How my story begins: I was experiencing discomfort in my genital area from what appeared to me to be a pimple. There was a little bleeding, so I decided to go to my gynecologist. It was right around the time I usually get my yearly checkup, including a Pap test and internal exam. I thought I would just need a topical cream or something simple like that. My OB/GYN, who I’ve been with for years, immediately wanted to have a biopsy done. I started getting a little worried at this point. He told me I would have to come back and see the other OB/GYN in his office since he was no longer insured to do the procedure he'd felt was needed. (He'd been practicing for over 30 years). The other OB/GYN's schedule was not easy to coordinate with, so I ended up needing to schedule the procedure the day of my son's 4th birthday.
Upon the visit for the biopsy the new OB/GYN flat out told me it "didn’t look good" and that it was most likely cancer. She did the biopsy and pretty much told me that "it was a good thing I already had two children" - because with the treatments I would likely soon have to undergo, I would probably not be able to have anymore children.
Life before my diagnosis: I was a music teacher, married with 2 sons and living a healthy life for the most part. I always struggled with my weight, but other than having my gallbladder removed in 2010, I had no real health problems.
How I felt after diagnosis: Although the day of the biopsy was not an "official" diagnosis, I was devastated. But I had to go home and put on a happy face for my son's 4th birthday party. I cried on the phone to my husband before I returned home. I was scared for me and for my family. The official diagnosis confirmed that I had cancer - actually a very rare type of cervical cancer that only 2-4% of women get.
Telling my family and friends: Telling my family and friends and my principals and coworkers was difficult, but I knew they would be supportive. My colleagues were especially supportive, as a year earlier we had all dealt with losing our beloved principal to pancreatic cancer. Many of my colleagues had their own stories about being affected by cancer one way or another. There were a lot of tears and hugs and advice. There was lots of love.
My treatment: My treatment consisted of an aggressive schedule of daily radiation alternating with chemotherapy. My last few radiation treatments were internal. The chemotherapy medicine caused me to lose all my hair. I always felt nauseous and so tired.
How I felt after treatment: I felt nauseous and fatigued for months after my treatments had completed. I also experienced neuropathy in my feet and hands. It was annoying but bearable. My hair eventually grew back thicker and healthier. I gained my energy back slowly and one day I realized I finally wasn’t nauseous anymore. My students and colleagues excitedly welcomed me back at the start of the school year, and I took it one day at a time.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult day for me and my husband was the day we met with the radiation oncologist about my treatment and I asked the question: “If this is such a rare type of cancer, what have been the outcomes of your experience with treating it?” I was then told about a patient who didn’t make it past two years! That’s when it became oh so real. My husband and I broke down, but held it together enough to tell the doctor that we needed her to do everything to help me be here for my 4 year old son. My husband didn’t accept the statistics at all saying, "that’s not going to be my wife! She’s going to be the exception.”
What I did to help myself: As much as possible, I cut down on eating sugar and carbs. I took my medicine and vitamins. Sometimes I had to get IV fluids and one time I had to get a blood transfusion. But I tried my best to stay positive. I prayed a lot and listened to inspirational music. I enjoyed spending time with my family, despite not always feeling up to it.
My life after cancer: I am still a music teacher for elementary and middle school students. I am now also an aspiring songwriter. A lot of my music is inspirational. I'm also working on a collection of children’s songs. I am more social and go to more family events. I try not to sweat the small stuff or complain too much because I don’t want to waste too much time with nonsense. Not after what I went through and overcame! I’m not perfect or a saint or anything, but for some reason I’m still on this earth and I want to make the most of it!
Where I am today: I am still dealing with neuropathy. I see it as a reminder of what I made it through. Other than that, I am relatively healthy. I continue to get scans once a year now and I see my oncologists every 6 months. They are a wonderful group of doctors. I did have to deal with side effects which affected my sex life. It took time and a lot of patience. It was unchartered territory for me, but my doctors were very supportive with advice and recommendations.
What I want other women to know: I want women to know they’re not alone. They should take advantage of all the support groups out there. I want them to understand that being diagnosed with cervical cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. Education, nutrition and treatment is so important.
How I will try to help others: I can help others by sharing my story and my music.
Any additional information you'd like to share: Below is a link to one of my videos - a photo slideshow of my cancer journey with my original song “You’re Blessed” - for anyone who wants to watch. At the end, I thank all my doctors and friends and family in my life and I urge women to get annual screenings.