Reaching That First Big Milestone

Five years? How is it possible?

Five years. It seems like much longer yet it’s still so fresh in my mind. I have spent so much time processing through what happened to me – the good and the bad. Where there was darkness, there was so much beauty to equal it out. Cue the universe’s synchronicities and all the cardinal sightings.

Six years ago, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer for the first time at age 24. They found spots in my lungs after only being six months into remission. It was truly devastating! I was back in school full-time, working full-time, and trying to regain some normalcy.

But life had other plans for me.

I went through diagnostic test after diagnostic test to confirm it was cancer. Indeed, I would be facing my mortality once again. I will never forget the words my oncologist spoke to me after I received my first three treatments, “There are 7-9% of women who experience a complete interval response to treatment. You are one of those 7-9%. You don’t have any evidence of disease.”

I knew I had been given such an incredible gift and that I must not waste this second chance at life. What I didn’t expect was to find my voice as loud as I’ve made it. I stumbled across Cervivor through a hashtag on Instagram – I didn’t see this as a coincidence. I fundraised my way to Cervivor School in 2017 where I flew out to Delray Beach, Florida and learned how to use my voice in advocacy. The rest is history.

I’m still processing through many of accomplishments that I’ve experienced over the last five years including the idea that I’ve graduated three times despite my diagnosis and treatments, and that I’ve reached my first big cancerversary milestone. I’ve jumped at every Cervivor opportunity to be a part of change from cancer panel speaking opportunities to proclamation signings with Iowa’s governor for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (January) to volunteering with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) to protect or improve policies related to cancer care. I also serve as a leader with Above and Beyond Cancer to make the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) community visible locally. Because of this work, I’ve been given three awards from Cervivor, ACSCAN, and Above and Beyond Cancer.

I know I wouldn’t be able to do this work alone, it takes a village to make a difference – to make change happen. It is exhausting and it can take a toll but it is also truly rewarding to see our impact taking place across the globe. I’ve met so many resilient and passionate advocates (along with their family members) – some are still with us while others have succumbed to their diagnoses. As a survivor and patient advocate, I had to accept and understand that this was going to be a common occurrence in our community but it didn’t make it suck any less.

However challenging this work may be, I wouldn’t trade this personal and professional growth for anything. Here’s to 5 years cancer free!

Morgan is a metastatic recurrent cervical cancer survivor, a 3x award winning patient advocate, and our Community Manager for Cervivor. She resides in Iowa with her boyfriend, Tony, their cat, Jeezy, and dachshund, Sassy. Morgan continues to advocate tirelessly in hopes her story can help others.

“Your cervix looks different this year”

“Your cervix looks different this year,” said my primary care doctor several years ago, as she performed the pelvic exam part of my annual exam. I remember chuckling to myself, not fully grasping the severity of her comment yet. Instead, I laid on the table thinking, “How does she remember what my cervix looks like from year to year?”

My doctor referred me to a gynecologist when the exam was over. I didn’t understand, but I also didn’t ask any questions. I visited the gynecologist two days later. She performed a colposcopy and referred me to an oncologist. Two days after that, I met with the oncologist and he told me that I had stage 2B cervical cancer. What started out as a routine exam had quickly turned into a life-threatening diagnosis.

What if…? What if…? What if…?

How could I have cervical cancer? I didn’t feel sick. I had no symptoms. (Cervical cancer symptoms can include, but are not limited to, abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, or pelvic pain during intercourse.) I went to my doctor every year for my annual well-woman exam and the results of my Pap tests always came back normal. But somehow, in the span of only one year, a 4 cm tumor had grown on my cervix. In one year, I went from having a normal Pap test result to having cancer. What a difference one year can make.

I started chemotherapy and radiation treatment to save my life. Doctors declared me cancer-free after I completed these treatments over the course of a few months. Today, I am a seven-year cervical cancer survivor. But my story could have been drastically different if I had skipped my well-woman exam that year.

What if I had used an excuse, like “I’m too busy”, to justify putting off that appointment? Or what if I had told myself that skipping one year wouldn’t hurt anything because I’m a generally healthy person? What if I had assumed my Pap test results would continue to be normal like they always had been? How much longer would my cancer have gone undetected? How far would my cancer have spread without my knowing? Would my prognosis have been different if my cancer wasn’t detected when it was? Would I even be alive today?

The importance of annual visits and cancer screenings

A cancer diagnosis is life changing. A cancer screening is lifesaving. Scheduling my annual exam saved my life. My cancer was detected early enough to be effectively treated because I went to my doctor every year.

If I had not scheduled my exam that year, my cancer would have continued to grow undetected and my life would have been at risk.

Preventative care exams are a breast exam, pelvic exam, and a Pap (and HPV) test. A Pap test looks for abnormal cells. If needed, these can be treated before they become cancerous. The HPV test looks for high-risk HPV that can cause abnormal cells. This lets your healthcare provider monitor you more closely for cell changes.. When the Pap test and HPV test are both performed during an exam, it is referred to as co-testing.

What are you waiting for?!

  • Reduce your risk for cervical cancer through screening tests, like the Pap test and HPV test.
  • Take care of yourself by scheduling your annual well-woman exam.
  • Raise awareness for cervical cancer detection and prevention by telling your family and friends to schedule their annual well-woman exams.
  • Benefit from Iowa’s Care for Yourself program, which provides free or low-cost cancer screenings for Iowans. Many other states have free or low-cost cancer screening programs too. Be sure to visit your state or county health department’s website.
  • Make a resolution to protect your health all year long.

About the Author

Emily Hoffman is a seven-year cervical cancer survivor who was diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer at age 30. She is a patient advocate and Cervivor Ambassador who shares her cancer story to raise awareness for cervical cancer and educate others on the importance of cancer screenings and prevention. Emily is the recipient of the 2020 Cervivor Spark Award. She is currently pursuing her certification to become a cancer registrar.