How my story begins: Then I got THE CALL. You know the call. It had been a week since my appointment and as soon as I saw that number, I knew. I had abnormal cells and needed a colposcopy. Somehow I knew it was cancer even though I wouldn’t find out for months. Something had felt off for a while and I was too scared to go to the doctor. Effing stupid is what it was, but I didn’t have health insurance.
I immediately signed up for some through the Affordable Care Act. The insurance wouldn’t kick in until March, on my birthday, but I had things to keep me busy to avoid obsessing about it.
The day before my 35th birthday, both of my books became Amazon best sellers. A month later, I was married. That seemed like a good sign for the rest of the year. I almost forgot that I probably had cancer. Until...
“Sonja, you have Stage I,” the oncologist said. I stared at him. “What that means is we’ll have to do a radical hysterectomy. We won’t take your ovaries if they still look good. We’ll also take your nodes to make sure it hasn’t traveled anywhere else.”
At least that’s probably what he said. All I could think about was how I’d tell my still newlywed husband I couldn’t give him children. Finally, I said, “Are you sure? Are you really sure it’s cancer?”
“Have you heard nothing I just said?” he asked. “I want to get you into surgery next week.”
“No, no. That’s not convenient. I just started a new job this week. I can’t go in and tell them I have to be out for month. Can we wait until February?”
At this point, the oncologist used his dad voice on me. “SONJA, we have to go in now so it doesn’t spread.” I just sat there. I didn’t like his tone and I was going to get a second opinion from a hot woman doctor who knew something about vaginas. Turns out, after calling around, everyone knew my oncologist, including my aunt (“That’s a name drop.”), and said he was the best in town. The week before Thanksgiving, he operated on me and saved my life. He retired before Christmas.
Life before my diagnosis: The year of 35 was going to be my year of triumph, but a couple of months before that magical age, I went in for an exam. I hadn’t gotten one in far too long and, because of my looming age, my soon to be husband and I were thinking more seriously about trying to have a baby. We were still on the fence about it, but figured we should make sure I was OK first. I’d never had issues in the past so I wasn’t worried.
My treatment: I had my colposcopy in April, then my first LEEP in June. That’s when sh*t got real. They hadn’t gotten everything and they’d have to do another LEEP. The doc didn’t tell me I had cancer at that point, at least I don’t remember him telling me. They hadn’t cut into my cervix far enough and there were cells in the deep tissue sample he took. I didn’t have children so it seemed to complicate things. “If you were done having children, he would just take your cervix,” the nurse said. “The fact that you haven’t had kids changes things.”
I had my second LEEP and countless medical appointments during the second half of the year. After my second LEEP I was so sure I was OK that being referred to an oncologist didn’t trigger panic. My second treatment was a radical hysterectomy.
How I felt after treatment: I always thought I would die young, but not because of cancer. My mother died from early-onset Alzheimer’s when she was 53. I was 17. For the entirety of my 20s, I believed I had to accomplish everything I wanted to in life before I turned 40. Then if I started to lose it, I’d at least be somebody regardless of remembering being somebody. Because of the fear of Alzheimer’s, I also never planned to get married or have a family. I hadn’t thought about marriage or children until I met my husband. Now, as far as I know, I won’t die young. The hysterectomy took care of it. I didn’t and don’t need further treatment. I was lucky. Well, as lucky as one can be in this situation.
What I want other women to know: I always thought my one cause would be Alzheimer’s - that I would be the voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves, but it never felt quite right. Turns out, I needed to be a voice for myself. And now, because of my involuntary membership in the cervical cancer survivors club, I get to finally meet other women who have gone through what I went through. If you haven’t, send a big THANK YOU to Tamika for all the work that she does for this cause. We wouldn’t be a community without her.