How my story begins: The summer before I was diagnosed, I'd been having very heavy bleeding (for months), lots of lower back and leg pain, many headaches and I was constantly tired. I'd also been having a lot of pelvic pain and significant bleeding after intercourse. I did not have health insurance at the time due to my husband being away at Lineman School in Georgia. I'd just had a pelvic exam one year before this time and everything was normal. I chalked the discomfort up to my period (I have always had heavy, abnormal periods) and left it at that. When my husband came home from Lineman School, things got progressively worse. I decided to make an appointment with my primary care physician, who did not do a pelvic exam but stated that she thought it could be ovarian cysts or polyps. She sent me for an ultrasound, which showed absolutely nothing.
A few weeks went by and the pelvic pain and bleeding were almost unbearable. She then decided to send me to an OB/GYN. At that appointment, the OB/GYN tried to talk me out of a Pap test because I did not have insurance! I knew something was wrong and insisted she do one anyway. During the exam, she saw a mass on my cervix and on the left side of my pelvic wall. I started bleeding out on the table during the exam. She was able to get the bleeding to stop and took some biopsies. She then sent me for a CT scan, which showed NOTHING. She then decided an MRI would be our best option - but the MRI also showed absolutely nothing. It was very frustrating because my doctor could physically SEE the mass, but it would not show up on any tests. When the biopsies came back as Invasive Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Cervix, she referred me to a gynecologic oncologist in Danville, PA at the Geisinger Medical Center. There, they did a PET scan and I was diagnosed with stage 2b2 cervical cancer.
Life before my diagnosis: I was a very healthy, active stay-at-home mom to my 6 year old son Sawyer and my 3 year old daughter Olivia. My husband and I enjoyed taking our children and dog on adventures and being physically active outdoors.
How I felt after diagnosis: I was in shock. I didn't think it was actually happening to me and it didn't really sink in until I was done with all of my treatments.
Telling my family and friends: Telling my family was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. They were all very encouraging and VERY helpful. Of course they were devastated, but we decided to fight and be positive no matter what the outcome. The hardest part was telling my father, who had cancer when he was in his late 20's. He remembers having the same conversation with his parents at my age and that was very hard to go through.
My treatment: I went through 28 rounds of radiation, 5 rounds of brachytherapy, and 5 rounds of chemotherapy. I had an ovarian transposition surgery to pin my ovaries to my hip bones, (they also took my tubes) and a surgery to get a port placed. Due to the intense pain from the pelvic radiation, I was hospitalized and lost around 30 pounds. I was down to 98 pounds when I finished my treatment. It was very hard to eat, drink water, or even get out of bed. I had constant bowel issues and I am still battling those issues a year out. It took a huge toll on my children seeing their mother so frail and sick.
How I felt after treatment: After treatment, I am obviously grateful to be alive. However, my life has changed forever. I have constant stomach issues, anxiety, depression, bladder issues, scars, pelvic pain, and the list goes on and on.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult part for me was accepting help from others. My wonderful grandmother, sister, and mom did all of my laundry, household chores, took care of my children for me while my husband was working, and numerous other things. I had many family and church members make meals for my family, bring little gifts for my kids, and so on. My mom, dad and stepmom took turns each day driving me to my treatments (an hour and a half drive, one way).
What I did to help myself: I rested as much as possible. I watched lots of Christmas cookie baking shows with my children, and I read lots of books.
My life after cancer: Life after cancer is so drastically different than it was before cancer. There are so many things I am unable to enjoy now. Simply walking up a set of stairs is exhausting. It is very hard to accept that I am no longer able to have more children, and that might actually be the hardest part of this whole journey. Seeing children and little babies everywhere is a constant reminder of what I've been through and what I can no longer have.
Where I am today: I am one year out as I write this, and the constant fear of it coming back is unbearable. I have recently been medicated to try and help that anxiety. So far it seems to be working. My biggest issue is the stomach damage due to the pelvic radiation. I am also going through medical menopause at the ripe old age of 28, and that is a huge undertaking - from the hot flashes to the "snappy" attitude.
How I will try to help others: I am constantly encouraging other to get their Pap tests and be aware of their own body! The hard part of Cervical Cancer is that there are no signs or symptoms until it is in an advanced stage. But if you know your own body and feel like something is wrong, say something.