Location: Ohio

Cancerversary: April 2021

Age at diagnosis: 35

Diagnosis: Cervical cancer (unspecified)

Stage of cancer: III

How my story begins: Aside from being brand new to Cincy, we also found out I was pregnant and expecting our second child. The excitement was a great relief to the sadness we felt having to leave the vineyard. At my 17 week appointment, my pap came back irregular but my doctor seemed fairly certain it was nothing and noted that women in their late 30s can tend to get irregular pap results and everything is fine. She had me come in for a colposcopy and said she’s give me a call as soon as she got the results.

It’s all such a blurb now but I very much remember thinking, “My gyno calling me at 7:30pm on Tuesday night is not a good sign.” She asked if my husband was home and to be on speaker. “Your colposcopy came back positive for cancerous cells. You have cervical cancer.” I screamed. I fell to the floor on my knees, crying at my husband’s feet. What did this mean for me? What did this mean for our unborn baby? Well, it meant that life was about to change forever.

Life before my diagnosis: We had recently moved to Cincinnati for our daughter to have access to one of the best Autism programs in the country at Cincinnati Children’s. Before her official diagnosis, we were living on Martha’s Vineyard and if I am being completely honest, it has been the only place I’ve lived where I felt completely at home; I felt safe & whole. However, whole and safe and at home I felt paled in comparison to doing whatever needed to be done for my daughter.

How I felt after diagnosis: It is the most surreal experience in your life to be told you have cancer. I don’t think there are really enough words or rather, the appropriate types of words to explain that feeling. I felt numb and terrified and all I kept thinking was “I can’t die and leave my daughter. She’s a mama’s girl, she can’t grow up without me. I can’t leave her.” No matter the type of cancer you have or the stage, I feel like all you hear is “I am going to die.”

Telling my family and friends: We called our parents the moment we hung up the phone with my gyno and told them. My step mother and father were silent but also very comforting. As a parent, I could only imagine the absolute horror of having your child call to tell you they have cancer. My mother & father-in-law were just as comforting and in shock as my parents. Our siblings were beside themselves and we all just kind of felt very lost and so so so sad.

My treatment: I was in my oncologist’s office 6 days after I was diagnosed and he got me set up for my port surgery the following week and I was to start to chemotherapy as a bridge to get me through my pregnancy and to the other side, which would be a radical hysterectomy.

I started chemo in my second trimester and had a severe allergic reaction to the Taxol on my first round. I was in chemo alone because of COVID and all I could think as I was passing out was that I am going to die alone in this fucking chair with nobody I love to hold my hand.

I didn’t die but I did end up in the hospital for 7 days at a time after each round because I had the shingles. Apparently, the shingles I had was one of the worst cases any the doctors (soooo many doctors) had ever seen. After my fourth round of chemo, my gynonc decided to stop the chemo because the tumor was shrinking and the risk wasn’t worth it and I agreed. We stopped chemo and focused solely on making sure I made it to 35 weeks to be able to deliver via c-section and have the radical hysterectomy at the same time.

After pathology came back from my hysterectomy, the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I needed to continue with six more rounds of chemo and 28 rounds of radiation. There isn’t enough time in the day or space on this form to express how beyond difficult treatment was for me. It was fucking horrible and painful and no person should ever have to go through that much to try to stay alive. It’s not fair.

How I felt after treatment: I feel like a completely different person. I look at old pictures of me and I miss her but I don’t really know her anymore. I feel like I have one foot on the “onward & upward plane” and the other on “everything I feel wrong in my body is probably cancer and I am going to die.” It’s an awful way to live but it’s the reality of what cancer does to you.

What was most difficult for me: Not being able to be present for my kids. My daughter was starting a new program for her Autism, my son was in the NICU and I was either lied out in a hospital bed or in so much pain, I could hardly move around my house. Mom guilt is hard enough but mom guilt while you’re a cancer patient is a whole other level of guilt.

What I did to help myself: Therapy, therapy, medical marijuana, therapy and uh, I don’t know if I mentioned it already but therapy.

Also, getting the right mix of meds. I can’t stress enough how much SSRIs have made my life so much more manageable. There is NO shame in needing to take any type of meds to help with your mental health and/or your hormones.

My life after cancer: I don’t think that’s a thing. Cancer is forever a part of you; even when you’re NED. Life after active treatment? It’s kind of a mess and also just as difficult to navigate as active treatment. I am chronically ill from all sorts of odd reactions and side effects of chemo & rads. It’s tough to not be as able bodied as you once were.

Where I am today: I am here. I am so happy I am alive for my babies and happy to see their faces each day.

What I want other women to know: That you’re not alone and this does really suck and it’s not fair and you can scream, cry all you want because you don’t deserve this. But - you’re going to do your best and some days your best is just waking up, taking your meds and going back to sleep. Give yourself grace. This is so hard but you can do hard things. We’re women, after all. Come on, now.

How I will try to help others: Being an honest shoulder to cry on. I found the most comfort from other patients who were very, brutally honest with me about how they felt and how treatment affected them.