How my story begins: My life before cancer felt perfect. I had worked in a salon since I was 18 and had also gone to Culinary School and worked as a pastry chef at a local fine dining restaurant. But now I was able to stay at home and enjoy raising my almost 2 year old son. We had just moved into our forever home. My son's father and I had been together for about 4 years and on Christmas Eve, he proposed to me. I went to bed every night just thinking how grateful and lucky I was.
My diagnosis story is a long one. I've debated sharing all of it, but I think it's important to let others know how important it is to be your own advocate.
I started having symptoms almost a year prior. I was experiencing a heavy, constant, clear discharge (the best way to explain it is like water). I was also bleeding quite a bit after sex. At the time, I didn't know it was discharge and thought it was my bladder leaking. I went and saw a doctor who said my symptoms were normal after having a child and she recommended physical therapy to strengthen the pelvic floor.
In January of 2018, I finally decided that my symptoms were not normal (I was soaking through a pad almost 5 times a day). I went to see a new doctor who did a pelvic exam and in the middle, asked if it was ok for her to grab another doctor. They told me they believed I had a fistula and that I would need to see a urologist. I saw the urologist who performed a series of tests and ruled out fistula.
At this point, I was feeling very frustrated! What is wrong with me? Then it hit me...if it's not a fistula, maybe it's discharge?? So I went online and googled my symptoms. Sure enough, the first thing to come up was cervical cancer. I remember shaking, reading about the disease. I had almost all of the symptoms!
I called my doctor and asked her to do a Pap ASAP. She also tested me for HPV. A week later, my Pap results came back inconclusive, but my HPV test showed that I was positive for HPV 16. I had an appointment with a local gynecologist, but not for another 2 weeks. My doctor gave me the option of traveling an hour and a half away to see someone else who could do the biopsy sooner. So I went. Sitting on the exam table waiting nervously, the doctor came in and before even introducing himself, said to me, "You do not have cancer." Confused, I asked how he knew. His response was that I did not have the symptoms and that my discharge was caused by my IUD. So I told him if this is what's causing all this, I would like it removed ASAP.
After the exam, he told me he saw a large wart and would like me to come back and handed me a pamphlet for the LEEP procedure. I cannot tell you why, but instead of leaving that appointment feeling relieved, I had a gut feeling that something was not right. I traveled out there to have a biopsy which was never performed. I decided to keep my appointment with the new gynecologist in my town. And sure enough, when I went in a week later, my worst nightmare was confirmed. After explaining to her everything I had been through, she said "Let's just repeat a Pap and start from there."
In the middle of the exam, my gynecologist was in complete horror. She let me know she would have to preform several biopsies. During the procedure, she was just shaking her head and saying to the nurse that she could not believe out of all the doctors I had just recently, seen none of them performed a biopsy. She drew me a picture and explained that she couldn't even see my cervix because it was so covered in tumor. She had my biopsies returned STAT and asked me to come in the next morning where she confirmed I had cervical cancer. She actually had a nurse in the room with her who told me her story with cervical cancer and how it had been 10 years since her diagnosis. It was nice to have some reassurance.
How I felt after diagnosis: As strange as it sounds, I was relieved. I finally knew what was wrong with me and was on track to doing what I needed to beat it. That day I had googled my symptoms, I knew right away that this is what I had. So hearing it from my gynecologist was just confirmation.
Telling my family and friends: I remained as strong as I could. It was like, "I have cancer and I'm going to beat it." They never let me think otherwise. My cousin who is my best friend actually quit her job and moved in with us for the summer to help with my son. The amount of support I received from friends and family was overwhelming.
My treatment: My gynecologist set me up with, in my opinion, the best possible oncologist out there. I had to travel to Seattle, which is about 2 hours and a ferry ride away. After my first PET scan, it was confirmed that I had cancer in my lymph nodes. A week later, I was scheduled for pelvic lymph node removal surgery. I recovered quickly and was happy because the extra lymph nodes my oncologist took for testing came back cancer-free. I soon started 30 rounds of external radiation combined with 6 rounds of the chemotherapy Cisplatin. I was told radiation was my main treatment and that the chemo just helped the radiation.
I then traveled to Seattle where I had 4 rounds of internal radiation at the SCCA. I was so lucky to have the doctor I had there. He was more like a specialist for this type of cancer. Because I had lymph nodes that contained cancer, he recommended to me that I do strong chemo. After discussing it with all my doctors, we all decided that since I had handled all my treatment so well, I would go ahead and do the 4 rounds of hair-falling-out strong chemo.
How I felt after treatment: To tell you the truth, maybe I was lucky but I didn't feel too bad. I was still a stay-at-home mom who had a son to wake up and take care of each morning. I've said all along that without him, I'd never have the strength or energy that I had to keep going. I never had the option to lay in bed all day and feel sorry for myself. My life just keep going.
What was most difficult for me: Laying in bed in the middle of the night thinking of my son living life without me. Who would make his lunches? Who would be there for him when he was upset? Just all the little things that Moms do that Dads don't do the same. He's also so young that I feared he'd never remember me or how much I loved him.
What I did to help myself: Stayed strong! I cannot tell you the power of positive thinking! When I started having these thoughts, I'd quickly tell myself to stop! And I would envision my son's future with me in it. I am not perfect in anyway and I sure did have days where I cried and felt scared. But for the most part, I would tell myself to keep staying positive. I decided very quickly in my cancer journey that if this was it for me, I wanted to spend my time being happy and only doing things that bring me joy.
My life after cancer: It's only been a little over a month! On December 5, 2018, I visited my oncologist in Seattle who told me I was finally in remission. I felt like I was dreaming. I always envisioned myself running out of there, screaming at the top of my lungs, "I'm cancer free!!!" But I felt much different. I almost am afraid to say it because I think by getting too excited, it will come back. I am living with some survivor's guilt because I made friends along the way who are still going through it.
Where I am today: Today I am trying to get my life back to normal. I have all these things I said I'd do if I was cancer-free, such as volunteer work. I want to start a personal chef business where I cook for sick people. I just want to be a good mom and enjoy watching my son grow. I am currently experiencing some painful side affects from the radiation that I am told will heal itself with time.
What I want other women to know: You are not alone. I found comfort in finding other women through Cervivor who were going through the same thing. Don't skip your annual exam! Cervical cancer is real and can be treated much easier if found early.
How I will try to help others: I just want to stress to everyone how important it is to advocate for yourself regarding health issues! You know your body and you know when something's not right! Don't stop until you get ALL the answers!