Tag Archive | cervical cancer

Final Post

February 17, 2015// When i started this blog I needed desperately to gather my thoughts, to sort though all that had happened to me, and to learn to accept this new version of my life. In the beginning I needed the companionship of other cancer survivors, to try to validate all I was feeling. I needed to get the thoughts that continued to roll around in my head under control.

Mission accomplished. January 28, 2015 marked four years cancer free. Perhaps the most notable change is that many, many days go by at a time that the word ‘cancer’ does not enter my conversation – or even my mind. Several months ago a message was put on my heart, and it changed everything for me.

The cancer, the changes to my life, everything I have lost, was not a punishment. It was a gift. I worked hard, sacrificed much to support and raise my children as a single parent when my marriage went bad when I was only 23. My children are now grown, but debt remains. At 43, I was looking at at least twenty to thirty more years of work. Retirement would have likely never been an option for me. Instead, I am now about to turn 48, been retired (on disability) for the last five years, and am free to enjoy my days as I please. Who knew cancer could be a blessing?

I was stage IV. It was bad. It could still come back at any time, that will be my reality for the rest of my life. But I’m still here, and will be for a long time to come. But this blog will not. It’s time to wrap it up, to clear it out and use the space to move forward.

Thank you to everyone who reached out to me, who shared their experiences and well wishes. My thoughts and prayers will remain with those of you who are still fighting, I will always hold a tender thought for the few who did not win the battle.




Emotional Challenges Facing Cancer Survivors

“Sometimes I wonder which is worse, having cancer or the mental torture a cancer survivor goes through for the rest of her life; living in fear that every ache, pain, unexplained feeling could be cancer. So different than someone who is merely fearful or obsessed or paranoid about getting cancer. Because for us, chances are that it really, truly, absolutely, very likely, could be cancer.” (From my personal blog Seeing Sunrise. Cancer. Diagnosis, treatment, and finding my new normal.)

Reality is, of course, actually having cancer is the unfortunate winner of that debate. But attention should be paid to the emotional toll the fear takes on a cancer survivor. Imagine if you will, having gone through a horribly traumatic event in your life, getting through it, only to have all the same terrifying thoughts, emotions, and stresses come flooding back to you – every single time you have an ache or pain in your body. Yes, every headache, every sore muscle, every case of indigestion.

It’s a daily struggle to balance being grateful for simply being alive against the never ending stress and anxiety and fear of recurrence. At this point you may be thinking, “this lady could use some counseling!” So true! I am one of the lucky ones who have counseling available. We are currently working with the label of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Compounding the difficulty of dealing with our emotions about our body’s betrayal and our current uncontrollable reaction to that is the good intentions of our friends, family, coworkers, and general public. Our bodies appear healed. Of course that is rarely true. We become talented at hiding our physical damage with clothing, increased modesty, and other little tricks I won’t give away. But to the eyes of even those close to us, we appear healed.

The medical community, and us as survivors, need to do a better job of getting the word out that cancer patient’s ordeals do not end with clean test results. We need to acknowledge and educate that the same amount of concern, consideration, and support is needed once we enter into the next phase of our disease, dealing with the emotional aftermath of betrayal and constant fear of recurrence.


Seeing Sunrise

End of August 2010 I woke up in pain.  A 15 minute doctor’s appointment ended with the words, “It’s cancer. And it’s bad.” Another visit with another doctor towards the end of January 2011 ended with the words, “We can find no sign of your cancer.”  The weeks and months between the two visits passed in a frenzy of action, allowing little time to process all that was happening…

continue reading…

Coming to Grips with Your New Colostomy

“You need a colostomy.” Not something you ever expected to hear. But now that it’s a fact, let me share some information from my personal experience that might ease your transition to becoming, as some of us call ourselves, an Ostomate.

1. Lighten up! Hard words to swallow I know. But I’ve always found everything is a little easier to deal with if you can find the humor in it. You will poop in a bag. Not the end of the world!

2. Get educated. Read everything you can find on the web about colostomies. Ask both your regular doctor and your surgeon any questions you may have. Each doctor may explain things slightly different, giving you a better understanding.

