January 2017 I went for my annual GYN visit. Travis encouraged me to be sure that a PAP smear was done. I asked my doctor and she said that it would be fine to wait until next year. I pressed because I knew that Travis really wanted the test done. You see, a few years prior I had a PAP come back abnormal. They did a colposcopy (basically a biopsy) and everything was fine but it was a little bit of a scare. I was reminding my doctor of this and mentioned that I also had an Aflac cancer policy. The policy actually pays me to have a PAP done each year! The doctor said, "well, yeah - if you have that policy we will go ahead and do one." The following week we found out it was abnormal again. We talked about the option of doing a colposcopy again; but because this was not the 1st abnormal test and I had a history of HPV, she recommended we do a LEEP procedure. This procedure basically takes a cone shape, larger biopsy of the cervix. She told me she wasn't worried at all but that it would be a little more reliable than the small amount of tissue the colposcopy takes. I went for the procedure, it was in office and wasn't bad at all. The colposcopy and getting the Mirina IUD were much worse! (If you have thought about getting a Mirina - do it! Looking back, I believe that the reason it was so painful for me is because of the cancer that was there.) She told me we would have the results in about a week and would be in touch.
The following Saturday I fell asleep on the couch and woke up in tears. I had the worst feeling. Travis was in the back of the house and I went to find him. Of course he asked me what was wrong. I told him that I had the strongest feeling that I was going to hear the words "you have cancer." The doctor called me herself the following week... she said that she honestly didn't expect to be telling this but I had cervical cancer. She told me it was 1A1, early and should be an easy treatment. I asked her what should be done and she said that a radical hysterectomy would likely be recommended and she would put in a referral to an oncologist in Charlotte.
While waiting for the appointment, we did a lot of research. Some of what I found was scary but some basically said, "if you're going to get cancer, that's what you want." WHAT? That didn't really make me feel better but at the same time, I knew if was kind of true. Working in the ophthalmology field we always recommend more than one opinion. So I knew I would see the referred doctor but I figured if that was someone I was going to recommend to my patients, then I needed to do it for myself. The oncologist in Charlotte was okay but I didn't have a settled, "certain" feeling. We went to the 2nd opinion doctor in Asheville and I felt 100% more comfortable. He did make the same recommendation as the Charlotte doctor but overall the experience and atmosphere just felt so much better.
As my GYN said, he recommend a radical hysterectomy. He said that we would remove everything except my ovaries; which I was extremely grateful for! What makes it "radical," if I understood correctly, is they take a little more of the tissue around the cervix that basically holds all of that part of the body together. We set the date for the surgery. I felt pretty good about the plan but was still so scared. I had to have a CT scan before the surgery and that was nerve wracking just worrying "what if they find something else?" I also knew that some lymph node would be taken as well. He ended up taking sixteen! Waiting was the hardest part... waiting for CT result, waiting for the surgery and then waiting for pathology after surgery.
I was incredibly lucky. No more cancer was found! I found myself feeling guilty. Guilty that it was so easy for me and for so many more they have to fight so hard to say "I'm cancer free." I didn't feel I earned the right to call myself a cancer survivor. But nonetheless, I was... I am. I am hear to tell you, particularly if you have been told you have HPV, to push to have a PAP smear every year. They tell you now that it's ok to wait 3 years. If I had waited another year, there is no telling what stage I would have been and how that would have changed the course of treatment.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. How crazy to be diagnosed in the month of awareness for the cancer I had?! January 2017 changed my life forever. I still fear that cancer could creep up again on me but awareness and education are key! Have screenings, take care of your body, listen to your body... You've only got one!