Tag: cancer

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

CervicalRibbon_TealWhiteRightDid you know that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month? In 2014, when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer I thought my world was going to end. I had dealt with abnormal cervical cells in previous years due to HPV (human papilloma virus), but the abnormalities had always cleared on their own and I was otherwise a healthy young woman. But cancer doesn’t always care if you’ve got good cholesterol and are of good weight. It doesn’t care if you live a fairly stress-free life or eat well. Cancer does not discriminate.

It didn’t matter that I never thought my HPV would cause cervical cancer. It happened anyway. I went through treatment with a foggy mind. I was anxious and depressed. All I wanted was my normal life back, a life I so obviously had been taking for granted. I had a radical hysterectomy at the end of August which was followed by 5 rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of external radiation because pathology of my lymph nodes found traces of cancer.

When treatment was complete and I got my NED (no evidence of disease), I was tired but ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to go back to my every day routine of family and work. In the months that followed I learned how many people didn’t understand HPV or cervical cancer. How many people didn’t want to talk about it. And I learned about advocacy and how sharing my story and pertinent information about this disease could maybe help one other woman, or five, or 500, or more.

So I chose to share, which isn’t always easy when your talking about female reproductive organs or a virus that is often transmitted sexually. The stigma behind HPV so often keeps women from chatting about it. But advocating to get the word out has helped me understand the disease and want to keep other women from enduring what I, and so many other women, have had to. Though I had cancer, I know I am lucky. I am NED today and I feel good. But not every woman’s story is the same. Thousands of women deal with daily complications that arose from cancer treatment. Thousands of women die.

What is most important is that women understand the disease and keep up with well woman visits each year. To listen to our bodies, ask questions, and make sure they are getting the care they deserve. Early detection saves lives.

Health Monitor - coverThis month I have the honor of some of my story being shared in the Health Monitor’s Living with Cancer magazine. This magazine is placed in doctor’s offices and hospitals around the world. If just one woman reads the¬†article and makes her well woman visit or takes notice of a current symptom because of my story, that’s enough for me.

You can check out the article here.

Ladies, call your doctor today and make your appointment.


The HPV Vaccine: Thoughts from a Cervivor

Recently I’ve heard and received questions concerning the HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9 is what’s most used in the U.S. currently). As my own daughter gets older, I’m sure I’ll hear the questions more and more because her and her friends will be getting closer to the recommended age. So, after offering an answer to a friend of a friend the other day, I thought I’d write my thoughts to offer more understanding.

I always start by telling people that I was always nervous about vaccines since my daughter was born over eight years ago. The large quantity of vaccines given all at once for babies terrified me. After lots of reading and discussions, our pediatrician worked with us on a delayed vaccine schedule, offering only two vaccines at a time instead of the recommended schedule (often give 4-6 at a time). She’s received all her vaccines up to this point, and as she’s gotten older I’ve become less nervous because I feel her body can handle more.

I start off by telling people that bit of background because I want them to realize that I’ve been in that mindset, worried about what’s being injected into my child. Worried about potential side effects. When the first HPV vaccines came out more than 10 years ago, I was skeptical about it being released so quickly. But, at that time, I just missed the age cut off for getting it. Go figure that not long after the vaccine and HPV became so public, I found out I had HPV. That was June 2007.

My HPV was discovered after a Pap test came back abnormal. Those same collected cells were tested for HPV, and there it was. At that time they didn’t really tell you what strand you had, just if it was high risk or low risk. Mine was high risk. For quite a few years I went back and forth for extra Pap tests, colposcopies, and biopsies in order to keep an eye on my cervical cell changes. At times I had perfectly normal results, then abnormal, and then normal again.

