Cancerversary: April 2013

Age at diagnosis: 38

Diagnosis: Squamous cell carcinoma

Stage of cancer: II

How my story begins: Routine pap smear after 3 years (IMO too long between Paps, but that is another topic for discussion). I had gone off birth control two years prior and basically had my period for two years straight. At first it seemed normal because I was on birth control for so long. But after a year and a half of bleeding, it was ridiculous! But they kept reassuring me that it would take my body a long time to readjust. I was also having severe lower back pain, which I had suffered from most of my life, but it had become so bad I needed an MRI and going to an osteopath. But no one connected the two. They were looking for my bones and discs - no one noticed a 6 cm tumor cutting off blood flow to my left leg! Then I went in for a routine Pap smear and the nurse called me to tell me that my Pap came back invasive squamous cell carcinoma. When the nurse told me that, I was like "excuse me??" I know what that means! WTF! That then led to a rapid shuffle to multiple doctors and tests to ultimately my oncologist Dr. G. A whirlwind of testing, exams under anesthesia, biopsies, pet scans, etc. It was crazy. They wanted to start treatment immediately as the tumor was through the side wall and into surrounding tissue – thus too far past a hysterectomy to do any good. I was staged at 2b. Bam!! Oh, and you've got 5 days to decide if you want to harvest any of your eggs if you want biological children – but only at the bargain price of $10,000! That was a tough few days. I did not, however, harvest any eggs.

Life before my diagnosis: I was an academic: tenure-track faculty at a big university with lots of teaching and grad students.

How I felt after diagnosis: Stunned. Then I freaked the f*ck out!

Telling my family and friends: My sisters and brother all came to be with me. They dropped everything and came out.
For friends - it is interesting how that plays out. Everyone has a different story on this - but I think we can all say that we are often surprised by those friends who step up and those who step away. Don't put any heed to it though - everyone responds to the word "cancer" in their own way.

My treatment: Chemo-Rad-Brachy: 6 rounds of cisplatin chemo plus 32 daily external radiation with inpatient brachytherapy at the end which were implant, 3 high dose treatments 12 h apart and a 2nd round 10 days later. Then the waiting began...

How I felt after treatment: Dumbfounded

What was most difficult for me: Losing my mind. Both literally and figuratively.

What I did to help myself: I asked for therapy and hormones. I was in a deep hole after treatment and medication didn't solve the problem but sure helped me out of the hole a little so I could get the rest of the way. Still it was a real struggle. But I've got more tools in my tool box now.

My life after cancer: Life after cancer has been a rollercoaster. It took a while to get my feet under me. Then I literally had my feet pulled out from under me when I fractured my pelvis in 6 places about a year after treatments! That brought back depression. Then I had to re-evaluate my career path to deal with life after cancer.

Where I am today: Better. So much so! But also past my 5 year mark. I live in a place I love, do what I love to do, and go to Burning Man every year! It took a long time, but I think I've now got some of it figured out. Not all of it, because it's still real hard, but I do think I'm on the right track.

What I want other women to know: That it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to take a minute and gather yourself, care for yourself. Rest. It's a new life. Be gentle with yourself.

How I will try to help others: Hopefully my story can be someone else's survival guide

Any additional information you'd like to share: DIALATE!!! Do it! Your sex life does not have to be over after this! In some cases you just can't - physically - and I get that. But the vast majority of us can repair some vaginal tissues with lots of consistent dilation, pelvic floor therapy and lube. But you can have a sex life again.