A cancer diagnosis. Single-handedly everyone’s worst nightmare — for most anyway.
It was for me, and in July 2020 that nightmare became a reality. Because that was the month during my 31st year that I found out I had stage III cervical cancer.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and as the month has slowly started to disappear, I also began talking myself out of sharing my story. Even though I have shared it plenty of times, I never know what kind of emotions it’s going to stir up.
But, a lot of my story is about overcoming fears, so here we are!
And, first and foremost, I hope my story can help another woman avoid what I went through or even save her life. That saying “cancer doesn’t discriminate” meant nothing to me, until it did. I was a healthy, active 30 year old woman with no sight of cancer on any branch in my family tree.
Lastly, if you’re currently battling cancer, maybe my story will give you the strength to fight another day.
When you receive a cancer diagnosis you immediately begin the 5 stages of grief, starting with denial.
Mine looked like this: Asking myself over and over – “How can this be real? This is a bad dream and surely this doctor throwing around phrases like ‘radical hysterectomy’, ‘chemotherapy’, and ‘worst case scenario’ is NOT talking to me.”
Unfortunately, he was talking to me, and this wasn’t something my alarm clock could pull me out of. Even worse, July 2020 was the height of COVID so I received this news alone. Alone in a conference room, with an oncologist I had just met, and whose face I couldn’t see because of his mask. This was one of the loneliest days I have ever experienced.
After a PET Scan was completed, we discovered the cancer had moved to my lymph nodes.
So, what this meant was a radical hysterectomy surgery — which was the best-case scenario — was no longer an option. Instead, I would have to go the chemo and radiation route.
I underwent 30 rounds of external radiation, 6 rounds of Cisplatin chemotherapy, and 5 rounds of brachytherapy. Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation where radioactive-filled rods are inserted into your body to burn off any remaining cancer cells. Those were in the top 5 of the hardest days of my life.
Because COVID lingered, I went to all of these cancer treatment appointments alone. My nurses were my saving grace, holding my hand every day when my family and friends couldn’t be by my side. To all the nurses — I am forever grateful for you!
After my treatments were completed, I did indeed bid farewell to my uterus, ovaries, eggs, and any chance of carrying a child.
It’s been three and a half years since my initial diagnosis and I’m writing this today not only as someone who is cancer-free but also as someone who has conquered their biggest fear, cancer.
While the cancer cells and life-threatening lump are gone, so are my womanhood, confidence, and the tiny spark of innocence I had left in me.
Or so I thought anyway.
Fighting cancer wore me out and conquering it left me feeling even more broken.
While my friends were having baby showers and gender reveal parties, I was receiving pamphlets on menopause and dilator kits.
But what I didn’t realize at the time, was that while the journey did rob me physically of a lot of things, what it would give me would be much stronger. A new lens to live my life. A new love for my body. A new purpose. A new beginning.
I went from being so angry at my body for getting cancer to being in complete awe of it for conquering it. I went from being angry at God for doing this to me to thanking him every day for another day I get to live. I went from leading a lackadaisical life to one that tries to find meaning in every moment.
So, three and a half years later, I am cancer-free, physically strong, mentally awake, spiritually sound, and genuinely happy.
And I now get to remind you of some very important life lessons and tell you what I learned from this experience:
1) My body is stronger than I give it credit for, especially when I’m taking care of it — I still get irritated about the things I can’t do, such as having a baby, but I try to focus more on what I CAN do.
2) Cancer will always be a part of my life — I thought post-treatment I could squeeze cancer into the back of my mind and shut the door. It doesn’t work like that. As my annual check-up approaches, anxiety settles in. Each time I learn of a friend or an acquaintance passing from cancer, survivor’s guilt kicks in.
3) My womanhood is not defined by my fertility — It’s defined by pain, bravery, sadness, love, fear, forgiveness, strength, determination, compassion, and all things true in my heart.
4) The simple things really are the best — laughing with friends, a hug from my mom, the sand in my toes, and the sun on my face.
5) Laughter is the best medicine — there is always room for laughter. Even on my worst, cancer-filled days, laughter was healing.
6) LIFE IS A GIFT — Your path will be rocky, jagged, and uneven at times but you will find a way to walk again with resilience, grace, and God.
With love and a big, huge reminder to schedule a yearly OBGYN appointment,
There is SO much more to my story including warning signs, treatment details, menopause in your early 30s details and overall graphic details for a different platform. If you have any questions, please reach out through my Instagram or Facebook page and I would be happy to have a further discussion with you! I also kept a weekly caringbridge journal for friends and family during my treatment you can find here and recently was interviewed on the Protected Space Postcast, Episode 2 that you can listen to here.