head like a little black cloud, haunting every waking (and sleeping) thought, shifting every decision, and leaving you with an unearthly, unceasing sense of panic. I couldn't believe it had happened to me, like I was part of the world's biggest practical joke.
Telling my family and friends: Telling everyone individually was too much to bear, so I wrote out my story and updates on social media. The outreach I received was nothing short of incredible. From gifts, to flowers, to meal trains, to people who traveled thousands of miles to support us, to people who had battled cancer and won; the support we had was incredible.
My treatment: I underwent 28 rounds of external radiation, 6 rounds of chemo (1/2 cisplatin and 1/2 carboplaton when the former started causing ear ringing), and 5 rounds of tandem and ovoid brachytherapy.
How I felt after treatment: After treatment I felt empowered, and proud of myself, and also a little broken. Cancer shatters you into a thousand pieces in many ways, but with patience and the "glue" that is love, you can eventually rearrange those pieces into a beautiful mosaic. You will never return to the same thing you were before, and although you might be a little tattered and broken, you are arguably also more beautiful than you've ever been.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult thing I endured was seeing my husband go through the agony of my diagnosis and treatment. He was my absolute rock but seeing him mourn my potential loss, seeing him break was almost unbearable.
What I did to help myself: Helping others was a big part in my healing journey. Joining other cancer groups as a volunteer has helped me heal. Also using both art and writing as an outlet.
My life after cancer: I don't think there is really a "life after cancer", as there is no putting it behind you. It always stays with you a little bit, no matter how many of your scans show NED. It causes occasional moments of panic, makes you question every ache and pain, and sometimes is a burn in your heart in the middle of the night when you are wanting to sleep. But its also... beautiful. The air is more fresh, the world is more beautiful, and seemingly insignificant moments like my step-daughter dancing to a song, my son giggling or dancing in the middle of the kitchen with my husband, take my breathe away with a refreshed outlook on how truly beautiful they are.
Where I am today: Today I can proudly say I have had two scans that have shown no evidence of disease. I am back to work, and putting a full-court-press on losing my baby-bearing body now that I can focus on that. We are traveling, soaking up the rest of summer, and living a grateful life.
What I want other women to know: The weeks before treatment are the hardest. The mental battle is far more difficult than the physical, and never be too scared to seek help.
How I will try to help others: Sharing my story and through support. Whenever I meet another person with a cancer diagnosis, I try in every way to show as much empathy and support as possible. I have joined the Cervivor podcast, a local cancer group, and become a cancer mentor as well.