How my story begins: As an artist, I’m always excited when I meet my health insurance deductible. To celebrate my deductible, I scheduled an annual health visit with "the works" - including a Pap test. Because I had never had an abnormal pap or STD, I had followed my doctor’s advice of getting a pap every 5 years. My doctor called me after my Pap and told me there were some "markers" - but she really didn’t think it was cancer. I was then sent to get a colposcopy, which was so painful I blacked out. The colposcopy was also inconclusive. Finally, I had a cold knife conization which confirmed that it was cancer.
Life before my diagnosis: I was happily living the artistic life in Los Angeles: performing, teaching standup, and running a small theater with my wonderful husband. I was especially looking forward to celebrating my 40th birthday by taking a trip to Spain and writing a one-woman show about all my craziest life stories.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was in complete and total shock. I will never forget the moment that the doctor called. It was around 10 PM on November 4, 2016. The doctor apologized for calling so late but she knew I was anxiously awaiting my cone results. Once she said the word "cancer," I couldn’t process anything else that she said. I couldn’t even speak the words to tell my husband. He sadly found out I had cancer when I flashed a thumbs down sign at him from across the room as my doctor continued to talk and try to calm me down.
Telling my family and friends: I called most of my close friends and family and told them directly. It was extremely difficult. I also decided that I wanted to share my experiences. I posted a lengthy Facebook update with my news and details of the difficult road ahead of me. The outpouring of support I received was amazing.
My treatment: I had a modified radical hysterectomy. This included removal of my fallopian tubes, cervix, uterus, and cutting two inches of my vagina. I also had to wear a catheter at home for a week.
How I felt after treatment: I had the full range of emotions after my treatment. I was extremely relieved that they got all of the cancer. I also felt like I’d just been hit by a train as everything had happened so fast. I’m still working on my emotional recovery. It also took me a good six months to physically recover from my hysterectomy. The hardest part was getting my energy back to normal. I kept thinking I was fully recovered, and trying to tackle things I shouldn't - like the the time I ridiculously tried to go to Ikea and ended up in an emergency wheelchair.
What was most difficult for me: It’s hard to pick just one thing. My father was also ill at the time and not able to come for my surgery. It was very hard to put the full weight of my recovery on my husband. Also, my husband and I were on the fence about having children and unfortunately cancer ultimately prevented us from moving forward with children. However, I think the most difficult part was facing my own mortality. While I could never think about that during cancer, as soon as I was cancer free, it was difficult to accept. It really hit me hard that I could have died. This is something I’m still trying to work through emotionally.
What I did to help myself: My friends and family and husband were my saving grace. I’m not normally one to ask for help, but in this case accepting the many forms of support absolutely helped me get through cancer. My incredible friends started a GoFundMe, which allowed me to take off work and rest. My amazing friends set up meals for the first month after my surgery. My family encouraged everyone to wear Wonder Woman buttons while I went through treatment to keep my spirits up. I also tried to get as much therapy as possible. The most rewarding gift I’ve given myself is writing my one-woman show about cancer. It’s been cathartic and it’s helped me to give back, which is extremely important to me
My life after cancer: I’m extremely grateful to be alive. That being said, I do have a significant change in my anxiety levels. I’m constantly working on noticing what triggers my anxiety and finding ways to get past it.
Where I am today: I am finally moving past some of the emotional setbacks and moving forward with my life. I’ve been feeling especially motivated to find ways to give back.
What I want other women to know: Getting a Pap test and annual gynecologic exam isn’t as bad as having cancer. Stop putting it off! And, vaccinate your kids. Know that you aren’t alone in these moments dealing with your health. There is a supportive Cervivor community available to help you!
How I will try to help others: I’m trying to find as many ways as possible to share my story through my show, “Lisa Gopman and the Deep Cervix of Doom.” I’m also looking at ways to work with my local cancer hospital to help women who might need a buddy or someone to talk to. Through my show and other projects, I plan to advocate and educate about HPV vaccination.
Any additional information you'd like to share: I had never had an abnormal pap or a positive HPV test. Cervical cancer can happen to anyone. Be your own life advocate and get your HPV and Pap exams and vaccinate your kids!!