How my story begins: In 2010, while deep in the trenches of grad school, I got a phone call from a nervous physician's assistant. She told me that while my Pap test was normal, I was positive for high-risk HPV. She suggested I get the HPV vaccine, but reassured me that it was not a big deal.** My insurance refused to cover the cost of the vaccine as I had just turned 26, so I pushed it to the back of my mind and went on with life.
Two years later, in 2012, I received another phone call from my doctor. This time it was an ASCUS Pap result, but the follow-up HPV test was negative. Again, I was reassured it was nothing to worry about.
In 2013, 6 weeks after giving birth to my first child, my Pap test was normal but my HPV test came back HPV16+, one of the high risk types. My OBGYN ordered a colposcopy, which came back normal. Six months later, I had a tumor on my cervix that was visible to the naked eye. The diagnosis - adenocarcinoma of the cervix, stage 1b1.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was stunned, and terrified.
Telling my family and friends: I only told close friends and family at first. My loved ones rallied around me, and I came to see the true strength of family. But even while I was surrounded by all that love and support, I felt alone. I was scared. I didn't know anyone else with cervical cancer. So I reached out through the Internet, and connected with online support groups. I found other women who had been through the same experience, and I found comfort in their words of wisdom. It was there that I heard the words that would become my cancer mantra: First we cry, then we fight.
My treatment: One month after diagnosis, I was wheeled into the OR for a radical hysterectomy. I was lucky; the pathology report showed clear margins and I was declared cancer-free.
How I felt after treatment: I didn't feel the euphoria I expected to when they told me there was no evidence of disease, and no further treatment was needed. Instead, I felt lost, and unsure. I was afraid of recurrence. I didn't know how to go back to "normal." My normal would never be the same again. Cancer will always be part of my story, part of who I am, and it took several years for me to assimilate that into my identity... and be OK with it.
What was most difficult for me: One of the most difficult things has been coming to terms with my infertility. Cancer may have stolen my ability to be pregnant, but it will not steal my hope. My husband and I have decided to grow our family via gestational surrogacy, and possibly adoption. I am determined to give my son a sibling and I refuse to let cancer stand in my way.
Where I am today: It took almost two years before I was ready to fully accept the fact that cancer, and surviving, was part of who I am. I attended two amazing Cervivor Schools in January 2016, which inspired me to DO something. I decided to become more active in my local cancer support community and to reach out to other women in Kentucky with cervical cancer. I want to continue to advocate, and spread awareness about HPV and cervical cancer. I want to make a difference.
What I want other women to know: - I want other women to know the importance of cancer screenings and the HPV vaccine.
- I want other women to know that there is no shame in this disease.
- I want other women to know that they are not alone.
**Note from Cervivor: Although the Physician Assistant recommended the HPV vaccine after Jessica tested positive for HPV, please note that the HPV vaccine is preventive and cannot treat existing HPV infections. The vaccine can, however, protect a person with HPV from becoming infected with additional types of HPV covered by the vaccine.
Check out Jessica in the media: http://www.kystandard.com/content/%E2%80%98cervivor%E2%80%99-encourages-education-about-hpv-cervical-cancer