How my story begins: I am a mother, wife, and an artist. In 2013, at the age of 54, I decided to go back to school to get a masters degree in occupational therapy. For me it would be a three year, year round course of study (86 credits). On March 14, 2016, I had finished all of my coursework and was in my last week of my first of two twelve week clinical rotations. I was just getting ready to leave the clinic I was interning at. I stood up from my desk and felt the familiar (but not in 5 years) feeling of "menstruating."
I knew immediately that something was wrong and went to the ER on the way home. They did an internal exam, blood work and an external ultrasound and said everything was "unremarkable." They scheduled me to follow up with a gynecologist the following week.
At the gynecologist, they performed a biopsy. Ouch! Results showed some abnormalities, but still nothing specific. They scheduled me for a D&C with colposcopy.
When I came out of surgery the doctor told me my uterus looked "fluffy." That was about all he could say. I wonder now how he could not see that my whole cervix was a tumor!!!
I was scheduled for a follow-up visit 10 days later and since no one from the office called with any 'news,' I assumed they did not find anything. WRONG! Because of my assumption, I also did not bring anyone with me to this appointment.
I was completely blindsided by this doctor with the news that I had cancer. Oh and by the way, it is not the more common squamous cell but rather a rarer more aggressive adenocarcinoma.
How I felt after diagnosis: I left the office in a state of shock of which I still have not recovered.
Telling my family and friends: How could I tell my family? My husband's mother had died from ovarian cancer when he was 18. How to tell him?
For my two children, it was heartbreaking to tell them. My daughter's worst fear in life is losing me. It was hard. We are a very close family.
My treatment: Treatment began with a radical hysterectomy with removal of my ovaries. We had hoped that would be it because the PET scan had not lit up much. WRONG. The full thickness of my cervix was cancer - 6 of 20 lymph nodes were microscopically involved and my margins were not clear.
After a second opinion at Brigham & Womens Hospital in Boston, we decided to be aggressive with treatment and do an extended field of radiation - 30 rounds along with the 6 Cisplatin. Towards the end of treatment I was hospitalized twice for diarrhea, both times for about a week. The second time, a PICC line was inserted and I was put on TPN (total parenteral nutrition - given through an IV) and not allowed any food.
How I felt after treatment: After treatment, I was housebound on the TPN for 10 weeks. The pain, diarrhea and nausea would not subside. I kept praying the weeks away hoping the radiation would stop effecting me. I was on morphine for pain and anti-nausea drugs even though I was not eating food. My bowels were a mess. Finally I saw a gastroenterologist and he convinced me to just eat and my bowels cooperated. They will never be the same, but hey, I'm okay with how they are working right now.
What was most difficult for me: The radiation and diarrhea were the most difficult. It was all pretty bad. I was being driven over an hour each way every day for treatment 5 days a week. The chemo was terrible and gave me diarrhea and made me nauseous. I had the decadron cries all day every Monday for 6 weeks. I needed extra fluids once a week for most of the six weeks.
What I did to help myself: As a soon to be occupational therapist, I did everything in my toolkit to prepare and help myself. But nothing prepared me for the depths of what this did to me. I really thought I might die. I got down to 95 pounds. I prayed and was prayed for, did acupuncture, talking therapy, hypnosis, meditation, coloring, nutrition, went to an oncology naturopath for added support, medical marijuana, and more.
Where I am today: I am still physically recovering. I am also hoping to get back in the next month to finish my last 12 week clinical occupational therapy field work placement. My first CT scan is next week and I am admittedly terrified.
What I want other women to know: I felt completely healthy with no symptoms until that moment I bled. Yes - I knew that 25 years earlier I had a bad Pap test and had HPV. I also had 24 years of clear tests. It had been 2 years since my last Pap when this happened, which was within the new guidelines. I wish I had been more proactive, especially when I found out my ex-husband's wife had cervical cancer. Although I had not had many partners, in the end, I had all the partners that my ex-husband previously had.
How I will try to help others: I have always been a person that lives to help others. I hope through my journey along with my role as an occupational therapist I can help many women.