3. A home health nurse will likely visit the first few weeks to teach you to maintain your colostomy. These nurses are usually very well versed in ostomy care. Don’t be shy, ask them anything.

4. There are several different brands and styles of ostomy products. Most companies will send you free samples so you can try them each. Find the brand that is most comfortable for you.

5. When it comes time for you to begin self-care, a free standing mirror that can flip to a magnified side can be helpful. Currently it is easiest for me to do my changes in the bathroom with my mirror and supplies set on the counter next to the sink. In my previous home the vanity was not the right height, I did better with the mirror set on a few books stacked on my bed.

6. I was very squeamish the first time I had to do self-care. My home health nurse made one comment that changed everything for me. She said, “What’s the big deal? You’ve wiped your butt for the last 40 years, now it’s just on your stomach.” That really is kind of true.

7. I was very unsettled by the idea of having no control over my bowel movements. That they would flow whenever they wanted, in public, while I was standing talking to someone, disgusted me. But then I realized I did not need to treat this any different than I ever had. Now when I first begin to feel it happening, I excuse myself to the bathroom, just as I would have before. When I am finished I empty and rinse my bag, wash my hands, and return to what I had been doing – just as any other person would do.

8. In the beginning I played around with my diet a bit. Some food digest easier than others, some pass through the ostomy a little easier than others. I also pay close attention to foods that may make me gassy. I avoid these foods when I know I will be in public since that truly does defy control.

9. Unless I share the information, no one has any idea I have a colostomy. Chances are good someone you deal with on a regular basis has one and you would never know it.

10. You will feel normal again. This may be hard to believe right now, but a time will come that you don’t give your colostomy a second thought. I promise. And hey, you’ll save on toilet paper!

7 Symptoms Women Should Never Ignore

As a member of the Female Over 40 group, I know we are busier than ever. The pull to multitask our lives – be the perfect wife, mother, employee, boss, student, and caretaker to the world – is only increasing as time goes by. Despite our best efforts we know we cannot do everything, be everything to everyone. The only area we are willing to compromising is ourselves. Even if we manage to squeeze in hair and nail appointments, run to the gym, schedule and keep our annual pap smear and mammogram, we certainly don’t have time to stress over our periods. We want and need them to pass as unnoticed as possible, not interrupting the rapid trot of our fast paced lives. But if we don’t want it all to be brought to a crashing halt, we must be aware of the seven symptoms listed below that WE MUST NOT IGNORE!

1. Change to menstrual flow. A period that is heavier or lighter than normal should be noted.

2. Stronger than normal menstrual cramping. Most women experience some pain during their menstrual cycle, but if you experience more pain than normal during one or more periods, pay attention.

3. Menstrual cramping that lasts after period (menstrual flow) has ended. This should not occur.

4. Menstrual cramping at other times of the month. Many women feel slight discomfort during ovulation, mid-way through the monthly cycle when the egg is released from the ovary. Regular full strength menstrual cramps or other abdominal pain during ovulation or any time other than the days of your period is reason for concern.

5. Unexplained feeling of bloating or fullness in lower abdomen and or pelvic area. These feelings can sometimes be attributed to a urinary tract or vaginal infection. If these are ruled out and the sensations continue, it should be investigated.

6. Unusual pain or pressure during intercourse. Any unusual pain, feeling of pressure or odd unpleasant sensations during intercourse could be a sign something is wrong.

7. Gut Feeling. Trust your instinct. Women are uniquely in tune with their bodies. If you feel something just isn’t right there is a very good chance that you are correct.

My doctor explained that any of these symptoms could happen once and individually and be nothing serious but if recurrent and or grouped together, they could be indicators of serious conditions, including cancer. I wish I had know this sooner. I experienced and ignored each of the symptoms listed above, but since I had recently had a normal pap smear, I made excuses and assumed I was fine. I was not. When I finally saw my doctor after dealing with these symptoms for several months, I was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer. It was inoperable, having spread to one kidney, my bladder, colon, lymph node, and grown into the tissue of my pelvic wall. I had fantastic doctors who threw every known treatment at me. I am now just shy of three years cancer free, but my body is damaged in irreparable ways, and it was a battle I wish on no one.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, please do not wait for your next annual pap smear to discuss with your Gynecologist, schedule an appointment right away. The hour or two the appointment takes out of your schedule now will be well worth it to catch a serious and possibly life threatening condition in its earliest and most treatable stages, and could possibly save your life.

