How my story begins: In April of 2015, I started to not feel like myself. Something just seemed off with me and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was tired so very tired all the time, experiencing irregular periods (sometimes two a month). I was bloated and I had a constant dull ache in my lower back. The backache had been going on for several years and I wrote it off as sciatic nerve pain. I honestly thought I was perimenopausal and my friends kept telling me I was so I just assumed that was what I was going through. It made sense to me.
By September, I was really feeling the effects of whatever my body was trying to tell me and I started noticing light spotting. Still, this wasn’t enough for me to get in to see the doctor. By late October I developed a foul odor; one I could not wash away no matter what I used or how many times I washed. Now I was starting to become quite concerned because along with the odor came an odd color discharge and it was happening with much more frequency. Mid-November, I finally made an appointment to see an OB/GYN. When she asked when my last Pap test was, I hesitated to respond because it had been a very long time (over 12 yrs). There are/were many reasons I didn’t go but suffice it to say, none of them seemed like a valid reason laying in the stirrups!
Five days later, my life would be forever changed with one phone call advising me that my Pap was abnormal. Everything the nurse said on that call was a blur. I sat in my car in the Petco parking lot and cried for what seemed like hours. I called her back two days later to have her explain it all over again to me. I would need an endocervical biopsy and colposcopy. These two procedures would be the beginning of a long painful journey with cervical cancer.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was angry and afraid of dying. My whole world had been completely turned upside down and everything stopped. All I could think about was cancer. It completely consumed me. I didn’t want to believe this was my fate. I had been in a difficult marriage and finally had moved on past that and remarried the most incredible man and I couldn’t believe I was not going to have my “Happily Ever After” with him. It took a long time for that anger to subside.
Telling my family and friends: This was difficult and for many months I didn’t tell anyone other than my immediate family. It took quite some time before I was able to say I had cancer.
My treatment: In January 2016, I had a simple hysterectomy and anxiously waited on pathology findings. After all, I had opted for a hysterectomy to PREVENT cancer…little did I know cancer was already hiding in my cervix. I was diagnosed with Mucinous Adenocarcinoma stage 1B1 and was told it shows up in less than 20% of cervical cancer cases. I was referred to a gynecologic oncologist where we discussed my case and I was told I would need another surgery and soon. A PET scan was ordered to see if cancer had spread and thankfully the scan came back clean.
The 2nd surgery in March proved to be difficult and a long painful recovery followed. On March 25th, 2016 I was told I was NED (No Evidence of Disease). I would need close monitoring over the next 5 years.
How I felt after treatment: I was relieved that no cancer was found in my lymph system, relieved I would need no further treatment. I did feel a loss of self and that I just was not the same person I was before cancer. It was one of the most traumatic life events to happen to me and here I should be happy about the outcome but I just wasn’t.
What was most difficult for me: Accepting the fact that many people I thought I could count on were not there for my husband and me, both during my treatment and today.
What I did to help myself: I returned to yoga class. I also joined an online support group and started following Cervivor on Facebook, reading a blog from a Cervivor (Jennie Elms) and reading Cervivor stories.
My life after cancer: I am now trying to return to some normalcy in my life, whatever that may be or look like. It’s a work in progress for both myself and my relationship with my husband.
Where I am today: Today, I am advocating and talking about cervical cancer and the importance of screening. Having attended Cervivor School Louisville this year has awakened something in me. I had been toying with the idea of an awareness project but didn’t really get serious about it until returning from Louisville. I have started Operation Teal, which is an awareness ribbon project. More information is available here Facebook.com/OperationTeal
What I want other women to know: You are NOT alone! You matter as does your story. Please do not be ashamed of your HPV or cancer diagnosis. Schedule your screenings and advocate for your own health! Get answers to your questions and don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion.
How I will try to help others: I made a promise to myself that I would no longer remain silent about cervical cancer and will continue to advocate via social media, support groups and in my day-to-day interactions with others.
Any additional information you'd like to share: As scary as the cancer diagnosis was and everything that it took from me, cancer also gave me a gift...I am living a grateful and thankful life. For the first time, I am actually hearing the birds sing in the morning, I see the sun rise and set and amongst all the ugly in this world, I manage to see all the beauty there is as well.