How my story begins: I married just before my 41st birthday, hoping for one last shot at having a child. Within two months of my marriage, we needed to leave our home, due to foreclosure. We were one of many victims near the end of the recession.
Not long after, my department at my job of 15 years was dissolved due to restructuring. I was helping take care of my mom, who was diagnosed with dementia, and everything in my life continued to collapse. Mom was my best friend. I spent every free hour I had researching dementia and every possible way I could honor my mom by keeping her on this Earth. I also needed to rebuild and this included continuing my education to complete my master's. But that had to wait, just like everything else.
It seemed like I was constantly sick. I had viral and bacterial infections. But I was also having painful pelvic pain just after my periods would end - a pain so severe, I would be on the ground in a tight ball. My gynecologist couldn't pinpoint the cause. In 2013, my HPV became active again. I was surprised because I was clear since 1991, when I was treated for dysplasia at 20. I had a cervical biopsy but it was clear. The following year, my period abruptly stopped, to my doctor's surprise, and I was officially in menopause. My hopes for motherhood were suddenly over. I didn't think about my Paps, because I was depressed about menopause and the clear biopsy gave me false hope. My pelvic pain seemed to ease up as well. I thought I was out of the woods.
A year later, I came home from work one day to find my eldest fur baby in the process of dying. I rushed him to the vet where he died in my arms. Exactly one week later, my mom, who was my best friend, passed. Her loss triggered my asthma and was unable to clear my respiratory infections. I came home one night after work and the pelvic pain was back. I was on the floor hoping 800mg of Motrin would help. It didn't. The pain radiated down my left leg. I started spotting. I now was post-menopausal and spotting.
I got an appointment for a Pap within a couple of days, but had to be rushed to the E.R. for an asthma attack. I was admitted for a week. My gyno called while I was in the hospital and told me they found glandular cells and it was highly abnormal. I needed an endometrial biopsy. Unable to go under anesthesia because my lungs needed six weeks to recover, I had ultrasounds and my biopsy the end of May 2017. She called to tell me I had endometrial adenocarcinoma and needed a total hysterectomy. I was home alone, and all I could think was, I've literally lost everything and now I lose my womanhood, too? Surgery was July 17th. I woke up in a room in the hospital on the same floor as maternity. Nice, eh? I held my massively bloated pelvis with robotic punctures and surgi-tape while new daddies ran down the hall with flowers and new baby stuffed animals. The sound of wailing newborns filled the hallways. The juxtaposition of my hell and their heaven was too much to bear. The next few days were a blur at home until I received an email from my patient portal. I opened it to find my path report. The words, URGENT URGENT URGENT made me swoon. It wasn't endometrial adenocarcinoma, it was endocervical adenocarcinoma 1b1 grade 2 of 3. I was called back in. They apologized to me. I was supposed to have a radical, and now they needed to do high dose radiation with chemo. I'll be honest, I didn't handle my treatment well. I had horrible rectal bleeding and vomiting and GERD. After surgery and during treatment, I felt more like a part of a data set as opposed to a human being with an invasive cancer diagnosis. And I had to have a lot more than I originally bargained for. I believe oncology teams need to use a holistic/macro approach to healing which includes the whole person. Calling and checking on a patient might have been nice. Your team needs to be there to pick up the pieces, too.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was completely alone and numb. My instinct to survive kicked in and I knew that even though they say, "No one fights alone," essentially, we really do fight alone.
Telling my family and friends: I was honest and blunt. My discovery leads to their discovery through sharing.
My treatment: Complete S/P Robotic assisted hysterectomy followed by daily high dose radiation and concurrent weekly chemotherapy.
How I felt after treatment: I felt fatigued, exhausted, and nauseous and I had constant UTIs and rectal bleeding. I was iagnosed with radiation proctitis, radiation sensitivity to the urinary tract with narrowing of my urethra, which needed dilation during surgery. I've been in ortho physical therapy because my degenerative disc and joint disease was worsened by pelvic radiation and there is nothing they can do to make it better. The goal is if I have reduced pain for a few hours post pt, then it's successful.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult thing I deal with is not feeling like a woman anymore and the fallout from radiation proctitis this day. I know I'm a woman, but the mind cannot reason away what the heart feels.
What I did to help myself: I felt that my mom was there with me in spirit through the whole thing. Remembering her love and encouragement gave me what I needed to drive to treatment every day, eat what little I could manage, and keep up with my walks. Anything to feel some semblance of normalcy.
Where I am today: Cancer changed everything and I don't think that comes as a surprise to anyone touched by the disease. My master's degree program is halted because of post-radiation issues, depression, and chronic asthma-related illness. But I've shared my story with so many people that I've been asked by some to be present for their loved ones who are completing their journey. I met a cervical cancer patient named Stephanie. I helped her deal with her final days and I was honored to be at her side before she passed. I freely include clients in discussions about HPV awareness and screening. It's almost like I feel obligated to do so. Life after cancer is about taking every day step by step and not taking anything for granted.
What I want other women to know: Never ignore bleeding between periods and especially if you're post-menopausal. You know your body better than anyone and sometimes you need to let your intuition be your guide. Speak up! Don't wait to get help!
How I will try to help others: I use social media to inform and educate. HPV screenings, vaccines, Pap test, and most importantly...advocate for yourself and your health.