Cancer-the word that stops you in your tracks. Cancer-the word that you hope you never hear. Cancer-the word that changes your world and sometimes even for the better if you can believe it! My cancer story started in August of 2013 when I started spotting in between my periods and noticing bloody discharge after intercourse. I contacted my OB/GYN’s office and they said to keep a journal since I had an upcoming appointment in October. I didn’t think much of these symptoms since they weren’t frequent. I mentioned these symptoms my during my annual appointment. My pap smear came back clean but she had also tested me for HPV which came back positive. At the time I was 46 and had been with my husband since I was 19. Did you know that HPV can live for decades undetected until it’s not? I also have Crohn’s Disease which is an autoimmune disease that lowers your body’s defensives and can let in viruses but why it took decades to rear its ugly head, I have no idea! My OB/GYN scheduled a colposcopy a few weeks later and abnormal cells were detected so she took some biopsies. This was on a Monday. By Friday afternoon, her office had called and asked that I come in that day to discuss the results. I told the receptionist that I had plans with friends and I could come in on Monday. She must have thought I was crazy. I know my husband did because when I hung up, he looked at me and said for me to call them back and we were going in that afternoon. It then hit me that this is getting serious. I called my best friend to let her know and was talking to her when my youngest daughter came home from school and saw that I was crying. The three of us drove to the appointment; each of us lost in our own thoughts. My doctor was on vacation that day so we met with her colleague who gave us the bad news. CERVICAL CANCER! She couldn’t give me any other information and by that time all three of us were crying. She told me she made an appointment for me for the following Thursday with the best Gynecologic oncologist in San Diego. So for 6 days the three of us lived with this diagnosis and only told a couple of people. We didn’t tell my oldest daughter who was 3000 miles away at college or my mom until we had more answers and a game plan. I think I floated through those 6 days in some kind of suspended reality.
Thursday arrived and we told my daughter to go to school and we would keep her posted. I remember the day was sunny and warm (San Diego Novembers are pretty much the same as San Diego Augusts) as we drove to the doctors with the top down in my car. The doctor wasn’t the warmest or friendliest but her office staff was great. She was the best and that is all we could ask for. Spoiler: Yes she did eventually warm up at my last appointment when she kicked me to the curb at year 5. My diagnosis was Stage 1B2. I remember thinking best worst news I could have received and focused on three words-beatable, curable, treatable. We then had a game plan and I broke the news to my other daughter the next night and thankfully she lived with 5 friends so they all supported her that night and to my mom and in laws that weekend. The rest of our family and friends found out shortly after. December 4th was surgery day. I was to have a radical hysterectomy by way of the DaVinci machine. I joked afterwards that my doc was probably on vacation in paradise and was performing my surgery from her hotel room. My husband learned all he could about the procedure and found this fantastic online support group called hystersisters.com. Before my surgery I read women’s posts who were at least one week post surgery and focused only on the positive posts because that’s where I plan to be after my surgery. The surgery took a little longer than expected because the tumors were larger and more invasive. My GYN/ONC removed my cervix, tubes, chunks of my vaginal wall and uterus but left my ovaries. I was in the hospital for 4 days and let me tell you time drags! If you ever want to slow down time, check into the hospital. I was sent home with a drain and a catheter bag and shampoo in a cap since I couldn’t shower for a week. Now that was fun!!!!! The best part is by the time we got home from the hospital, my husband had to run to two different pharmacies to fill my prescriptions so he left me with my mom and daughter. My mom brought over her portable toilet which I could hang my catheter bag on when I slept and she almost ripped out the catheter as she moved it. Thank god she didn’t but we still used to laugh about that. After a week, the drain came out but the catheter bag stayed in for another week. My husband was a rockstar-he emptied both my drain and my bag so I didn’t have to. During my recovery I learned to say yes to meals being dropped off and yes to help with my youngest. That was probably the hardest because I was used to doing it all.
Week 2 post surgery my oldest and her boyfriend took me to my post op appointment and catheter removal. I drank a ton of water before my appointment since I really wanted the bag removed. It was getting close to Christmas and I still had things to get done. It took 40 minutes of sitting in the bathroom at the doctor’s office trying to urinate with my daughter encouraging me and making me laugh so I could fill up the container and get out of there. At this appointment we also found out that because my cancer was more invasive than originally thought, I would need to have 28 radiation sessions and 6 platinum based chemo sessions as a precaution. I had 6 weeks to fully recover before round 2 of my cancer fight started.
I started radiation first which in all honestly was a piece of cake compared to chemo. My aunt told me about this gel that her best friend’s oncologist husband recommends to all his patients so I bought that and started using it after every session before I got dressed. It was a miracle product and I escaped radiation burns. I now recommend this product to everyone I come in contact with who needs radiation. Week 2 of radiation also meant round 1 of chemo. I didn’t require a port since I only had 6 sessions but I kind of wish I had one installed. My veins took a beating and with every week blood draws required before I could start my next round. I felt great after round 1 and decided I didn’t need the anti-nausea meds. I didn’t realize that the reason I felt great was from all the meds they give you before and after the infusion that you leave the cancer center feeling great. Round 1 definitely went to chemo so going forward I knew what to expect. I didn’t like that chemo really messed with my bowels, so I struggled through that part every week. Crohn’s Disease and chemo don’t play well together! I would have my chemo on Mondays and by Wednesday I would start to feel the effects. After chemo for some reason I craved Taco Bell. No judgements!!! By Wednesday I was drinking smoothies and hoping to keep them down. By Friday night/Saturday morning, I felt like myself so I would go to exercise class and eat whatever sounded good only to start the cycle over again. After round 4, I developed tinnitus so my radiology oncologist and my gynecologic oncologist discussed and decided since chemo was done for preventive measures, it wasn’t worth losing my hearing for two more sessions. It was a relief to be finished with chemo but at the same time I would worry for the next 5 years that it could come back because I missed those 2 sessions.
This past December I celebrated 9 years cancer free. In the beginning I mentioned that cancer changes your world sometimes of the better and I am here to say yes it does! My husband and I started living more and enjoying our time together. My career became just a job and not an all-consuming object. My cancer diagnosis was a blessing in another way. My youngest who was a junior in high school realized that I may not be around forever and became this awesome, caring teen (if you have daughters, then you know what I am talking about. Those teen years are sometimes more of a challenge than 4 rounds of chemo) and our bond developed into a better and stronger relationship. I look back and can say I am proud of how I handled my diagnosis, surgery, recovery and chemo/rad. I let myself cry and fall apart until I had my game plan in place and then it was “let’s get this out and get this time in my life in the rear-view mirror.” I decided warrior status was so much better than laying on my bathroom floor in a ball wallowing about my diagnosis. I had to be strong for my daughters and husband and for myself. Cancer is a journey that can really make or break a person and if you are lucky, you come out on the other side stronger and more resilient.