What is HPV and Should You Vaccinate

When I was in my fight against cervical cancer a few years ago, information about HPV and cervical cancer was just becoming public knowledge. Needless to say, I did not receive a vaccine against HPV – it was not produced until I was an adult with several children of my own. It has interested me though what the actual link is between HPV and cervical cancer, and if it may have made a difference in my case if the vaccine had been available to me. My research has discovered the following:

What it is: HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) explains that it is a common virus that often has no serious consequences. It is the most frequently transmitted sexual disease (STD).

How it’s spread: HPV is spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Often an infected person shows no symptoms until years after contracting it, therefore unknowingly exposing additional partners.

Why it’s dangerous: When the body is unable to resist the virus, health problems can develop such as genital warts in men and women; cervical cancer in women; cancer of the throat, tongue, and tonsils in both men and women; and rarely but possible, anal cancer in men or women.

Diagnosis: There currently is no routine screening for HPV (perhaps screening will be standard by the time you read this) however it becomes obvious with the appearance of genital warts and can be identified in the diagnosis of cervical cancer in women.

How to lower your risk: As recommended to protect yourself from all STDs, limit number of sexual partners, participate in sexual activity only when in monogamous relationships, always practice safe sex (condom), and get vaccinated.

Recommendations for vaccination: The CDC advises it be given to all children, male and female, between 11 and 12 years of age, although an article by the Mayo Clinic suggests it can be given as early as age 9. It is important to be vaccinated before becoming sexually active. If the vaccine is not received as a child, it can be given and thought effective through the early 20s. Discuss potential allergic reactions with your doctor before administration.

The facts: Each year in the United States, approximately 360,000 new cases of genital warts will be contracted, over 10,000 women will develop cervical cancer, and almost 21,000 cases of cancer due to HPV could have been prevented by the vaccine.

Like all new vaccinations, parents wonder if the benefits out way possible risks. The HPV vaccine is the only shot known to actually prevent certain cancers. That makes it not only beneficial but imperative.

I’m not sure if the vaccine would have prevented my particular type of cervical cancer, but I would have welcomed the opportunity to find out.

Cervical Cancer Statistics and Prevention

Having recently hit the three year mark of surviving Stage IV cervical cancer, I was curious to find out how many other women were still fighting the battle, or worse, will lose the fight this year. The data I found was startling:

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2014:

  • 45,360 new cases of invasive (cells have spread out of local area) cervical cancer will be diagnosed
  • Non-invasive (cancer cells have not spread from local area) cases will be diagnosed at approximately four times that number
  • And in 2014, 2040 women will die from cervical cancer

Although these numbers are significantly lower than say breast cancer, when it is your wife or mother or sister, or YOU, one woman affected by cervical cancer is too many. Statistics show the mortality rate from cervical cancer has dropped by almost 70% since 1955. This is largely attributed to the increased availability and use of the pap smear. It should be noted though that the pap smear is an excellent tool for early detection, but does not in any way prevent cervical cancer. The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine shows great promise in preventing the types of cervical cancer caused by HPV. Data to quantify it’s impact is still being collected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that the median age to be diagnosed with HPV related cervical cancer is 48, and occurs most frequently in Hispanic women, but cervical cancer can affect any woman at any age, for any reason. The only prerequisite for cervical cancer is having a cervix.

The most effective tool in preventing and surviving cervical cancer is knowledge. Do not rely on regularly scheduled GYN visits and pap smears alone. Learn the symptoms. Ask questions. Get educated. In addition to your personal gynecologist, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, Foundation for Women’s Cancer,American Cancer Society, and LiveStrong Foundation are all wonderful resources.

If you do not have a regular gynecologist or cannot afford the visit, pap smear, or other needed tests, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (HBCCEDP) can help.

Please do your part to ensure you and all women close to you get educated, vaccinated, and get screened regularly. Fight like a girl and knock cervical cancer out!