Cancerversary: February

Age at diagnosis: 37

Diagnosis: Recurrent metastatic cancer

Stage of cancer: I

How my story begins: My story actually began when I was 18 years old and diagnosed with HPV. I was young and diagnosed at Planned Parenthood. I didn't know what it meant and I didn't tell anyone at all. There was no treatment and no direction from my doctors. I just went on to live my life like normal. Over the years I went in for regular Pap tests and even had a baby with no issues what so ever.

When I was 37 years old, a newly wed and trying to conceive with no luck, I went to see my gynecologist and it was then that abnormal cells were once again found. After the routine LEEP and CONE, it was determined that I had adenocarcinoma in situ. A hysterectomy was recommended. I consulted with a gynecological oncologist who tried to remove the cancer cells with another cone before we went the hysterectomy route, but was unsuccessful. In March of 2016 I had a partial hysterectomy where my uterus and cervix were removed. The final pathology report came back with results of adenocarcinoma in my cervix stage 1A1. No further treatment was needed and I was told that the chances of recurrence were under 5%.

In September of 2019, a little over three years after my hysterectomy, a large mass was found in my abdomen on my right ovary during a routine ultrasound check up. Blood work confirmed that my cancer counters were up and I was scheduled for another surgery to remove the mass and potentially my ovaries and fallopian tubes. Final pathology reports came back as a worst case scenario: my very early stage cervical cancer had metastasized in my right ovary.

Life before my diagnosis: Life before my diagnosis was pretty sweet. I married my first husband young and had a beautiful baby boy, who is now 18 years old! I remarried in 2015 and was living a pretty wonderful life. I was young, successful and most importantly healthy. The only thing missing was adding a new member to our family, and my husband and I were happily trying to make that addition.

How I felt after diagnosis: For me, being diagnosed twice came with a different reaction both times around. Initially, after my first diagnosis, I was crushed in regards to my fertility and what this meant for me. As a young, newly married woman, having a hysterectomy can be traumatic for anyone. Add cancer into the mix and I felt like I was being robbed of my chances to have a family with my husband. Because I didn't have any other treatment besides the hysterectomy, my anger was focused on the fertility aspects of the situation and I didn't really focus much on the fact that I had cancer. I knew I was a survivor, but I felt more robbed of my chances to have a baby than anything. I certainly did not feel like a survivor.

After my second diagnosis, I was absolutely terrified. I had been told a recurrence was the worst case scenario, and I honestly thought I might die. I didn't know what to expect, I knew at least chemo treatments would be involved, and honestly it was one of the darkest times of my life. I just didn't know what to do, or what the rest of my life had in store for me.

Telling my family and friends: When I was first diagnosed in 2016, telling my friends and family was super hard. I remember not even being able to tell my parents. My sister had to tell them for me! I couldn't take or make calls. Telling my husband was the worst part because not only was I having to undergo a hysterectomy because I possibly had cancer, but we also both knew what it meant as far as our chance for having a baby. Being diagnosed the second time around, although it was SO TOUGH for me, I decided before I announced it to my friend and family that I was going to be a fighter. So I made rules and told everyone I didn't want anyone feeling sorry for me! Only good and positive thoughts were welcomed. It helped because I then had a team of wonderful and caring people behind me, rallying for me every day.

My treatment: As stated above, the initial treatment for my diagnosis was a partial hysterectomy. At that time we left my ovaries and fallopian tubes, because of my age and the fact that I was still hoping to have a baby. I knew my eggs were still viable and I had plans of possibly freezing them and/or in vitro fertilization. After my recurrence a total hysterectomy was completed, where my tubes and both ovaries were removed along with the large mass,, several lymph nodes and a fat panel in my abdomen. About 8 weeks later we started a very aggressive chemotherapy regimen where I received three different medications, (Cisplatin, Taxol and Avastin) every three weeks. In total I had 6 treatments over a 16 week period and lost all of my hair. I am still receiving an infusion of Avastin once every three weeks as a preventive medication for at least the next two years, possibly three.

How I felt after treatment: My last chemo treatment was in January of 2020. Physically I didn't feel like myself, but mentally I was still in fight mode. Once I got the CANCER FREE diagnosis in February, I was a new woman with a new lease on life. Together with my oncologist we decided to continue the preventative treatments over the next couple of years to help ensure that my cancer does not come back. The preventative treatments are not as harsh on my body as chemo was, other than delayed healing of wounds and some muscle soreness, I am on the road to being back to my new normal. Of course the hole from the loss of what could have been will always be there (as far as fertility is concerned), but I am a proud CERVIVOR!

What was most difficult for me: This entire experience has been one of the most difficult journeys of my life, but losing the opportunity to have another child has been the most devastating part of my journey. It has not only been devastating for me, but for my husband and my son as well, as we all dreamed of growing our family.

What I did to help myself: Stayed as positive as possible. I had to live by a mantra of not feeling sorry for myself. I surrounded myself with those who uplifted and rallied behind me, and sometimes that meant cutting out some negativity from my life. In respects to my newly found infertility I looked for ways to fulfill that part of my life that I felt was missing. One option that my husband and I are considering is possibly using one of my sisters eggs (and using her as a surrogate) to fulfill our dream of expanding our family.

My life after cancer: Life after cancer is definitely not the same. I won't let cancer define me, but it has shaped me. Physically, because I am so 'fresh' off chemo and still in preventative treatment, it's been tough to bounce back. I am still working on myself both emotionally and physically. It's a daily job, but I try to give myself as much love as possible.

Where I am today: Today, I am officially, for the second time CANCER FREE!! It's been a year exactly since my recurrence diagnosis and 7 months since I was told I was in remission. I am 6 months into preventative treatments and working every day to physically and mentally strengthen myself.

What I want other women to know: I want other women to first and foremost be an advocate for their own health. It is so important to take care of yourself and get your checkups and Pap tests on a regular basis. If you feel like something is off, get it checked out. You know your body best. Also, to any other woman out there with cervical cancer, remember not to give up! You are your strongest supporter. Your attitude will help shape your journey. It's going to be tough and there will be really bad days, but remember that there is a sisterhood standing behind you.

How I will try to help others: I am an active volunteer for the American Cancer Society and now a panelist for the Cervical Cancer Summit. I want to use my journey as a platform to build advocacy for the disease and to raise funds for cancer research. I am a proud survivor and hope to use my story to inspire others around me.