I’m Done With Treatment, But Treatment Isn’t Done With Me

I recently celebrated my 31st birthday. Around this time last year, I was a brand new 30-year-old enjoying summer with my awesome husband and 3 amazing kids. I never suspected that two months after I celebrated that milestone birthday, cancer would invade my life.

On the day my OBGYN found my tumor, I left her office sobbing. I walked the long way through the parking lot, sobbing. I didn’t care who saw me. The diagnosis was so hard to cope with. I couldn’t align myself with my new reality. I searched every part of my soul to come to grips with what I felt was the end of my life.

“I can’t have cancer. I’m young! My kids are so young! My husband’s going to be a widower, he doesn’t deserve this! My kids are going to grow up without me! They won’t remember me. I have so much left to do here,” I thought, my brain in overdrive. I felt betrayed by my body. 

Treatment was the longest, weirdest dream I’ve ever had

I began treatment. The plan was 6 rounds of chemotherapy, 30+ rounds of external radiation, and 5 internal radiations (brachytherapy). I now call treatment the longest, weirdest dream I’ve ever had because I felt like I was in a fog the entire time. My body was so weak. I barely ate. I slept all the time, but not deeply or comfortably. I felt restless. Thank goodness for my husband, my sister and my dad. They helped me daily. I remember trying to vacuum one day and nearly collapsing. It was so hard to take a back seat to everything. From not working or doing basic chores to watching as others took care of my children daily. That wasn’t me. Everyone who knows me knows that I am fiercely independent.

At the beginning of treatment, I had hand-drawn a calendar to count down to when I’d be done. With each day that passed, no matter how weak I felt, I always remembered to make another “X” on the calendar. It was a long 9 weeks. Treatment ended for me on December 13th, 2019. It was a Friday, and I joked that this nightmare was ending on Friday the 13th. To live up to its name, on that day – my last round of external radiation – the radiation machine that worked so faithfully all those weeks was broken. I stood there with my family (who all came for my last day) and waited around with a full bladder – which was the requirement before receiving radiation – for over an hour. I remember thinking, “Can’t I just get this over with?! I’m so ready!” Right at my breaking point, I heard my name over the intercom and 10 minutes later, I was done. I said goodbye to the amazing doctors and nurses who took care of me all those weeks.

I did it! I’m done!  I can move on forever. Or so I thought…
How naive I was to think that! I’ve learned over the past months that even though I’m done with treatment, treatment is not done with me. I’ve dealt with a plethora of side effects:

For a whole month after treatment, I had what felt like a never-ending UTI.

My bowels are a mess.

What I thought was an upset stomach one late February night has proven to be another side effect from radiation.

My joints ache.

My body doesn’t feel like a 31-year-old. I’m going through menopause! The physical symptoms are many, but the mental stuff is particularly hard. There are highs and lows. I’ve lost two friends over the past few months to cervical cancer. It does something to you to see other women with the same disease pass away. My heart breaks daily for their families.

NED (but there is still the physical and mental evidence of my cancer)

I had my first post-treatment PET scan in March and received the wonderful news that I had “No Evidence of Disease.” In the cancer world, “NED” is a term everyone wants to hear.

NED brings people to their knees.

We rejoice. We celebrate. We still worry, of course. I think I always will, and the aftereffects of treatment continue to bring challenges. But having cancer has given me the gift of perspective. I gladly accept each day that comes. I am thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful for all of the small things that bring me joy.

Even with everything I’ve been through – all the procedures, side effects, and pain – I’d do it all again to be here with my husband and children. I’d do it a thousand times over.

My body: How can I not love something that has fought so hard for me to be here?

I am most thankful for my body. I’m proud of it for everything it has been through and how it still keeps going. All of my physical insecurities have been put to rest.

How can I not love something that has fought so hard for me to be here? That’s what I am. I’m here.  I’m still here! 

About Natasha:

Natasha is full time work-from-home/homeschooling mom of three who enjoys taking photos of anything and everything, traveling, reading multiple books at the same time, and finding new places to show her kids. Read Natasha’s Cervivor Story here.

Beads with a Purpose: To “Feel that Person in Your Heart”

When Chanel’s mother passed in 2018 of a heart condition, she was beside herself with grief. When Chanel had gone through her cervical cancer treatment, her mother had been her rock of support. “My mom was the first person I called when I found out. She slept with me in the hospital. She cooked for me and my family while I was recovering.” Her grief launched Chanel down a unique path of remembering loved ones, celebrating survivorship and celebrating life.

“I was reading an article about dealing with grief, and one piece of advice it gave was to take up a hobby,” said Chanel. “I love jewelry and accessories, so I bought some beads, watched some classes on YouTube and started making bracelets and necklaces.”

Today, her bracelets celebrate the fight against cervical cancer and memorialize those we’ve lost.

“At first, I started making my bracelets in all colors. Then I found some cancer awareness charms online and incorporated those. Then cervical cancer awareness month rolled around, and I went teal and white.” Today, her whole workspace is teal and white. “I even found a teal desk chair,” Chanel shared proudly.

As she crafted, her bracelets became more personal.

Chanel felt alone when going through her cervical cancer treatments in 2013 (read Chanel’s Cervivor Story) until she found Cervivor’s Facebook page. She posted, looking for women close to her in Atlanta. A fellow Cervivor, Teolita, replied right away. They connected, chatted and befriended each other. Teolita and her mother were planning a cervical cancer awareness event and extended an invitation. Chanel attended, armed with teal and white bracelets “to give out and to bless women with.” She, Teolita and Deborah – another Cervivor in the area who she quickly bonded with – took a photo together, smiling proudly about the successful event at which they were able to share their stories and educate about cervical cancer prevention.

Today, that photo sits on Chanel’s desk.

Today, Chanel is the only one of the three still with us.

Teolita passed in August 2019. Deborah just recently lost her battle with cervical cancer in April 2020.

“It hits me hard, every time I look at that picture. I am the last one. ‘Don’t go into survivor’s remorse,’ my pastor counseled me. I figured the Lord must have a reason for me to still be here. I knew I needed to be active in the cervical cancer survivor community and to get the word out about cervical cancer prevention. I knew that was what Teolita and Deborah would want.” She made use of her photo to make charms, then made a bracelet with a photo charm of Teolita, a photo charm of Deborah, and angel wings. She shared them with their families. She saw the meaning it brought.

Today, Chanel is a passionate advocate for cervical cancer prevention. And, her bracelet making has become a small business as she fills orders for photo charm bracelets and survivorship bracelets from members of her church, her friends, Cervivors, and for people who find her on Facebook or Instagram. Chanel’s bracelets are not just for memorial purposes, but also to celebrate survivorship – like the bracelets she’s made with a boxing glove charm and the words “fighter” and “survivor.”

“These bracelets have meaning. That’s why I love doing this. When you wear them, you feel something in your heart.”

The memorial bracelets in particular are her special way to support people grieving.

“I don’t make these so that people should feel sad. I make them so that people can feel that person in their heart, can still feel close to the person and can still cherish their memory. I love making these because I know what they can mean to someone.”

“People have told me they often cry when they receive my bracelets. But I’m not trying to make people cry. I’m trying to celebrate life.”

Chanel lives in Conyers, GA and is always looking to connect with Cervivors in the area. Read her Cervivor Story and see more of her bracelets on her Facebook or Instagram.