Location: Indiana

Age at diagnosis: 30

Diagnosis: Cervical cancer (unspecified)

Stage of cancer: IB2

How my story begins: In November 2022, I found out I was pregnant again. My husband and I were really excited! A short time later I miscarried. I was devastated. I was bleeding on and off constantly. Started bleeding after intercourse. I went to the doctor a couple of times and in March, a midwife did another pap. It was abnormal again and so they did a biopsy. That biopsy led to a Leep procedure. My leep results showed cancer and a tumor the size of a circus peanut. I remember my doctor calling and I was not expecting a cancer diagnosis. I blacked out her phone call. I called my mom and had a panic attack and she rushed over till my husband could get home. My husband held me that whole night and has been so strong for me.

Life before my diagnosis: Where to begin! When I was a preteen, my mom had me and my sister both vaccinated with the HPV Gardisil vaccine. Then when I was 21, I had my first abnormal pap and it came back HPV positive. They told me not to worry and it will go away in two years. It was dormant for 8-9 years and I had regular paps until I gave birth in 2020. The HPV came back and was active. They did a biopsy and it was fine. During the summer of 2022 I had another pap that was still abnormal but since the earlier year I had a biopsy they decided to not do one and follow up the next year. I didn’t really think much of it and thought I was fine. I have always gotten regular Pap smears.

How I felt after diagnosis: After I got my diagnosis I was scared and angry. I thought having had the vaccine I would be fine. I was angry to find out it only covers a few of the most common strains. My high risk strain was not covered by the vaccine. I had so many emotions on having a cancer caused from having sex. To me it felt embarrassing. I was in a whirlwind of emotions and losing my fertility is what hit me the hardest. I started on my grief journey of losing who I was before to who I am now.

Telling my family and friends: When I told my friends and family they were all very supportive of me. I’m a Kindergarten teacher and my school community helped out a ton. One of my coworkers had a similar experience with cervical cancer and talking to her helped a lot. My husband also really held me up and would sit and listen to any of my feelings. My parents were there every step of the way too. I felt extremely loved and realized how much people care about me. I don’t know how I can ever repay such kindness.

My treatment: Before treatment I had a MRI and PET scan which showed great results. The Leep had taken all the tumor out and only microscopic was left. I had LVIS invasion which is what contributed me to getting staged at 1b2. My oncologist gave me two options. Option one - hysterectomy with 70 percent needing radiation afterwards. Option 2 - 25 external radiation, 6 chemotherapy, 4 brachytherapy. I talked to my mom about both options. I took option 2. I finished treatment at the end of October 2023.

How I felt after treatment: I’m still processing being done with treatment. I can tell my body is different. I have tinnitus in my right ear now which is so annoying. I don’t have the same stamina anymore. Teaching kindergartners has gotten a little tougher due to how tired I get. I’m so much more grateful for things in my life now though!! I’m definitely grieving and some days are harder than others.

What was most difficult for me: Losing my fertility and having my son be an only child is what was most difficult. When I had miscarried we were going to try again a few months later. Then it all got taken away so fast. I’m also pretty angry how the HPV vaccine didn’t protect me. I understand there are hundreds of strains but I wish it covered more than a select few.

What I did to help myself: Going back to work after treatment really helped get my mind off the cancer. I also read a lot of books. If I’m feeling down, I go talk to my husband or my mom about it.

Where I am today: I’m back to work and trying to move on with my new way of life. I have different side effects from the treatment, so currently trying to manage them. I’m still grieving but learning that all sorts of emotions are okay!

What I want other women to know: Do not be ashamed to have a HPV related cancer. HPV is so very common. I struggled with this but after learning more. I realized sometimes you just draw the short stick and cancer doesn’t care what age, goals, or etc you have in life. What matters is you will fight and discover how strong you can be!