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

Take Advantage of the Season of Giving to Build Up Cervivor

Use the “Season of Giving” to do some fundraising for Cervivor so we can keep up our good work. Did you know that about 25% of all annual giving in the U.S. occurs during the last three months of the year? We’ve all no doubt received the end-of-year appeals letters from local and national nonprofits. Our fundraising work may be smaller but is much more personal because of the stories are ours. The community is ours. Want to help fundraise but not sure how? Here are a few starting suggestions. Please reach out to us at info@cervivor.org and we can help you brainstorm and plan.

  • Donate yourself, then ask for a match. Donate to Cervivor and ask your employer to match. Post info about your donation on Facebook/Instagram, say why you gave and encourage your friends to match, with a link to our donation page.
  • Start a Facebook fundraiserFacebook’s fundraiser makes it easy to select a beneficiary (Cervivor!) and kick off a social media fundraising campaign. Share why Cervivor is important to you. Make a “Christmas with a Difference” or “All I Want for Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) is for Cervical Cancer to be Eliminated” fundraiser. Let us know what creative ideas you have! Share a link and we’ll promote your fundraiser in our blog or newsletter.
  • Take advantage of Giving Tuesday by donating or asking others to donate: On the heels of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” Giving Tuesday (Dec. 3 – the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) is a global day of giving is fueled by the power of social media. It’s a great opportunity to donate to Cervivor and to help raise money for Cervivor. Last year we raised more than $10,000 for Cervivor on this one day. Help us keep up the momentum. Each donation helps us grow our outreach, activities and advocacy. 
  • If you’re shopping on Amazon for the holidays, sign up for Amazon Smile and select Cervivor as your charity of choice. We get a contribution from Amazon each time you shop, all year long, so you can feel even better about buying presents for your family…or yourself!
  • Host a Friendsgiving: Are you more an IRL (in real life) person than a social media person? Convene your friends for a “Cervivor Friendsgiving” meal. Share what you are grateful for. Share your Cervivor story and educate about prevention. Ask friends to donate to Cervivor, or to come to the dinner with $10, $20, $50 or whatever makes sense. Cervivor is about the power of community of women there to support each other – not so different from your own community of friends. Tie the two together. 

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season ahead. Big meals. Cooking. Shopping. Turkey Day. Christmas. Hanukkah. Kwanzaa. New Year’s Eve. All of this then leads to our favorite month of the year: Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in January – which rolls around when we are all barely coming up for air from the holidays. So now is the time to get started. We hope these holiday action steps for our community are helpful. We are so appreciative of your support.