How my story begins: My life before my diagnosis should have been the most carefree part of my life, but 9/11 had just happened and I was newly pregnant. I felt like this was certainly not the best time to be having a baby! Little did I know that my life was about to change.
I got pregnant by accident in July of 2001. I say by accident because we had been married for ten years already, my husband was ten years older than me and we really were not thinking of children. We kept waiting to be financially secure. Seems there were other forces at work though and boom, I got pregnant!
I peed on three sticks I was so shocked. Then I went for my actual exam to confirm and that's when my life changed. My Pap came back abnormal. My obgyn told me I had an STD called HPV and that she wanted to send me for a colposcopy just to be safe. STD??? Me???!!! Then she told me almost everyone had it and not to be ashamed.
By the time we found a doctor who was willing to do a colposcopy on a pregnant woman, it was December! Apparently it can cause a miscarriage. So I went and they did a biopsy and found out I had cervical cancer.
How I felt after diagnosis: Shock. Fear. I don't think there are strong enough words to convey what I felt. Not only was my life crumbling but the life of my one and only unborn child was crumbling.
Telling my family and friends: Telling my family was difficult because I had to do it over the phone. I had a wonderful support system of friends and they all vowed that they were going to help me through it. But I was still alone. Not many people then had been given a cancer diagnosis during a pregnancy.
My treatment: I could not be staged because I was pregnant so we had no idea what I was going to need treatment wise. My oncologist, Dr. Curtin, was amazing. He told me he would get me as safely along in the pregnancy as he could, which he did. He and my perinatolgist were in constant contact. They did an aminocentesis at 32 weeks to check lung viability. Everything seemed fine so they delivered my son at 34 weeks and did an immediate radical hysterectomy. They left my ovaries in because of my age but they biopsied them along with everything else they took out. Once the results came back I was told my margins and nodes were clear so no further treatment was needed. Stage 1B1 was my final stage.
How I felt after treatment: I was a hormonal mess the day we found out I wouldn't need chemo or radiation. I was breastfeeding my newborn and crying tears of joy and relief. Eventually though, the fear of the other shoe dropping set in.
What was most difficult for me: Two things are still most difficult for me. One is my inability to have anymore biological children. I feel very selfish even voicing this considering other women's inability to have none. But it is a real struggle emotionally.
The other very difficult thing I still struggle with is how easy my battle seems compared to other women. I do have horrible survivor's guilt, even this many years out.
What I did to help myself: I found an amazing woman named Tamika Felder who was doing everything she could to help women like me and so many others. She truly saved me from myself.
My life after cancer: I've tried to not dwell on the "woulda," "coulda," "shouldas" from the past. I've tried to live my life as fully as possible, to make each moment count. It seems cliche to actually write it but I think a lot of cancer patients feel the same way.
Where I am today: I'm 16 years out!!! My baby boy is thriving and DRIVING! Life is different today in so many ways. I'm different too. Healing emotionally is still a work in progress but it's steady.
What I want other women to know: That they don't have to go through it alone and that their health is an important thing to keep up on. But most importantly that we have a chance to see this killer eradicated in our lifetime!
How I will try to help others: I do as much as I can to educate women about the importance of early detection and HPV awareness, as well as how important vaccinating our kids is.