How my story begins: My husband and I were living in a blissful moment raising our two boys, ages 3-1/2 years and 5 months old. We had full intentions of having a third baby. I was on an extended maternity leave from work and enjoying every second of my stay at home mommy time. Cervical Cancer shook our world, and now we are stronger because of it.
I received my diagnosis the night before Thanksgiving. I was 27 years old and had a normal Pap test during my pregnancy... less than ten months prior. I had no symptoms and I felt great!
How I felt after diagnosis: Upon diagnosis, I became a numb bundle of terrified determination. A roadblock had been thrown into my family's path and we simply had to overcome it. I never cried, though I have well made up for the lack of initial tears. I prayed. I hugged. I focused fiercely on preparing my home for my absence and downtime. I crossed items off my Christmas list in record time, froze breastmilk, stockpiled diapers, and filled my parents and sister's ears with detailed instructions for our Elf on the Shelf! These were the things I had control over.
Telling my family and friends: Telling my loved ones was difficult for me because I had only experience delivering happy news...engagement, college graduation, marriage, job, perfectly healthy baby boy #1, grad school graduation, perfectly healthy baby boy #2...
Causing pain and fear in those I love was not something I had ever had to do prior to this. I will forever remember the looks on the faces of my husband and parents.
Many of the phone calls and texts from my closest friends are etched in my memory. I chose not to share my story on social media immediately. At the time, I did not want to be the next Facebook page. I did share the news with those closest to us.
My treatment: My initial treatment consisted of an abdominal radical hysterectomy and lymph node removal. Thankfully, every lymph node was clear and the tissue removed had clear margins.
I had a recurrence in 2017 - shortly after celebrating 3 years since my radical hysterectomy for my original diagnosis. Once again, I was having no symptoms and my diagnosis stemmed from abnormal pap tests. Treatment was chemotherapy, external radiation, and internal radiation/brachytherapy. I continue to see my gyn oncologist every four months. September 2020 marked three years clear from my recurrence.
How I felt after treatment: Following the treatment, I struggled with thoughts of how I entered the hospital feeling amazingly healthy and energetic and left feeling on the brink of death. For example, after being home for approximately one week following my first cancer diagnosis and treatment, I lost bladder control and returned home with a catheter. A week later, I was diagnosed with a hospital grade bladder infection that was doing its best to send my body into toxic shock.
What was most difficult for me: At the time of my initial diagnosis, I was exclusively breastfeeding our 5 month old. Despite the plans I made to pump during my hospital stay, my breastmilk dried up completely. I was unable to pump more than a few drops. The toll this treatment took on my body was far more than I imagined or prepared myself for. Cancer had taken my fertility and it was attempting to take part of my motherhood as well.
What I did to help myself: Being surrounded by family and friends before, during, and after treatment helped me more than I could have ever helped myself. I was able to spend the majority of my recovery time at home. Because of this, my baby and I were able to work together to bring back my supply of breastmilk.
My life after cancer: Slowly, but surely, I became accustomed to the new normal that is my body. My energy did bounce back, eventually. I went on to breastfeed my baby until he was 18 months old. I learned to take nothing for granted and soak in each precious moment of motherhood and life. I learned the true strength of my family.
Where I am today: The fear of recurrence is with me always. I am much more aware of my body. I reflect often on the beautiful story that is my family's. I am at the point in my journey where I am ready to take our story to the next level and share it with a larger scope of people.
What I want other women to know: Publicly or privately speaking of gynecological cancer and issues should not feel shameful. No matter your age or current health, finding a healthcare provider you can openly and honestly communicate with is crucial. None of your questions are silly or shameful. If you feel something is off with your body, it just might be. It is always worth a check!
How I will try to help others: My heart swells when friends, coworkers, and acquaintances openly inform me of their yearly gynecology appointments, pap smears, and results. People I have had very limited conversations with previously are comfortable asking for the details of my story. I strive to educate and inform others of the risks of cervical cancer. Likewise, I strive to give hope to those going through their storm.