How my story begins: I went for a routine physical exam. I mentioned to my primary care doctor that I sometimes bled after sex. She asked me to come back for a Pap test. Upon examination, I bled. She said we would wait for the results and then determine from there. A couple of weeks later, her office told me I had abnormal results and needed to visit an OB/GYN. I went to that appointment, and the OB/GYN said she saw a tumor and it seemed like my results from my PCP of "suspicious for adenocarcinoma" may be right. A few days later, the OB/GYN confirmed that my tumor was cancerous. She referred me to an oncologist and the crazy ride started there.
Life before my diagnosis: Before my diagnosis, I was living life. I was working full time and taking care of my children. We had just embarked on homeschooling. We were enjoying summer and saving up money to buy a house.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt extremely lost. I had just turned 30 years old! I had 3 kids! My family has a history of different cancers, but I never thought it would be me. I felt betrayed by my body, but at the same time I felt I had ignored the red flags that it was giving me. I was mad at myself.
Telling my family and friends: The day of my OB/GYN appointment, my mother-in-law babysat my kids while my husband went with me. It was so hard to come back home and look at their faces. It was an utter sense of loss and grief. Calling my parents was especially hard because 14 years earlier my dad had a similar experience when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
My treatment: I underwent 6 rounds of cisplatin, 30 rounds of external radiation, and 5 rounds of brachytherapy. Treatment depleted me and my body was at war with itself the entire time. When one side effect would feel better, something else took over. I was extremely tired the whole time. I felt like I spent a majority of time during treatment asleep, but not in a good, restful way.
How I felt after treatment: Not seeing my doctors and nurses on a daily basis was really jarring for me. The told me they'd see me in a few months, and that we were going to let treatment do its work. I was dealing with so many physical side effects - bladder and bowel issues. They were debilitating. I could not be far from the bathroom for months. I am also now going through menopause - it has had its own world of effects. While I was distracted by the physical, I didn't realize until months later that the mental stuff is so much harder. I recently began therapy to unpack all the feelings I've had, but not processed, while I was in survival/treatment mode.
What was most difficult for me: I've realized that treatment is done, but cancer will always be apart of my life. There is no escaping it in almost every aspect. That was really hard to come to grips with. With most sickness, you heal and move on. For cancer patients, the fear of recurrence is real.
What I did to help myself: I am still learning this part. I went back to work a month after treatment and while this was a good distraction, I am trying my best to manage my stress and take better care of my body - mentally and physically. It also helps to have the mantra that "My body is amazing. It has been through so much and I'm still here."
My life after cancer: Healing is a slow process. Will we ever completely heal? The exciting news is that I recently purchased my first home. It's given me renewed hope and joy in the chaos that is life after cancer.
Where I am today: Today - in summer 2020 - I am navigating the tricky waters of cancer in a pandemic. I am trying to give myself as much grace dealing with cancer while a pandemic is happening. I was in isolation during the winter and fall because of my treatments...and now almost a year later, I am back there again but because of coronavirus. I feel stuck some days, but mostly I am grateful for time. I also celebrated my 31st birthday. I am thankful for all birthdays.
What I want other women to know: Listen to your bodies, and become the biggest advocate for your health. So many of my friends with cervical cancer were ignored by doctors or their symptoms were downplayed.
How I will try to help others: I will advocate for the HPV vaccine. I will provide support to the women I've met online who are diagnosed with cervical cancer.