How my story begins: I was diagnosed with Stage 2A Cervical Cancer at the end of January 2017. A few weeks earlier, the love of my life proposed to me and I was the happiest I had been in a long time. I was working towards a career that I loved and things seemed to be going so great.
A month before my diagnosis, I visited a gynecologist for a routine Pap smear that I was behind on. The entire previous year, I had been having irregular bleeding and cramping, which previous doctors told me was caused from "over-active ovaries/ovulation." A week after my Pap smear, my doctor called and wanted to schedule a colposcopy because my Pap was abnormal. This didn't alarm me since this had happened in the past and I was always told that I had changes in the cells but my body would fight it off. The last Pap smear I had was around 3 years earlier and that one came back normal.
As the doctor recommended, I had the colposcopy and about 5 days later, my doctor's nurse called saying I needed to come in the next morning to discuss the results. A part of me felt scared and another part of me felt like maybe this was just protocol and they have everyone come in to discuss results. So the next morning, my fiance and I headed down to see my doctor and that was the day that my world stopped spinning. All I can really remember is sitting there nodding my head and squeezing my fiance's hand as my doctor explained that all 5 of my biopsies came back invasive cancer. It's funny how a few words can completely change your life.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was devastated, scared, and most of all, I was angry with my body. I was so mad that my body was trying to fail me.
Telling my family and friends: Telling my parents was extremely hard. It hurt me because all I could think about was if it were one of my children coming to me with that kind of news. Telling my children was a difficult task as well, being they were all so young (my oldest was 8, youngest was 4). I had to explain it in a way to simplify it so that they wouldn't be scared.
My treatment: My treatment started immediately after I met my oncology team in early February. I went in for surgery to have my ovaries moved up out of the radiation field to hopefully prevent menopause. One week later, I had my port placed, and two weeks after that, I started chemo and radiation. Treatment was rough for me. I was constantly nauseous and tired, and I always felt like my blood pressure was low. My skin felt tender and bruised and I could barely muster up the energy to get out of bed. In the beginning, the hardest part about radiation was actually getting out of bed and going. My treatment took place an hour away from where I lived, so I traveled 2 hours every day for radiation. Brachytherapy was the worst for me. I had 5 of these sessions and each session completely drained me. These were the days that I wanted to give up the most. The steroids I was given throughout treatment caused so much swelling in my face, I hardly recognized myself.
How I felt after treatment: Once treatment ended in mid-April, I slowly started feeling more like myself. The swelling in my face started going down and I felt that I could do a little more throughout the day. I felt sad though. My life had been in fast forward all this time and now that it was over, I finally had time to sit back and reflect on all I had just went through. This only made me hate my body more for putting me through that kind of hell. This is the weaker side of me that my family and friends don't see, but that I wish they understood. I was and always will be scared for my life from now on. The anxiety and depression caused from this is unbearable some days.
What was most difficult for me: There are so many things in my life that are difficult for me even now. Despite the very first surgery I had, my body still went into menopause, which seemed hardly fair for someone my age. My bladder causes me pain every single day and I have cramps often (similar to period cramps). My hips ache all the time and I am still so, so tired. BUT, I am alive.
Where I am today: I had my 3 month scan following the end of treatment in August. During this scan, they found a large tumor growing in my lower left lung. After further testing, it was confirmed that this was a recurrence. In September, I had lung surgery to remove the lower half of my left lung. Every day since, I feel more like myself again. I will have another scan in January to determine if I am cancer free. I'm not sure what my future holds but I have learned to appreciate so much in life and to live for "today."
What I want other women to know: I want other women to know that this is very real. I want them to know that HPV is more common than most think it is and I want them to be educated on the HPV vaccine.
How I will try to help others: I will always push the importance of women getting their yearly exams and their cervical cancer screening. If I hadn't waited 3 years to get my exam, I may not have been in this situation.