Then, in July 2014, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer caused by HPV. I’ve heard cervical cancer called the “easy cancer”. Please, don’t be fooled. Cervical cancer, like all cancer, SUCKS. No matter what your treatment, your body goes through a lot, as does your mind. For me, it was a radical hysterectomy the day before my 35th birthday followed by five rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of external radiation. I’ve come to make many friends through cervical cancer groups, some of which have left this world because of their cancer, others who are living with cancer, and more that are struggling with the after effects of cancer. I’m now almost three years NED (no evidence of disease), but cancer changes your life in many ways that are endless.

The HPV vaccine was created to help keep future generations from getting some of the most problem causing strains of HPV. Some of these strains cause genital warts, but others have been known to cause 90% of HPV-related cancers, which include cancer of the cervix, vagina, anus, mouth and throat.

I’ve heard fears that the vaccine is “too new” or “hasn’t been studied enough”. Let me tell you that the HPV vaccine has been around for more than TEN years. I’ve heard others worried about stories of side effects they’ve seen on social media and the internet. To those people, I beg you to look at the sources of those stories and then to look for articles and case studies that have reputable medical sources. You’ll find that thousands upon thousands of doses of the HPV vaccine have been given with the only adverse effects being swelling and discomfort at the sight of injection. This is an “adverse” effect of just about all vaccines.

Another thing I’ve heard is that as a parent you’ll instead just teach your child about safe sex. Well, I certainly hope you will, because that’s an extremely important part of our job as parents. HOWEVER, safe sex does not fully protect against HPV. HPV is transferred via skin to skin contact. This means you can get it from intercourse, anal sex, oral sex, and sexual play. And condoms, as wonderful as they are, do not cover the entire genitalia, which means there’s often still skin touching skin, which means a chance of infecting a partner with HPV. And since often HPV doesn’t show symptoms, especially in men, you can’t be sure your partner has it.

I’m not looking to tell parents what to do, but what I hope they’ll do is educate themselves and talk about the vaccine with their pediatricians. If the HPV vaccine had been around for ten years when I was a preteen, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten cancer three years ago. Maybe I could have had more children like I’d hoped for. Maybe I wouldn’t be in menopause in my thirties. Maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about my cancer returning or my husband someday getting some kind of HPV-related cancer.

But maybe because of this vaccine, so many girls won’t have to go through what I did. Maybe we won’t have to lose more lives to HPV-related cancers.

There’s much more I could tell you, facts I could offer, but instead I leave you with this. August is National Immunization Awareness Month. When you go to the pediatrician to get your child their check-ups as school is starting, ask about the vaccine and if it’s right for your child (I know pre-existing conditions or allergies can be a factor). And even if it’s not time for your child, the more we learn and understand as parents, the better we can make decisions that can protect our children. If you could prevent your child’s chances of getting cancer someday, if even just a little bit, wouldn’t you?

For more information about the HPV vaccine:

If you have further questions concerning the HPV vaccine, please feel free to reach out to myself or the Cervivor organization. Please also follow the NJ Cervical Cancer & HPV Network and Cervivor on Facebook.

The Emotional Side of Cervivor School

In last week’s post I discussed all that happened during Cervivor School 2017 in Delray Beach, Florida. But I wanted to also touch on the emotions I felt during this year’s Cervivor School experience.

During Cervivor School, we not only receive a vast amount of knowledge concerning cervical cancer, HPV, HPV-related cancers, and the HPV vaccine. But we also learn a lot about ourselves as cervical cancer survivors (Cervivors). When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in the summer of 2014, I didn’t know anyone personally who had gone through cervical cancer. I had never experienced seeing someone go through any type of cancer. I had met women through online support groups, but being in a room surrounded by women from around the country who’d gone through similar scenarios stirs up a ton of feelings.

When I first arrived I got the chance to see women I’d met during Cervivor School Louisville which was absolutely amazing. Many of us had shared such a deep connection at that school, that getting the chance to be together again was joyful. And then as the long weekend moved forward I made even more bonds with women I’m now proud to call my friends. With a Cervivor School as big as this one, I didn’t get to talk to everyone as much as I would have liked to, but hope to grow more friendships as we connect through social media moving forward.

