Month: October 2017

Three Years Ago…

Three years ago I had my first day of chemotherapy and external radiation. The first day of a five and a half week schedule that consisted of five rounds of Cisplatin, a platinum based chemotherapy, and twenty-eight rounds of external radiation to my pelvic area. It wasn’t expected that I’d have to have additional treatment after my radical hysterectomy to treat cervical cancer. But unfortunately, after pathology showed microscopic traces of cancer in two out of nineteen of the lymph nodes they removed from my pelvis, it was important to undergo further treatment to destroy any remaining cells that could be lurking in my body.

I remember people telling me to “be strong” and that I’d “be fine”. But at the time, I didn’t know if I’d be fine. But it’s hard to figure out what to say to someone whose going through cancer treatment. It’s hard to find the words or figure out the actions that will truly help them be strong or be fine. In my case, mentally I wasn’t strong and I wasn’t fine and I knew it.

The first day of treatment I remember crying. I cried because it hadn’t been the original plan. I cried because going through surgery was hard, but going through chemo and radiation somehow gave me a stronger understanding of the fact that I had cancer. The weeks that followed seemed to move slowly. Each day was different and each day I grew weaker, not just due to the treatment, but because I was depressed more than I’d ever been. I wasn’t strong or fine, I was scared and anxious, angry and tired.

I cried almost every single day, especially the days I had chemo. And when I completed treatment five and a half weeks later, I looked like a shell of my former self. From the day I was told I had cancer to the final day of treatment I had lost about twenty pounds from an already thin body. Treatment made me nauseous and gave me daily bouts of diarrhea. There were days I could stomach eating, but there were very few things I actually wanted to eat. On the days I had radiation (Monday through Friday), I’d go for my treatment in the morning, which only took fifteen minutes or so, and then I’d be back at home on the couch or in bed, tired and not wanting to move, constantly feeling anxious about my health and worried I would not get through it.

But I did. In a few weeks, the anniversary of my completion of treatment, I will consider myself three years NED (no evidence of disease). I am not the person I once was, though most people think I’m that same woman. I am not stronger or wiser than I was before being diagnosed with cervical cancer, but I am more grateful and more understanding of my own mortality. I’m grateful I’ve been given more time to watch my daughter grow up, more time to spend with my loved ones, and more time to experience this Earth.

When I completed treatment I promised I’d get stronger and do the things I had kept putting off. But I didn’t do all I promised myself. I didn’t complete the rewrite of my first novel. I didn’t get my body in better shape. I didn’t read 50 books in a year.

First Day of Chemo, October 13, 2014

Today, when the notification came up on Facebook that I had memories to look back on, a photo of my first day of chemo came up. I had a smile on my face, strength in my eyes. I looked at the woman I was and got angry with myself for not doing the things I promised I’d do. I reiterated that list to myself multiple times and remembered that feeling of knowing I’m not promised forever and that we only have now. So today I started working my novel again, and tonight I will continue reading the book I started on my Kindle, and tomorrow I’ll do some crunches and some push-ups. And every morning I’ll try to remind myself of that moment I had this morning when I remembered that life can be short and that I need to stop putting things off just because it’s easier that way. Today is today, and tomorrow is not promised.


A Week of Sadness

It’s been two months since I’ve posted. I’ve been busy between work and home and all the in-betweens. Today I felt the need to take a quick break at work to write my thoughts because I needed to write them and I wanted to share them.

This week the Cervivor community has lost two strong, beautiful women to cervical cancer. Jillian and Lisa were too young to leave this world, both younger than myself. They both struggled through cervical cancer, you know, the one so many commonly refer to as the “easy” cancer. The one that we’re so afraid to talk about because it’s on a cervix, not a breast or a testicle or a lung. And let’s not forget that it’s often caused by HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that makes women think others will consider them promiscuous because of the ridiculous stigma attached to it.

Please do not think I don’t support the discussion and research of the cancers I mentioned above, that is not my intention. All cancers deserve all the support they can get. Instead, my intention is to tell you that discussing cervical cancer is important and it is taking the lives of women young and old. Cervical cancer and HPV don’t give a shit if you’re 23 and single, 30 and married, or 58 and retired with grandchildren on the way. Cervical cancer and HPV don’t discriminate based on your skin color or religion or cultural background. They effect thousands of women every single day and no one wants to talk about it.

In our country we so easily discuss sex. We watch it on television and in movies, we see it on the covers of magazines and books. But we’re afraid to talk about HPV. If our gynecologist tells us we have a strain of high risk HPV, we maybe tell a loved one, a boyfriend or spouse, a confidant, but then we tuck it into our brains, afraid to tell anyone else because, you know, it came from having sex…or oral sex…or anal sex…or some kind of sexual touch. Here’s a little secret I want to let you in on… sex is a natural thing! Most of us have sex at some time in our lives, whether it’s with one person or five people or fifteen people (or more). And since HPV often has no symptoms at all, you don’t know who has it and who does not. Which is why 8 out of 10 women have a high risk strain of HPV at some time in their lives. 8 OUT OF 10!

I urge you, if you’re a woman whose tested positive for HPV, have had pre-cancerous cervical cells, or have had cervical cancer, do not be embarrassed or silent. Do not let society force you into believing that everyone will think you sleep around. Do not let society make you think that there’s something wrong with you. Talk to people, tell someone. I’m not saying announce it to the world; talk to people on your own terms. Tell your family, your girlfriends, and others you are close with. Tell them how common it is, especially the women in your life, and remind them how important it is to keep up with well-woman visits and to get Pap tests and HPV screenings. Our stories can potentially help someone else. By telling just one person who didn’t know anything about HPV or who’d been putting off well-woman visits with a gynecologist, you could guide them to getting a check up that may be life saving.

I’m writing this post quickly this morning, so my apologies if what I’ve written seems scatterbrained. Currently my mind is indeed scattered with sadness and grief for the women I’ve known and seen leave this world because of cervical cancer… the “easy” cancer.

To those who may actually read this post, if you’re a woman, make your well-woman appointment and ask for an HPV test and a Pap test if you haven’t recently had them. If you’re a man, urge your girlfriend or wife or adult daughters to keep up with their exams. But most of all, don’t be afraid to talk about HPV. There’s only a stigma attached to it if we allow one to be.

My heart goes out to the families of Jillian and Lisa, and all those we’ve lost to cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. As I write this post tears have come more than once for the loss of these two amazing women I was fortunate enough to know in just a small way, as well as others I have known since being diagnosed with cervical cancer myself in 2014.