Tag Archives: cervical cancer

Spread the Word… and ONLY the Word

Hey guys! January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.  If you have a cervix or not, please be an extension of my voice this month.  Please have the conversations that are uncomfortable to have with the men, women, and young adults in your lives.  The highlight reel would be:

  • Ladies, get your pap smear regularly (and for the love of all that is good, get the follow up if it’s necessary!). Check with your doctor to find out how often you should get a pap.
  • Parents, get your kids vaccinated against HPV!
  • Condoms are not fool proof here.  HPV, which causes cervical cancer (and 5 other cancers), is a contact disease. So unless you’re wearing a full body condom from start to finish when you’re revving up for, doing, and snuggling up after the dibbity, you are at risk of contracting HPV if your partner is infected.
  • HPV has no symptoms and usually clears within about a year of infection, but can “hide” in the body for years.  There’s no way to know for sure when an infection occurred or who the culprit is.  So even if you’ve been with the same person for ever and a day or you haven’t had sex in at least as long, you could still be at risk.
  • Even someone who has only had sex with one partner could be at risk if that person’s list extends beyond +1. And on that note, keep in mind that, while we’d all love to believe that our partners are 100% honest with us, there’s always, always the chance that they aren’t. Furthermore, since HPV is spread skin to skin and not by exchange of sexual fluids, penetration is not necessary to spread the disease. So, ladies, be your own advocate and go get a pap. Better safe than sorry.
  • Boys need to be educated and vaccinated too.  While it’s far less common for males to develop cancer (though the risk is higher in males having anal sex than in those not), men can contract HPV and pass it along just as easily… where on earth do you think all the women are getting it???
  • Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.  If caught early enough, it can generally be wiped out.  There are rare cases, like mine however, where that is not the case.  I was getting my pap smears like whoa, and it just happened that the cancer in my body was far more aggressive than most (a 4cm tumor grew on my cervix in 3 months; a tumor that size generally takes years to form). All I can say is, I’d hate to think how bad all of this would have been if I hadn’t been so diligent with the screenings.

Please spread the word. If we can save just one person, I would be happy.  Imagine what it would be like if we saved a bunch 🙂

For more information, check out these sites:

National Cervical Cancer Coalition –  http://www.nccc-online.org/index.php/overview

The Yellow Umbrella – http://www.theyellowumbrella.org/

About the HPV vaccine – http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html

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A Turn for the Worse

I have cancer.

I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer.

And just in case I forgot that I have cancer, 6 doctors and 3 residents in 9 different appointments over the last 8 days have been quick to remind me that… I do, in fact, have cancer. Got it.

I had an MRI done on Tuesday. Check out my awesome MRI outfit:

The surgery that was scheduled for today was cancelled because they wanted to check out a suspicious lymph node in my groin.  Suspicious in that it was the Hagrid to all my other normal sized wizarding lymph nodes. The MRI confirmed that it was a giant, and Dr. Mutch wanted to have it biopsied.

 —Interesting aside… When Dr. Mutch called to tell me that I had an enlarged lymph node, I asked, “Is it on the left side?” “Yes. How did you know that?” “Because I can feel it in there.” “That’s really odd.” This was the weird dull pain in my lower left abdomen that I thought I was making up! —

Yesterday, I asked my friend Cherie to go to the appointment with me, and I had my lymph node biopsied.  The radiologist was using an ultrasound to find the lymph node in question and to check the blood vessels around it to ensure that a biopsy would be safe.  He pointed it out- on the screen it looked like a big black circle.  I asked if he could find and show me a normal size lymph node so I could see the difference.  He said that healthy lymph nodes wouldn’t show up on an ultrasound… wah wah… This gargantuan thing was almost a perfect sphere, measuring approximately 2.2cm in ever direction.  Normal lymph nodes are smallish and jellybean or almond shaped.

This morning I went to my scheduled endocrinologist (infertility doctor) appointment.  Dr. Cooper specializes in patients with cancer, which is awesome because she hooked me up with an application to an organization called Fertile Hope (fertilehope.org) that helps offset the cost of fertility treatments for cancer patients. Uh…mazing! She talked me through all the options, the most appealing of which is harvesting eggs, fertilizing them and freezing the embryos.  One big huge shining problem with this option is, of course, that the sperm part of my equation is presently in a desert on the exact opposite side of the planet.  I only get one chance to harvest eggs if I have to have radiation and chemotherapy, so while advancements have been made in freezing unfertilized eggs, it’s still better to freeze embryos.

