How my story begins: My husband and I had retired young. My husband had a heart attack and bypass at 53. When he was 55 and I was 53, in 2001, we demolished our family cottage on the shores of Georgian Bay and built our dream retirement home. Five grown children, seven grandchildren, relatively healthy and happy years pursued. Then the bottom fell out and our golden years basket. In 2012, my husband was diagnosed with dementia. We were shocked!! I was watching his memories slowly fade away, so sad watching the man you met at fourteen and married at 18 fade away. Then on May 26th, 2015, my oldest daughter was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. Her battle began. On that very same day, I noticed my first drop of blood on the toilet tissue!
I put the spotting off as stress and attended every chemo session with my daughter, completely ignoring the increased spotting as she went through her treatments, which included chemo, double mastectomy and radiation. Her treatments were completed in mid-January. That is when I called for an appointment with a gyn. My appointment was the end of January. She saw something and did a Pap smear and biopsy at the same appointment. Results came back and I was called to come in to discuss. On February 18th, I was told I had high grade squamous cell cervical cancer and was referred to our nearest Cancer Centre.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was in shock!!! My first thought was who was going to look after my husband? My next thought was why!! I thought this was a sexually transmitted disease, my husband was my only partner, we were married for 48 years in what I believe was a monogamous relationship. Then for a while, I was angry, wondering about my husband’s fidelity. Then I started to research if I could have gotten it while receiving blood transfusions after double knee replacement. I knew hepatitis C and HIV were, so what about HPV? I found a research project that showed HPV DNA was found in blood, but no connection of it being transferred that way. And HPV is so common, blood donations are not screened for HPV. Eventually I released the How and the Why of the disease to focus on the treatment!!
Telling my family and friends: It was difficult to tell my family, especially my oldest daughter who just finished her battle with the beast!!! But they all rallied around, surrounding me with love and support!!!
My treatment: And so my story begins. I was scheduled for CT scans and an MRI. I was staged at 2b squamous cell cervical cancer. Treatment was to be 5 chemo sessions, 28 external radiation treatments and 5 brachytherapy. I was so concerned how I was going to be able to manage all this. By 2016, my husband needed full-time care and that caregiver was me!! But I have been blessed with five children, and one of our daughters moved in full time for 2-1/2 months to care for me and my husband. On radiation days, we all made the hour drive to the cancer centre and she would wait in the waiting room while I went in for treatment. On chemo days, with the five hour treatment and the two hour drive there and back, another daughter or our son would stay at the house with my husband. The same happened on the days I went for brachytherapy.
How I felt after treatment: So relieved after that last treatment!!! Wanted to get my life back to normal. But my bowels gave me issues, partial blockage. My cervix was scarred shut and filled with fluid and blood, causing great pressure and swelling of the abdomen! The only plus to having this happen was I was given a CT scan which revealed the scarring and narrowing of the bowel and the cervix scarred shut, but no tumour!!!! In Canada, routine scans are not done after treatment, only if there are symptoms. Now I finally knew there was no visible cancer!!! Two years out, I still can not eat fibre as it constipates me. I take daily medication to prevent constipation and blocked bowels. My cervical scarring cured itself when the pressure built up so much that the fluid was released! The radiation left me with osteopenia in the pelvic area, severe hip and lower back pain. In August, I will be having a hip replacement.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult thing for me is caring for my husband 24 hours a day with my own health problems. But I am thankful to be alive and to have a wonderful family.
What I did to help myself: Never give up hope. Find something you like to do that gives you pleasure and satisfaction. Something that gives you purpose.
My life after cancer: I am a caregiver. I enjoy visits from family and friends. I intend to keep my husband at home for as long as I can manage. It is getting harder. It is a long goodbye. I am now his mother. He calls me mother. For relaxation, I enjoy refinishing and painting furniture and working in my garden.
Where I am today: Seven months after treatment, we sold our retirement home and moved closer to family and to better health care. In the small rural town where we lived, there was limited healthcare available. I am still coping with radiation side effects and being a full-time caregiver. I am looking into a local Adult Day Programme for my husband so I have some time to socialize and get out in the world a little and enjoy being a survivor.
What I want other women to know: Cervical cancer can happen to any woman who has ever had a sexual experience. There should be no stigma to this type of cancer!
How I will try to help others: By sharing my story, I hope to help others. All my daughters and all my grandchildren have had the HPV shots and I am so proud of them for doing it!!! I hope to see cervical cancer and other HPV cancers disappear in my lifetime! No one needs to go through this - there is a prevention!!!