How my story begins: I went in for my normal Pap test on October 25, 2011. My family doctor asked if I was having unusual symptoms because she had noticed bleeding after my exam. Nothing was abnormal to me, since I had brought abnormalities to her attention on previous visits. i.e. spotting, extremely light menstrual cycle, and cramping.
I received abnormal Pap test results, which was nothing unusual to me. I had abnormal tests for years, but this time, HPV was detected. My doctor suggested getting further testing.
In November 2011, I had a colposcopy and cervical biopsy. When the results came back, my gynecologist advised me to schedule a LEEP procedure to remove the abnormal cells. I opted to wait until the New Year since she didn't think it was cancer. On January 6, 2012, I had the LEEP procedure and my results came back very quickly. On January 9, my gynecologist called and was very persistent with meeting with me. That evening, I was diagnosed with stage 1 squamous cell carcinoma. She then referred me to a gynecologist oncologist.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt like my whole world was spinning in front of me and left the doctor's office in a fog of uncertainty. I was told it was caught early, therefore it was treatable and left me with a couple of options: a cone procedure or a hysterectomy. I was told chemotherapy or radiation therapy would not be needed as long as the cancer didn’t spread.
I would have never thought at the age of 34 I would be diagnosed with cancer and have such a difficult decision to make.
With the first option, choosing the cone procedure, I would still be able to have a baby, but the final result would end with a hysterectomy. I went back and forth with pros and cons: I was told as long as I could conceive, I would have a greater chance of miscarriage and also be on bed rest, but if they did not get all of the cancer, it could spread. This concerned me - how much was I willing to risk my health and/or my unborn child’s?
The second option was to get a hysterectomy, which would prevent be from ever giving birth to my own child.
This was such a heart wrenching experience and I had a difficult time with my decision but at least I had options.
On January 23, 2012, I had another appointment that would change everything. My oncologist said that it is a moderate to severe aggressive form of cancer and set up appointments for a PET and CT scan. The PET scan was not authorized by my insurance company so I had a CT scan of my abdomen, pelvis and chest.
Results were ready on February 1, 2012 and as far as my oncologist could tell regarding my scan, the cancer had not spread. He would have liked me to get the PET scan, but the insurance company denied the request and it was too expensive to pay out of pocket. He said it is a very controversial topic with insurance companies, but he would have gotten a better reading and been able to see more. It is infuriating that insurance companies can dictate our healthcare.
Since I didn't have clean margins, the option of the cone procedure concerned my oncologist. So I made the decision to have a hysterectomy.
Telling my family and friends: I only told some family members and a few close friends. I didn't want pity and to be known as "the girl with cancer." I also felt shameful of my diagnosis so I kept it secret.
My treatment: On March 15, 2012, I went through a modified radical robotic hysterectomy and a pelvic lymphadenectomy, which took out my cervix, uterus, surrounding tissues, the top of my vagina, and the surrounding lymph nodes. I still have my ovaries because I wanted the choice to freeze my eggs to possibly get a surrogate and also so it didn't kick me into immediate menopause.
What was most difficult for me: In the year before my diagnosis, I had thoughts of having another child, with hopes of having a girl. I even gave my unborn daughter a name - First name: Sydney; Middle name: Hazel.
I was so mad at myself for always overthinking and analyzing why or why not to have another child but finally came to the conclusion that my blessing is my one and only son.He was only 12 years old and didn't understand what was going on, but I was 100% open and honest with him about all of it.
Within the first week of knowing I had cancer, my best friend called to tell me she was pregnant. This set me into an emotional whirlwind. Having cancer almost ended one of the best friendships I have ever known.
My husband was distant and didn’t give much support unless I brought the subject to surface and I went to appointments alone. I’ve always been independent but I needed companionship and didn’t know how to ask for it. We were both scared.
I felt that some days were easier than others. I pretended to be happy and forced a smile every day because I didn't want people to know what I was going through.
My life after cancer: I went back to work May 10, 2012 and went back full force. For a year and a half, I worked three jobs to escape my reality and in November 2012, I started getting dizzy spells. After many tests and doctor visits, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in February 2014. I honestly think I needed more time off from my surgery and should have spoken with a therapist before rushing back into my busy lifestyle.
Where I am today: I am surviving and thriving through advocacy. My son has grown to be a kind and compassionate young adult, my best friend has a beautiful daughter that calls me auntie, and my husband supports all of my advocacy work.
How I will try to help others: Having cancer was a very dark and lonely time in my life. No one deserves to feel shameful of a cancer diagnosis. I raise awareness for women to get screened so they can catch any cell changes or cancer early like I did. I talk about HPV and recommend people speak to their physician about the HPV vaccine for both boys and girls.