While I was sitting with Dr. Cooper, Dr. Mutch called and asked to see me at 2pm.  My appointment with Dr. Cooper had gone a bit longer than expected, and I had to rush over to Dr. Mutch’s office. He told me then that the biopsy showed cancer in the lymph nodes.  On the one hand, thank god we did the MRI and found it.  On the other hand, SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!!! Bad news bears all the way around this deal. Now all that “maybe” talk with the endocrinologist was real. It was THE option, not a ‘may have to be an option’. Dr. Mutch talked me through what would happen next, and it was all I could do to drown out the expletives coursing through my brain and focus on the important information he was giving me.

All I’d had to eat up until this point was a banana… the beast in my belly was screaming for satiation.  Dr. Mutch’s nurses so kindly opened their kitchen to me and let me make a plate of their catered holiday meal to take on our journey down to the radiation oncologist’s office.  Yep, your counting is correct. That’s 3 different doctors for 3 different reasons in a matter of hours.  I will say that I am impressed with the expediency of this entire staff.  They get stuff done, for sure.

I met with Dr. Grigsby, who apparently is a pretty big name in the radiation oncology world.  He talked me through more specifics of the chemo and radiation, and I made it a point to let him know that we would be waiting for me to do a full fertility cycle  (where a woman has the best odds of producing the most eggs) instead of rushing it or not doing it at all. My odds of having a biological child just dropped dramatically in a matter of hours. There’s no way in hell any doctor is going to tell me that I have to sacrifice that even further if the risk of waiting 2 more weeks to start radiation is relatively low. I told him that I didn’t need to sleep on it or think about it, my decision was final. I was having the full cycle of fertility treatments, and that was that. He said OK and sent me up to have blood work done.

I sat on the floor just outside the waiting room of the lab, where I had one bar of reception (in the waiting room there was no service whatsoever, and I NEEDED cell phone service).  Tears were streaming down my cheeks and a pile of soaked tissues lay on the ground beside me as I waited for my name to be called.  I was speaking out loud to no one in particular at a volume just below normal conversation level- Why is this happening to me?! Why now? What the hell is happening?! This is so unfair.

I finally left the hospital 6 hours after I’d arrived. A very pleasant surprise greeted me at the parking pay station… the validation ticket given to me at radiation oncology covered 100% of the parking costs (most other departments’ validation is only 50%). This was seriously the highlight of my day! I smiled uncontrollably. It’s a small thing, but at this point, I’ll take any smile moments I can get.

My mentor, Michelle, listened to the details of my day on my drive home.  She’s pretty incredible. She and I have never met face to face, but we were introduced via email through another common friend. She is a cervical cancer survivor as well and has gone through the fertility preservation process.  She has been a tremendous comfort for me, a shoulder to lean on, and cry on, and just a general source of relief because she’s been there and made it through to the other side… with a biological child!  She is a source of strength for me, and honestly, part of what makes her so amazing is that until a couple weeks ago, we were strangers. Now she is one of the first people I call with every update, every question, every emotional meltdown, every small victory.  I tell her all the time how grateful I am that she has made herself so available to me, but gratitude doesn’t begin to describe it.

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The Doctor Is In

Ok. A few weeks ago I was kicking my own butt at one of those boot camp classes.  I was pushing myself to do one more lunge, one more push-up, one more lap… I was flipping tires and jumping rope like it was my job. By the end of each class, it was all I could do to not hurl all over the place.  But it felt good.

I had recently turned in my resignation at my job- teaching 3rd grade at a charter school in Florida- to move back to Chicago where I had planned to coach trapeze again and find work as a tutor.  So it was only 4 months after I started the job… so what? My husband is in the army, and he’s stationed in Germany.  He recently got a job with more normal business hours- a job that would be more conducive for a family.  I was leaving Florida so that I could spend my last 7 or 8 months in the states around my family and friends.


