When I was in my early twenties, I had Pap smears every six months. The Doctors did not tell me why until one day my new doctor called me in as I had an abnormal smear. He told me that my cells were on the road to becoming cancerous unless they went back to normal and that he would keep a good watch on me. "Don't go home thinking you are going to have cancer" he said. "Cells often go back to normal and besides, if it's not watched I could have cancer in my forties”.
Many years passed and I gave birth to a boy in 2000. During 2006 I felt lethargic, tired all the time and sex was becoming quite painful. Many times there was bleeding afterwards. This was definitely not menstrual. I will never forget New Year's Eve 2006, I bled every day from then on. I had just turned 35 years old. I had had a Pap smear done in November of 2006 - everything was fine. I was told to go to the hospital by my partner. There, hospital staff performed all kinds of tests and nothing showed up. Just a guess of me possibly having endometriosis.
After speaking with my GP, she sent me to have a vaginal ultrasound. Nothing at all showed and I was told to 'come back in six months for another ultrasound.' At this point I wasn't about to wait so I had my GP send me to see an OBGYN at the beginning of March 2007. There I had a colposcopy done and a biopsy. I had to wait about a week before I found out the results, but I had a feeling the results wouldn’t bring good news.
When I went in to hear the results I was given the worst news of my life. I had cervical cancer.
I was sent to a hospital in the city to see a team of oncologists. Another test was performed. I was given two options: to either have a hysterectomy or to have a radical trechalectomy. I chose to have my cervix removed as I wanted to avoid menopause at that age and still possibly have children - with stitches holding a baby there if I were ever to get pregnant. I had my surgery on Easter Monday April 10th, 2007. The surgery was a horrible process. My sentinel lymph nodes were removed as well. This was day surgery, and I woke with severe pain from the gas in my shoulders and bad anxiety. I didn't get discharged from the hospital till the evening so I was actually there for 12 hours. I was angry for not being able to stay. I had to keep a catheter in for two weeks with a nurse checking on me at home. I was grateful for having my mother look after me and my seven year old son. It did affect my family as they were emotional now and again. The day after the operation I screamed holly hell as I couldn't get out of bed. It felt like someone was stabbing me in the ribs and I had numbness in my right upper thigh. An ambulance was called and I ended up in our local hospital. Nothing much could be done accept X-ray and IV. Through the healing process I walked with a cane due to the nerve damage in my right thigh that was caused when my sentinel lymph nodes were removed. They called it Meralgia paraesthetica. It has reduced now but I have this for the rest of my life.
I thought I was now on the road to recovery but boy was I wrong. The doctors had found microscopic tumours in two of my lymph nodes. I was now given an intensive plan for chemotherapy and radiation. I had the best volunteers from the Canadian Cancer Society to drive me to the hospital Monday thru Friday. Such wonderful people to take time out of their day to take me, wait on me and take me back home. My first week into therapy was the most horrible experience - feeling lifeless, vomiting, diarrhoea, but worst of all I became allergic to Semetil. After radiation I could barely talk and was in tears. My driver said to go back in to talk to someone. What I had, which was not common, was lock jaw from the anti-nausea medication. They sent me straight to emergency. I felt distorted and I almost bit my tongue off. After countless drugs I was discharged. My oncologist had never seen this happen to anyone in all of her years of practice.
It took a long time for me to recover physically and mentally. I felt destroyed, and old. Sex was a big issue that became a real problem. I felt ruined and thought I would never be the same. I had to see a gynaecologist for advice and help regarding sexual issues. I was angry as I felt like I couldn't please my partner, myself and thought I would not be able to enjoy sex again. With lots of anger and depression I was prescribed anti-depressants.
One thing I can say that I am not proud of is not playing it safe with sex when I was a teenager. We weren't educated about the link between certain HPV viruses and cervical cancer. This link was not widely known back in the eighties. Teens today need to be educated and made aware of HPV virus and its potential to cause cervical cancer. Peope also need to hear the stories of survivors and how it has affected them. You don't know how much it will impact your life until you have it. Let’s teach our teens to play it smart and think safe sex.
Whilst I can't have any more children I feel blessed to have my wonderful son Liam who is now 14. This experience has changed my life in many ways and has made me a strong and determined individual. I am now 43 years of age and cancer free. I can enjoy sex again. I can be around pregnant women where previously I couldn’t as I had dreamed of having a large family. I love my life - working on my BA in primary teaching and writing children's picture books. I love children and if I can't have anymore, I want to educate them. We feel very fortunate to be living now in NZ and plan to be here indefinitely.