How my story begins: My life before my diagnosis was pretty routine. I did everything I was supposed to do. I had a faithful relationship with my husband and I was the last person who ever thought they would end up getting some type of cervical cancer from HPV strain 18. I was raising my kids, was happily married and life was just really good.
In November 2013, I went in for my Pap test and everything was clear. Several months after that, I started having discharge and other symptoms including lower back pain. I went to my family doctor to get an MRI done on my back and during the MRI, the radiologist saw a possible tumor and sent me in for a ultrasound. During the ultrasound, they found a mass and sent me to my gynecologist. Two weeks later, I was notified that I had adenocarcinoma stage 1B1 with poorly differentiated cells.
This cancer grew very fast. I was always good about getting regular Paps and this came up within 5 to 6 months of a normal Pap test and was up to a 3 cm tumor when it was discovered.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt fear and I felt like I was going to die because I heard the word cancer. It scared me how aggressive it was. I went through several emotions at first when I was told and I went into a form of denial and then I had anger and then I had depression. But then I started looking at options and I started getting the strength to say "I'm going to fight this and I'm going to beat this. I have a family that I love and a husband that I love and I'm going to survive this!"
Telling my family and friends: I felt it was important to be open and honest about it and we told everybody right away. Some people were supportive and others stayed away. I felt like they didn't know what to say and they also were afraid of even hearing the word cancer. It really sets into perspective the people you can count on and the ones you can't.
My treatment: I had a 5-1/2 hour surgery where they did a radical hysterectomy and removed 22 lymph nodes, as well as part of my parametrial wall and vaginal wall. The tumor was very vascular and I lost a lot of blood. But the doctor felt she got everything she could see with the naked eye. My stuff was sent to the pathologist and I was given an all clear with no cancer showing up in any of my markers.
How I felt after treatment: I felt relieved in some way, but I also felt and I still feel fear for the fact it can return. Having my woman parts taken out has been hard on me physically and emotionally, I don't feel like a woman as much anymore. I'm living with prolapsed bowel, a prolapsed bladder and a back condition that has gotten a lot worse since the surgery. I am also living with depression, anxiety and PTSD from time to time because of the diagnosis itself and like I said, the fear that it could return.
What was most difficult for me: The recovery was difficult and I still have problems from time to time. I have ongoing issues because of the radical hysterectomy and the aftereffects from it. Hearing the word cancer set a fear in me. Sometime I feel alone because I can't really express myself. I'm dealing with hormonal issues and all the ups and downs are very hard. My whole body has changed since I have had everything removed.
What I did to help myself: I did two articles since then. I also have a support group I run and a website I started called www.tealladiesmovemountains.com. I run a group for all gynecological cancers and I campaign and do speeches on awareness for American Cancer Society. I also recommend the shots for all children to protect them against these horrible HPV-related cancers.
My life after cancer: I have my good days and my bad days. Sometimes it's a struggle to get through some of my days. My pain is bad and my energy levels are low, but I still push on no matter what and I try to help as many people around the world as I can. It also helps to have a good support system. I have a very loving husband. He's been there for me and since I've had my cancer treatment, I have had two grandchildren born. So many good things have happened since my cancer diagnosis, so these things give me a reason to keep going when I'm having bad days.
Where I am today: I believe my cancer diagnosis and treatment have made me a stronger woman. I had many fears before, but now I face things a lot differently. I don't like to fly but I've since flown. I am taking on other things that I didn't want to deal with in the past so I am much better at facing my fears now.
What I want other women to know: What I want other women to know is that they need to stay on top of their bodies when things don't feel right. They need to go get checked out and be their own advocates. Make sure they get their Pap tests done and demand an HPV test to be done, even if the doctor doesn't want to do it. It's their bodies and they need to make sure that they are properly taking care of them.
How I will try to help others: Other than my support group that I am doing, I dedicate a lot of time to bringing cervical cancer and HPV awareness to the forefront. I've had many women tell me that because of me they've been able to deal with the cancer they have better. Many women have gone to get checkups and some have found early stage cancer. So I feel that what I am doing is also saving lives. This is now my calling and I'm not going to stop until there is a cure for this type of cancer. I want to also focus on all gynecological cancers. We need to start talking about this. Since I started my campaign, there are even commercials on TV about HPV - so we are making headway!
Any additional information you'd like to share: My website is www.tealladiesmovemountains.com. I am also on Facebook.