I had a follow up pap smear scheduled.  Follow up to 2 abnormal pap smears I’d had in Chicago, the most recent of which was at the end of July and showed abnormal squamous cells.  Let me be clear when I say that the results of that pap smear showed that I had HPV and ABNORMAL SQUAMOUS CELLS. Let it also be said that I told this doctor in Chicago that I had been having a pinkish discharge for about a month or so. She said she didn’t see anything abnormal but that she did see some yeast so that was probably the culprit. “Nothing to worry about,” she said.


Ok, fast forward to my follow-up with my new GP doctor in Florida.

She goes in to do the pap and says that she sees a mass… a fairly large mass, in fact.  She goes through the routine battery of questions about my pap history and then calls the doctor in Chicago (the one that said, “Nothing to worry about”). The doctor in Chicago says her diagram from that appointment is clear. No mass.  Ok, so cancer doesn’t sprout up in three and a half months. This tumor must be benign. There are a whole host of tumors that could grow that quickly. My GP refers me to an obgyn who goes in, sees the mass and does a biopsy. When I come back for the consultation a week later, his opener is, “Did you bring anyone with you today?” Now, I watch Grey’s Anatomy, and I know that that question is code for “You have cancer”. ‘Nothing to worry about’ indeed. The biopsy did not say cancer, however. It said almost cancer, but the doctor said cancer.  He told me to forgo my moving plans and get on a plane asap so I could get the healing process started in St. Louis (where my family lives). That was a Monday.

Tuesday morning I was on a flight home. Wednesday I was sitting in an exam room with my new St.Louis GP- the one I had to see to get a referral to a gynecologic oncologist. A few days later I had my very first appointment with an oncologist (a word, by the way, that until recently scared the ever loving mess out of me).  He went in and said, “You want to have kids, right?” This question was alarmingly comforting. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do want to have kids. He did another biopsy, a deeper biopsy. In the post-exam chat in his office, he said it looks like cancer but that the biopsy results will tell us more. Until then we’re treating it as cancer. We scheduled a PET Scan, CPAP, and surgery. My head was spinning. Seriously, what was going on? Less than a month ago I was just going about my life- business as usual. And now my calendar was full of doctor’s appointments. I wasn’t kicking my own butt anymore- life was taking its turn at that.  But I still wanted to hurl all over the place.

A few days later, Dr. Mutch, the oncologist with the excellent patient care, called with the biopsy results. “It’s cancer, but I think we already knew that.” We did. I’d been processing the idea that I have cancer since that obgyn in Florida suggested I might.  I sent a text to the hubs- who, as I’ve failed to mention, is deployed in Afghanistan until February 😦 – telling him the diagnosis.  He called just as I pulled in to the dog groomer to pick up the pooch.  Imagine my car facing a giant plate glass window that looks right into the front desk of the groomer. I’m crying hysterically and talking for the better part of a half an hour, but I have my headphones in so I just appear to be your average hormonal lunatic. The hubs doesn’t know what to do to support me from the other side of the world, and all I want is for him to magically be transported back here and wrap his arms around me. There are no words that he could say that would work as well as magical transportation and arm wrapping.

That was Friday. Today is Sunday. I’ve officially had cancer for 2 whole days. Everyone that matters in my life has been informed- and given strict instructions not to feel mad or sad or sorry, only hopeful. I’ve been busy reading forum after forum and researching doctors for second opinions (the one I like the best happens to be partners with Dr. Mutch…).

I don’t feel sick, and I don’t have any restrictions, so it’s hard to accept that the diagnosis is real. I have a dull pain in my lower left abdomen, but I’m pretty sure I’m making it up. I started my period on Friday which would be fine if I were allowed to use tampons… grrr… Pads.Are.Gross. End of discussion. I’m trying my damnedest to stay positive and to keep the health affirmations running through my head. I’ve also loaded myself with various “anti-cancer” foods- turns out green tea isn’t so bad, and mushrooms have weird healing powers. Mario was on to something with the whole mushrooms-give-you-extra-lives thing.

This is the beginning. And right now I’m not as scared of the cancer as I am of losing my uterus.  My uterus and I have big plans that I’m not willing to abandon just yet.  Dr. Mutch seems hopeful that he can save it. So please send all your healthy, healing thoughts in the direction of my uterus and my lymph nodes.

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