But let’s get into the nitty gritty of it. Cervivor School, for me, means plenty of laughs and smiles and equally as many tears. During this event you discover so much about what other women have gone through, but also about yourself. In attendance were women who had been NED (no evidence of disease) for many years, some who had just recently completed treatment, and some who were living with cancer. All of our stories were different in one way or another, but in the end we were all “Cervivors”.

For me, it’s been almost three years since I got the phone call and heard the words “you have cancer”. In all honesty, it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long some days, and then other days it feels like it’s been even longer. I think about cancer in some way or another at least once a day, though most days it’s more than that. So when going to Cervivor School I’m prepared in knowing that my emotions will stir because my cancer will be fully on my mind again, and that’s okay.

I cried when I heard other women’s stories of their cancer diagnosis and what they’ve been through since. I cried hearing those who spoke of living with cancer, mostly because it’s hard to understand why I’m okay but they still have to deal with cancer. I cried coming to new understandings about myself and being reminded that “it’s not my fault” (thank you again Dr. Castle). I cried thinking of the women in other countries who do not have the care necessary to get yearly well-woman exams that help prevent cancer, or who have cancer and treatment options aren’t easily available. I cried remembering that I’m not alone in all that I feel.

But I smiled and laughed so much more. I smiled spending time outside the “classroom” as I made new friends, some who I consider best friends today. We spent time by the pool, had meals together, and hung out on the dinner cruise (while I prayed I wouldn’t get motion sick). We talked about our lives outside of cancer and where we came from.

And then we cried when it was time to leave each other. I looked forward to returning home, I missed my family, but I was leaving my sisters.

Since my cancer journey, I question many things. I haven’t felt like I have many close friends to confide in or to just hang out with and get a drink or a cup of coffee. My social media friends are in the hundreds, but those I see face to face are in the single digits. Maybe that’s my fault, who knows. But when I was at Cervivor School, for five days I didn’t feel quite so alone. I had sisters; women who held my hand or hugged me when I was sharing something sad or difficult. Women who’d just met me, but welcomed me with open arms. I miss them since leaving Florida just over a week ago, and I wish some of them lived closer. Yet I know in my heart they’ll always have my back as we move forward in our Cervivor journey. I hope they know they mean the world to me.

To My Daughter on Her 8th Birthday

Eight years ago I waited anxiously for your arrival, nervous and scared of becoming a new mother. The moment I saw you I was enamored by the amount of love one person can have for another. Everything about you was perfect, and still is. Watching you slowly grow into an intelligent, brave, compassionate young lady has been the most amazing part of my life.

Just over two years ago I feared I wouldn’t get to see more of your birthdays. When I was told I had cancer I immediately thought the worst, and you were the first thing that popped into my mind. How could I leave my beautiful little girl? But as I moved through surgeries and treatments to kill the cancer that had invaded my body, you became my strength. And you didn’t even know it. You didn’t know what cancer was, only that I was in pain or didn’t feel well. You didn’t know I was scared, but you knew to snuggle me or give me kisses.

You were my reason for living and fighting to kick cancer to the curb. I thought daily about the possibility of not getting to see you celebrate another birthday. I cried at the notion of not seeing the woman you are bound to become. Every fear I had was rooted in my love for you.

You still don’t know just how sick mommy was two years ago and I pray you never have to see me that way again. I know you can’t quite understand it yet, but someday I will explain it to you. I’ll explain how a virus caused cancer to invade my body. I’ll explain how it was the reason I couldn’t give you the brother or sister you wanted. And most of all, I’ll tell you how you helped make me better without even knowing you did. My reason for fighting was you, and it always will be.

In a few years I’ll read this to you, when I know you can understand it. I’ll tell you how every birthday I help you celebrate is more special to me than I ever considered before. Thank you for being the light at the end of a tunnel I feared would engulf me. Thank you for showing me how much love can push us forward.