May 14, 2013
Cervical cancer patient: My journey from diagnosis to recurrence
BY Linda Ryan
Because I had recurring cervical cancer after seven years, my two experiences with cervical cancer were very different.
When I was originally diagnosed with cervical cancer, I was 36 years old and the mom of two boys. We weren't sure our family was complete and were hoping for another baby when I was told that I would need a hysterectomy.
I was devastated by the news. I mourned the loss of another baby, but as the years passed I couldn't imagine our family any different than it was.
The importance of screenings and early detection
My initial cervical cancer was found during a routine pap test. It was stage 0, and the treatment was a hysterectomy. No radiation or chemotherapy.
Recovering from the surgery wasn't easy, but I was able to drive again after two weeks and back on my feet fairly quickly.
When people asked what they could do for me, my answer was often, "Go to the doctor for your annual exam."
Fortunately, I had wonderful support from friends and the community who made dinners in addition to having their annual checkups.
My initial diagnosis is a testament to screenings and the benefits of early detection.
Cancer returned with a vengeance
Seven years later, I found a lump in my neck.
Within a couple of weeks, I found a few more and then some in my groin.
Based on biopsies, my doctors determined that my cervical cancer was back with a vengeance. It had spread to my lymph nodes.
I was accepted into a clinical trial at MD Anderson for recurring cervical cancer. The diagnosis was frightening, but I never thought I would die.
Maybe I was naive. Maybe I just didn't want to know my real odds. Or maybe I just felt that it didn't matter because I didn't want to think that my children would grow up without me as their mother.
My recurring cervical cancer treatment
My clinical trial included cisplatin and alimta. Both were chemo drugs I received through an IV for nine hours every three weeks.
For me, the infusion took all day and included other drugs, including Benadryl so I wouldn't have a reaction.
The potassium in the bags of hydration also irritated my veins. It was painful but the nurses did their best to use warm blankets to open the veins and then ice packs to ease the pain.
I never got a port, which I now regret because I wouldn't have had pain with the port. Getting a port never fit into my schedule. I thought about it and talked about it often but getting it would have interfered with the timing of the two half marathons I chose to run during my treatment and I was told that I wouldn't be able to skydive, an activity that I planned to do with my friends in celebration of one friend's 50th birthday.
If I am ever diagnosed with cancer again, I will get the port before I leave the doctor's office because the infusions became increasingly more painful and difficult. From what I understand, you don't have that pain or vein irritation with a port.
Take note of body changes
As strange as it may sound, I found the suspect lump in my neck because my ankle was swollen. I hadn't fallen or sprained my ankle and had no pain. I'm not sure how the two were related, but it must have provoked me to be aware of my body.
We know our bodies better than anyone. If something doesn't seem right, then we need to take notice and see a doctor. Having already been a cancer survivor, I was often on alert if something didn't seem right in my body. I tried not to be a crazy person about it, and worked at finding a balance and being aware of any changes.
Looking back at my journey with cancer, I'm thankful I was able to get exams regularly. I'm thankful I was -- and am -- in tune with changes in my body. Getting these exams and looking for these changes aren't just the elements of public service announcements. They save lives -- mine included.
Cancer will try to win, but it chose the wrong woman to fight with.
Linda Ryan thought she had checked cancer off her list. Having just run her first marathon, it was hard to imagine that her cervical cancer had returned after seven years. Cancer chose the wrong woman. She was ready to battle cancer for the third time with health, laughter and friendship.
We know our bodies better than anyone. If something doesn't seem right, then we need to take notice and see a doctor.