How my story begins: I don't have many memories of what life was like before my diagnosis. There are clips of moments that looking back now, I should have paid attention to but I didn't know. I had only seen the letters HPV on a pamphlet in a doctor's office waiting room and shamefully I remember thinking that it was just a sexually transmitted disease (warts). I didn't even pick the pamphlet up and read it. I wasn't too keen on getting a Pap smear because I hated the way it made me feel. So, I just didn't get them. I didn't have sexual relations with anyone other than my husband and I cleaned myself internally with warm water daily. I thought that by doing that I was taking care of my vaginal health. Honestly it just wasn't something that I deemed important enough to worry about. I simply just didn't know.
It was April 2, 2011. I started what I thought was my period the day before but it was different - heavier and the flow was a bit faster. I had just opened my eyes to start my day and I felt the blood. I knew I had a mess to clean up, but I had to figure out how I was going to get up and not make a mess while getting to the bathroom. I could literally feel the enormous clot. I grabbed the nearest cloth fabric I could, held it between my legs and as soon as I stood up there was no holding anything. By the time I made it to my bathroom, my living room looked like a murder scene. I woke my husband, took a shower, cleaned up the mess, and headed for the emergency room. I was taken to a room and a nurse practitioner asked me a few questions. My feet were placed in stirrups and she rubbed a mustard colored paste onto the opening of my cervix. She told me that would help stop the bleeding or at least slow it down. She referred me to a gynecologist for the next day. She never said anything. No reason for the bleeding at all. Just how important it was that I go to the appointment she had scheduled for me the next day. I went home concerned about what the cause for the heavy bleeding might be. The bleeding had slowed down to spotting by the next day, so I was so optimistic that it was nothing. I almost didn't bother going to the scheduled appointment. My husband convinced me to go, so reluctantly I went. I really thought that I was just having a very heavy cycle.
The next day, I was checked in and taken to a room. I undressed, put my feet in those cold stirrups and I waited for the doctor. Still....no big deal. The doctor came in and introduced himself and his nurse. He asked what brought me to the ER and how I was feeling today. He was an energetic man. He didn't seem too interested in the exam, almost as if he had something better he could be doing. He completed the exam, wiped his hands off, and helped me sit up. Then, he very quickly and coldly said to me, "Well, you have cancer."!!!!
WAIT!!! WHAT??? I couldn't breathe. My very first question was, "Am I going to die?" He looked at me and said "Well, I don't know." He had the nurse apply more mustard cream and told me I needed to find a gynecologist/oncologist. No one walked me out of that room. I was dizzy. I was walking out of the office when I stopped and turned around. I went right back in and found the doctor and I said "Wait, how do you know it's cancer? You only did a visual exam. You used your fingers, a swab and your eyes. Aren't you supposed to do some sort of scan?" His reply was, "I can see it. The entire tip of your cervix is cancer." Oh! Okay, I thought. Now, I feel better. RIGHT!!!!!
How I felt after diagnosis: I walked out of that office and out of that building as fast as I could without running. I had asked my husband to wait in the car because I never thought in a million Years that it could have been cancer. As soon as I seen my husband I ran, he seen me coming and caught me. I cried and cried from the depths inside of my soul. I had never cried like that before and I haven't since. The drive home that day was cloudy.Everything looked different, I am a mother if four kids. I'm a grandmother, I'm a wife. This simply can't be happening.
Telling my family and friends: After we got home and I settled down, I immediately decided that I wasn't going to die. That simply was not an option. I wasn't sure how I was going to tell my children. I just knew I wanted to make this as easy on them as I could. I didn't want anyone to treat me as if I had cancer. I didn't want the sad looks, or the walking on eggshell feeling that people get when they are around someone who has cancer. I needed normal. If I was going to beat this, I needed normal. There were tears and questions from them and we dealt with them. We all agreed that being strong was the only choice we had - that if they needed to talk or to cry, they could come to me. It was and it still is a sensitive topic. It always will be.
