Cervical cancer survivor: Why I chose MD Anderson for my total pelvic exenteration
When I was first diagnosed with cervical cancer in March 2012, I got treated near my home in southern Louisiana. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to go to MD Anderson — I actually did. I even asked my gynecologist why she wasn’t sending me there. She said that because what I had wasn’t rare or weird, she felt confident we could handle it locally.
My kids were still really little back then — just 4 and 1. So, even though MD Anderson is just four hours away, sticking closer to home sounded great to me.
But when I had a second cervical cancer recurrence in 2016 — after chemotherapy, radiation,brachytherapy and a hysterectomy — I knew I wanted to be somewhere that focused exclusively on cancer. That’s why I finally went to MD Anderson.
MD Anderson’s cervical cancer expertise gave me confidence
My local gynecologic oncologist was recommending a fairly radical procedure called a total pelvic exenteration, which involves removing the vagina, rectum, anus and bladder. But he only did one or two of those procedures a year. I needed someone with more experience.
At MD Anderson, I met with Dr. Pedro Ramirez. He confirmed my diagnosis and made the same recommendation. That disappointed me a little bit at first. I’d been hoping for a less dramatic option. But then, Dr. Ramirez told me he did five or six total pelvic exenterations a year. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s three times as many — and way more — than my local doctor did. That gave me a lot more confidence.
Dr. Ramirez’s expertise also brought me comfort. I didn’t understand why I needed such an extreme procedure at first. The cervical cancer was so small this time, it didn’t even show up on any scans. The only reason we knew it was there was because every time I had another Pap test, the results came back positive.
Dr. Ramirez explained that the only way to make sure the cancer didn’t return yet again was by removing everything: a total pelvic exenteration. I didn’t like it, but I did understand it. And I wanted to live, so I decided to do it.
My life today, after a total pelvic exenteration
Dr. Ramirez performed my total pelvic exenteration at MD Anderson on March 23, 2016. The healing process took a long time. But I walked every day and continued to stay as physically active as I could.
I’m doing really great now, though I still have to do stretching exercises regularly, to keep my scar tissue from tightening up and hardening. But I’m back at work full-time as a certified public accountant, and I go to the gym four or five times a week. I even do one of the boot camp classes there, though I’ve had to modify a lot of the exercises.
I still have days occasionally when I mope around and feel sorry for myself. Usually those are the days when the seal on one of my bags isn’t perfect, and I show up at the office with a damp shirt and pants. But I’m still here four and half years later, I’m still able to work, and I’m still spending time with my kids and my husband. So, I try to remember that things like that are just small setbacks and not a big deal.
Life keeps getting better, even after a total pelvic exenteration
One really great thing I’ve discovered is that my recovery process is still ongoing. I used to have to carry a pillow around with me all the time, because sitting for long periods wasn’t comfortable. Then, about a year and a half ago, I had outpatient surgery to deal with some of my scar tissue, and I could finally give it up. It felt so great to hit another level of healing!
I still face challenges, and I do have setbacks every once in a while. But in most respects, my life has not really changed much at all. So, I feel very blessed.