When Cervical Cancer Side Effects Bring Life-Altering Changes

After completing my oncology protocol and hysterectomy for my cervical cancer, I developed a rectovaginal fistula. This meant that due to the radiation I received, my colon and vaginal wall merged. I like to think of it as when you burn two plastic sheets together, they become one. At some point, a tear began to form, and it developed into a fistula. 

How did I find out about the fistula? I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but if I look back, I do remember a very sharp pain after I sneezed about four weeks after my hysterectomy. Later that week I noticed a different color in my urine and some pain each time I went to the bathroom. I called my doctor and he said he would like to check it out. By the time I went I was passing small clots, I was unaware if it was due to the surgery or an infection. When the doctor ran his tests, and the pelvic exam being the most painful one, he confirmed that a fistula had been formed. It was about one centimeter in diameter. 

Photo from GynecologicSurgery.com

A week after my initial exams, I started passing stool through my vagina. That part of it has been the most horrible part of my life after cervical cancer treatment. I was told to wear diapers during this period, but I didn’t want to, so I started using maxi pads. I would be needing to change them at least 4 times a day. Going to the bathroom was painful and uncomfortable. I was battling pain and infections during the next couple of months until all testing was completed to see the course of action my doctors wanted to take. I started carrying an extra pair of jeans and 2-3 pairs of underwear because of the accidents. Doctors told me not to go to work during this time, but I really didn’t want to stay home. I needed to be doing something to take my mind off it. I made a strategy plan; I parked my car next to the nearest bathroom at my construction site. That way it was easier to get to my emergency bag and I had my brother working close by so I would call him up if I had any accidents that might require extra assistance. I also told two of my male coworkers what was going on with me just in case anything went wrong. 

The most traumatic moment for me was when they had to perform the colon enema test on me. I remember I was that table being pumped full with barium and then just noticed my legs getting wet. I began crying and told the doctor that I was peeing myself. He said, it’s okay and they can clean it up. But I couldn’t stop crying and then I started to panic. He put his hand on my head and told me to breathe, he said he knows how painful this is but he needs to find out what is going on. When it was over, there were nurses in the room cleaning me up, that’s when I noticed that the bed and the floor were covered in my feces and barium, that came out of my vagina. To this day, it has been the worst experience I have ever had. 

I remember changing in the examination room stall crying, feeling embarrassed, and with the desire to hug my brother who was waiting for me. There have been many beautiful things in my life, but that hug, that hug made me feel so safe. The doctor explained the extent of the damaged I had and that my surgeon would recommend getting a colostomy. 

I am grateful for my colostomy, it has made my life less complicated. 

Karla with her brother

Living with a tiny fistula, has changed my life, but has not stopped it. I did try Crossfit for two weeks but had to be checked since I started bleeding a bit, which showed that the fistula had become larger. So, now I stick to low impact activities, like walking and stretching. I have little to no infections and luckily I am off Tramadol and Dexketoprofen, which was the protocol I had for pain management.

My fistula is still here. In my last exam the doctor said it was barely detectable. I am still not sure if it will heal, statistics do not support this idea, so we know that my ostomy is becoming permanent. Which I don’t mind.

Karla Chavez is a Cervivor Ambassador, Cervivor Español Co-Lead and a 2022 Cervivor Champion Award recipient. Karla is a civil engineer in her home country of Honduras and she’s an amigurumi enthusiast.

The Power of Community

Every January, our community commits to bringing their global voices together in unison to talk about and bring awareness to cervical cancer and what it means to be a Cervivor.

Cervivor is a movement and a community. A community of people who find themselves holding on together because of the most life-shattering circumstance possible — a cervical cancer diagnosis.

As we say so often, we are in a club that no one wants to be in but having found each other brings us hope, support, and a platform to bring the visibility needed for cervical cancer prevention and awareness.

We come from everywhere. Urban cities, rural communities, countries across the globe, suburbs, and everywhere in between. Our diagnosis, treatment plans, and the way we move within our cancer is different for each of us yet when we arrive at Cervivor we realize we have a collective voice that is unstoppable.

Maybe you took that first step and shared your cervical cancer story. You typed out the nitty gritty of being diagnosed with a cancer that is rarely talked about and far too often stigmatized. And then you went on to read the stories of other women, some so similar that you immediately felt connected. That’s where it begins, this community of Cervivors.

These are your words, our collective voice, and this is what being a part of the Cervivor community means to you.

THANK YOU CERVIVOR TEAM @iamcervivor for your eyes to see, your ears to listen, and your hearts to heal. Let’s keep spreading awareness and support our fellow CERVIVORS who need us the most! ~ Arlene

This came just in time to accompany to my first chemo (this time around) tomorrow. Bring on healing and killing cancer with strength. ~ Laura W

I just got the sweetest note in the mail. Totally lifted me up. Love all my Cervivor sisters! And you’re right, with having all of you in my corner, I’ve totally got this! This is just a small bump in the road, but onwards and upwards! ~ Tammy

I just came home from my nephrostomy tube exchange to this amazing gesture that brought tears to my eyes. Team Cervivor you all are amazing, your support and kindness goes beyond anyone’s expectations and I am eternally grateful to be part of this group. Thank you! ~ Carmen

Today I’m very grateful for this beautiful card! Words can’t describe how thankful I am for finding out about this group  I wish I could have found it earlier! ~ Alexia

Thank you, Team Cervivor, for making a rough week a little better today! I’ve been down with the flu all week, and solo parenting on top of it. This was such a sweet delivery today. ~ Anne Z

So much love! Thank you, Cervivor, for always being there! ~ Joanna

Team Cervivor is truly the best; sitting here crying… thank you. People don’t understand the milestone this means… but it is so wonderful to be a part of this group who really do get the relief we have for making it to this one-year mark! Thank you for all your hard work behind the scenes and for us! ~ Victoria

Thank you Cervivor for giving me this opportunity to be among this great and strong team. ~ Milicent 

Thank you, Team Cervivor for the birthday card. I have been feeling down because I was a little bit under the weather but this card made my day. You guys are awesome and thank you to everyone in this group for making this community wonderful. ~ Anna

I came home yesterday to goodies and a nice book after a trip with my mom to the oncologist. I felt really down that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to during last month and I was hard on myself, so when I received this from CERVIVOR, I was happy for the uplifting and encouragement. Cervivor is amazing for all that they do to assist all of us in being empowered and also caring for ourselves. ~ Kyana 

We are Cervivor. You make this a community by uplifting each other with grace and compassion. You share the difficulties cervical cancer can bring yet you always make sure to check in with each other. Thank you for being here, for sharing your stories, and making this a safe place for all.

Not yet a part of the Cervivor community? Join our Facebook group I’m A Cervivor!, Cervivor Español, or Cervivor Noir. Do you identify as Asian or Pacific Islander? A private group will be coming soon. To be in the know, send us an email at info@cervivor.org.

Do you have a cervical cancer story to share? Visit cervivor.org/stories and share yours today.