The ER diagnosed my pain as sciatica instead of advanced cervical cancer

My cervical cancer story started in my 40s. I’d been a single mother to three amazing children. They’d all grown up and I had started taking better care of myself and my health. For many years, I admit, I didn’t do my annual check-ups and Pap smear. I didn’t have insurance, but I also did not make time. I didn’t understand the importance of annual exams. I didn’t know what I was up against.

Tracy at Cervivor School 2019 in Chicago

When I turned 45, I started noticing that my periods were different. I was having pain during intercourse. My lower back and the backs of my legs hurt constantly. I still didn’t have health insurance, so I didn’t go to the doctor. I thought my back hurt because I was trying to get healthier and doing more exercise. I lived with the pain for a while until I finally decided to go to the ER when the pain became worse.  

At the hospital, I was told my pain was a “sciatic nerve” to be treated with ice and heat. They didn’t do a pelvic exam or ask about my reproductive health history or anything about that part of my body. They just assumed they knew what was wrong, and they sent me home.

(I guess they didn’t know what I know now:  that low back pain and pelvic pain can be linked to problems with reproductive organs such as the cervix. That a sign of cervical cancer is pelvic pain – especially continuous pain, like the type I had.)

The pain went on for months. Then a day before my 46th birthday,  I was going to the bathroom and something came out that was not normal – it was what looked to be a piece of flesh, from inside me. I knew right then something was wrong.  The day after my 46th birthday, I went back to the ER. This time, they took me in for a CAT scan. After the scan, the ER doctor came in the room and handed me a card. He told me they saw a mass and that I needed to contact the doctor on the card ASAP. 

I left the hospital crying, confused and scared. I was able to get an appointment for the following day. That doctor found an 8 cm tumor on my cervix. She told me right then, “I am sorry to tell you but you have cervical cancer.”

I did not know what to say or think. I burst out into tears. I knew my life had changed forever. I didn’t know what HPV or cervical cancer was. I was scared I was going to die.

My next six months were all treatment, a lot of it: 28 rounds of radiation, 6 rounds of chemo and 4 rounds of internal radiation also known as brachytherapy – a procedure that involves placing radioactive material inside your body.

The good news: in August 2017, I was told I was cancer free! 

Today I want to teach everyone about HPV, cervical cancer and the other cancers that HPV can cause. I want to encourage all parents of boys and girls to make sure their kids get the HPV vaccine. I want to educate women of all ages to keep up with their annual gyn exams.

I also want to make sure that women and doctors know about the connection between lower back pain and pelvic pain to cervical cancer. While of course back pain and pelvic pain can be caused by many different reasons, it is important to at least be aware of the connection and ask questions. I wish the doctors in the ER had asked me before diagnosing me with sciatic nerve pain. I wish I knew to ask questions myself and to mention my irregular bleeding and pain during sex, even though I was at the ER for “back pain.” Cervical cancer is not something I want anyone else to go through. I am going to work hard for the rest of my life to spread the word and end the stigma.

Tracy Jimenez  is a 2-year cervical cancer survivor from Colorado who recently attended the 2019 Cervivor School, where she learned “that cancer will not stop me and that I will be a voice to educate others. I am a fighter and Cervivor School showed me no one is alone in this fight.”

Read Tracy’s full Cervivor story

Cervivor School 2019 Was Incredible

Cervivor’s 12th patient advocacy training event in Chicago was one for the books! We had some of the most inspiring and informative speakers during our 2-day event, along with memory-making fun.

Tamika & Lisa

We kicked it off with our Welcome Reception that featured comedian and cervical cancer survivor Lisa Gopman. This wonder women powerhouse made her below-the-belt cancer funny and oh-so relatable, especially to a crowd of Cervivors! Lisa was so inspired by our program and the women she met that she stayed with us for the entire weekend.