My treatment: My diagnosis was recurring. So my first treatment in May of 2011 was a radical hysterectomy with removal of lymph nodes, and removal of 1/3 of my vaginal cuff. The recurrence came one year to the day of my first diagnosis. I had another surgery to remove the cancer at the spot where my cervix used to be. There was another third of my vaginal cuff removed and quite a few lymph nodes removed this round. There was a spot left on my bladder due to the doctor not wanting to risk damaging my bladder. After two weeks of recovery, I began cisplatin chemotherapy through a port that had been surgically placed in my chest. After chemo, I would then go to do internal and external radiation. I completed 8 rounds of cisplatin once a week for 8 hours and radiation treatments three times a week.
How I felt after treatment: My first treatment was scary. I had never experienced it before and seeing movies, hearing horrible stories about chemotherapy, I was scared to death. I had a wonderful nurse named Mrs. Pat. All the nurses were excellent, but Mrs. Pat secured a very special place in my heart. She held my hand, she calmed me, and she was just there. I got home after the first day just drained. I was nauseated and so tired. It was like I had not slept in days. I laid down on the couch and fell asleep. I was awakened by this need to vomit, as if my insides were trying to come out. Every heave felt as if my body was going to break. After each time, I had to be helped back to lay down. I remember in between trips to the bathroom, waking up to my husband whispering to me to please stay strong. He needed me. The children needed me. I felt his tears hit my face, but I was so weak, I couldn't wipe them. I just cried. My next appointment, I explained to my doctor how sick I had become and thank goodness he prescribed an anti-nausea pill for pre-chemotherapy treatment. When taken 45 minutes prior to treatment, it will in most cases stop nausea or significantly reduce it. What a blessing that little pill was!
What was most difficult for me: Every moment of this fight was difficult. If I had to pick one thing, it is fear. The fear of death. The fear of not knowing. The fear of what cancer takes away from you. I remember thinking, "who is going to water my plants?" I thought about how important it was to me that my plants were taken care of. To this day, I can't explain why out of everything, I was worried about why it was plants that I kept thinking about. I actually don't remember believing that I was going to die. I had made up my mind when I told my children that there was going to be no change. I was sick, but it was just sick. I was going to get better. I didn't have anyone with me during my chemo treatments. I didn't have friends over to visit, I didn't have a last chemo party. I rang the bell alone. Maybe because I kept all pushed down, worrying about my plants was my way of actually fearing death. I don't know. Cancer causes emotions and feelings that at times just can't be explained.
What I did to help myself: I tried hard to stay normal, especially around my children. I did a lot of praying. I'm still going through emotions that I thought I had already been through.
My life after cancer: I don't think anyone that's been through cancer can go all the way back to the life that was before. At least it's that way for me. You find strength that you never knew you had. I'm dealing with health issues left behind from chemotherapy and radiation. I'm fighting disability because I can no longer do the job I was doing before cancer. I didn't know anything about HPV or cervical cancer. It's become important for me that the information about it is easily and readily available so that the next woman will be better educated and aware.
Where I am today: As of today, as of this moment, I am five years cancer free. I still have issues I deal with everyday due to treatment. I deal with them as they come. Cervical cancer caused by HPV is what completely turned my world upside down. I still have days that I have to fight to smile because loving my scars is hard. I have to fight to be intimate with my husband. Cervical cancer took a lot of things away from me, but in the process I gained a lot. I'm learning something new about myself everyday.
What I want other women to know: Early detection saves lives. Go get your cervical cancer screening. I know its uncomfortable sometimes but hey, once in awhile is so much better than many times in a month. LOL. There are organizations that can help pay for it if you can't. There was so much I didn't know. I want to make sure that other women know. I want to talk about it. As you read my story, a women took her last breath because of cervical cancer and another woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer. If you know what you can do about it, then there's no excuse.
How I will try to help others: I believe that I survived so I can help other women survive. I want to be that hand for someone who doesn't have one to hold. I want to stand next to the next survivor who rings that bell. I really want to educate women about HPV and cervical cancer and help get rid of the stigma associated with it.
Any additional information you'd like to share: I also experienced and am currently experiencing forced menopause due to the radical hysterectomy. I take estrogen internally and orally. I use a dilator and experience many emotions related to intercourse and romance due to my body, my feelings, my hormones, and the pain and bleeding that come along with sex after cervical cancer.