How my story begins: Life before cancer wasn't a cakewalk. I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2005. I was pretty sure I would have been exempt from the cancer party. Cancer showed up right when I thought I had control of MS.
I started noticing more vaginal discharge and pain after intercourse. My husband convinced me to schedule an appointment with my provider. I went to my appointment and had a Pap. My provider said nothing was wrong, I was experiencing extra discharge because I recently turned 40 and that's what your body does when it gets older. It apparently creates extra discharge and makes it painful to engage in sex with your husband. I didn't like her diagnoses, but I went home and continued as usual - as usual as one can when vaginal discharge and pain turns into bleeding and cramping.
It was six months before I went back to the doctor. I didn’t want to bother her. After all, she was the doctor and I was 40 and was instructed that I was going to be miserable. However, I apprehensively scheduled an appointment and after my examination was again told this is something that happens. I decided to get another opinion. My son was diagnosed with arthritis when he was 7 and was state insured. My provider did not take his insurance, but I knew his provider would take mine. I make my appointment and filled the provider in on what I was experiencing. The M.A. and the provider both stood in front of me in disbelief as they watched blood and discharge flow from my body like a fountain. Sometime later, my provider shared she thought I was going to die or at the very least need a blood transfusion when she did my exam.
Realizing what I needed was out of her scope of care, she sent me to an OBGYN. He performed many tests and not once did the word cancer surface. He too realized he was unable to solve my problem or even determine what my problem was, let alone solve it. My next trip was to the University of Washington Medical center. It’s a teaching hospital but nothing prepared me for the shenanigans that ensued while trying to complete yet another exam. There were cameras, missing batteries, me, an exam table, 5 students, one specialist, and a big screen. After that appointment, I unofficially knew I had cancer. I officially knew a week later.
How I felt after diagnosis: I can't say that I really had a lot of emotions. I think I was just ready to give a name to what was causing my body to act differently. It never really occurred to me that I might die. I just knew I needed to take care of me and do the best I could to finish treatment.
Telling my family and friends: Family is tricky. They try to love you the best they can, but their fears always sounded like I did something wrong. The unsolicited remedies everyone one had. You should eat this, be vegan, take this, pray, drink that, don't do chemo, stay away from radiation, and everyone had a story about a person that knew a person and they were the authority on all of it. I stopped talking to people. They made me sad and frustrated. I didn't ask for cancer and nothing i did caused it. I got tired of defending myself and my choice to follow the plan of my doctor.
My treatment: My treatment was a whirlwind of plans gone awry and tears, but I'm here. Total hysterectomy, internal and external radiation and 2 blood transfusions.
How I felt after treatment: I felt euphoric after treatment. I was so glad to not have to go here, go there, get poked, move here, do that. It was nice to not have anywhere to go. However, I was really lonely. I was used to checking in with someone all the time. After, before and sometimes during treatment, people constantly asked how you were doing and then it stops. It made me feel lonely.
What was most difficult for me: The hardest part for me is as a black female, i feel we get lost in the healthcare system. Society tells us we're loud, mean, angry and scary. I feel like I've earned the right to be all of those things and more. I'm still trying to find a balance but not because I feel I need it. It's for the people around me who can't handle all of THIS without a filter.
What I did to help myself: I decided that beating cancer meant that I had time to do EVERYTHING. I never pass up an opportunity to do something new. I think outside of the box and every chance i get to talk about my story, I do. EVERY...DANG...TIME.
My life after cancer: My life after cancer could be worse. First and foremost, SEX IS NOT MY JAM!! I used to really enjoy all of sex, but now i'm just kind of meh. I don't have it, don't want it and don't miss it. I'm really glad my husband supports me and doesn't make me feel bad about this. I have a swollen pocket below my belly button where I was radiated. This swollen puffy patch is not attractive and I have to remind myself that it's not fat, it was cooked and I'm lucky to have it instead of death, cause death is way worse then a puffy pouch. Depression is a stinker, man o' man. I'm glad I've had medication and counseling since I finished treatment, but it does take work to remember why being here is a good thing when sometimes your body seems to work against you.
Where I am today: Today I work full time for a local non-profit medical clinic. I have been employed for almost a year. I was hired to be a community health worker and my job is to connect patients and make sure they get their cancer screenings. I help people overcome barriers to services, such as medical insurance, transportation or an interpreter. I am currently working on starting my own business. I want to coach women to love themselves. I want to help them advocate for themselves and help one another. I'd like to see more girl power in the world.
What I want other women to know: YOU DID NOTHING WRONG. Stop taking the blame for getting something that you had no control over. HPV sucks and you had a partner at some point and got HPV you didn't ask for it and you sure as heck didn't plan it. Stand strong and advocate for each other. Imagine all that we could accomplish if women worked together instead of against.
How I will try to help others: I don't mind telling my story all the time. I'm an open book. I talk about sex, discomfort, frustration, loneliness, discharge, heartache... nothing is too much. Cancer needs to be out into the light so we can get rid of it. Think of it this way - spiders are creepy, right? Kind of icky and fast. Ugh! I think it's safe to say that if the task was to get rid of them, the first thing would NOT be to close the door, turn out all the lights and then try and kill them. No! You'd turn ALL the lights on while you'd search for the little buggers. What if you were in the room with another person? Would you turn on the lights then? Would that help you squish those bad boys? Well, then why wouldn't we turn on the light and shine it on HPV and cancer? Why would we do it alone when we could cover more ground and squish more as a group? Just sayin'!