Day one was our Wellness Day where Tamika and Lead Advocacy Educator Heather Banks share the importance of growing Cervivor’s footprint and the power of our stories. Honing in on those important messages, we heard from Cervivor Ambassador’s Emily Hoffman and Morgan Newmann on how they found their collective Cervivor voice. In between our sessions, we practiced mindful awareness, restful restoration and reclaimed our Yin energy with Lauren Mansell.

Cervivor Ambassador’s Paulette Apostolou and Carol Lacey presented an interactive session, Healing Through Writing, started by our very own Erica Frasier Stum. We had a another impactful session with Dr. Amy Siston on living through the emotional trauma that is cancer. And for the second year, we heard from the dynamic Roshanda Pratt who talked about knowing our why and how that can propel us in the work we do as Cervivors.

“I’m forever impacted by Cervivor School. I knew it would be inspiring and educational, but I did not expect it to be life changing in terms of how my story goes. I feel braver, stronger and more confident with my story then I ever have been before. I’m no longer leaving it buried like it has been for the last 6 years. Speaking about it in a way that can help educate others makes me feel powerful over cancer. It doesn’t scare me anymore!”
– Cervivor Amy Dent, Australia, Diagnosis: stage 1b1 cervical cancer

We ended the evening with dinner together and our Pajama Jam, where Dr. Siston lead us through a discussion on our bodies after cancer and how that can effect our sexual health. Girl talk after cancer looks and feels different and there is something safe and sacred about being in a room with women who truly ‘get it’.

Day two is our Medical Day where we get the latest and greatest on HPV, the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screening. Dr. Sherrie Wellington started the day talking about cervical cancer disparities and thinking beyond our own communities. Cervical cancer is global issue, and even in our own communities there are so many who do not have access to proper screening or are uninformed about the HPV vaccine. Dr. Wellington used the term, “knowledge gap” and how we as patient advocates can fill that much needed knowledge gap.

Dr. Nita Lee, who was instrumental in helping with this year’s speaker lineup, talked about HPV and it’s connection to cervical cancer. Dr. Lee and Paulette also talked about how Cervivors’ and their oncology team can make the best partnership when it comes to reaching more women in one’s own community. We also heard from Dr. Andrea Loberg and Dr. Marielle Fricchione on cervical cancer screening guidelines and vaccination as presentation.


“I just can’t stop telling people how life changing and powerful it was for me.”
– Cervivor Becky Wallace, California, Diagnosis: Adenosquamous carcinoma stage 1BII

Jennifer Sienko with the American Cancer Society & the HPV Roundtable joined us again this year to talk about being armed and compassionate advocates when it comes to talking about HPV facts. We also heard from Cervivor Ambassador’s Maria Franklin and Tina Vetreno who talked about contributing to Cervivor’s footprint and the importance that the tile ‘Cervivor Ambassador’ holds.

Karla & Maria

We closed out the weekend with Tamika presenting the 2019 Cervivor Champion Award to one of our Leadership team members, Maria Franklin. A much deserved accolade to a woman who tirelessly works in and outside our Latinx community, educating and guiding, as well as managing our Cervivor Espanol site. Congratulations Maria!

Our newest Cervivor School graduates hold the promise of making their survivorship count by using their newfound Cervivor knowledge to educate their communities and beyond. As Maria so passionately said, “Every single one of us has to do our part. Ending cervical cancer is our job.”

Pajama Jam fun!


“Cervivor school showed me what I really have to offer as an ambassador and how to come out of my shell. I left knowing that I was not alone. I learned way more about myself and what I can offer. I felt like I now I am part of something that is going to be a part of changing lives. Cancer will not stop me and that I will be a voice to educate others. I am a fighter and Cervivor School showed me no one is alone. It was the best time and the best learning experience I have had. It definitely changed my life.”
 – Cervivor Tracy Jimenez, Colorado, Diagnosis: Stage 2b

Team Cervivor wishes all our new and returning Ambassador’s much success and wellness as you move through your journey with Cervivor.