Cervical cancer survivor finds care and compassion during brachytherapy treatment
My nutritionist and chiropractor suspected something was wrong when I could not lose weight, but I was not concerned. I did not have any cramps or pain anywhere, so what could be wrong? He suggested I get an MRI to see if I had fibroid cysts causing abdominal swelling.
My cervical cancer diagnosis
I had a pelvic MRI near my home in Dallas. The results showed I had fibroid cysts and cells on my cervix that could be cancerous. I made an appointment with my gynecologist and had a routine Pap test. She suggested I see a local gynecologic oncologist to undergo a cervical biopsy.
My local oncologist recommended I start chemotherapy and 25 external radiation treatments. After three rounds of chemotherapy, I broke out in hives all over my body. I felt miserable. I was given a steroid and Benadryl to help, but I only slept a few hours each night. They told me my cancer was early stage, but I was not a candidate for surgery. I had questions and did not feel comfortable with my medical team. I decided to get a second opinion at MD Anderson.
In June, I traveled to MD Anderson for my first appointment with gynecologic oncologist Nicole Fleming, M.D., who said I needed brachytherapy. She told me it was standard for cervical cancer patients to receive brachytherapy after external beam radiation based on my clinical stage. To avoid any delays, she recommended I finish the external beam radiation treatments I started in Dallas first given that I was in the middle of my treatment course.
Undergoing brachytherapy to treat cervical cancer
I stayed in Houston in July. On July 14, I received my first of two brachytherapy procedures at MD Anderson under the care of radiation oncologist Anuja Jhingran, M.D. She explained I would receive pulsed-dose rate (PDR) brachytherapy. This is a two-day inpatient procedure that sends a radioactive pellet into an internal applicator for 15 minutes every hour. Two weeks later, the procedure is repeated.
Before each surgery, advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) Tomar Foster-Mills walked me through what to expect in my pre-operative appointment and answered all my questions. A few minutes before the first surgery, I met resident physician Gohar Manzar, M.D., Ph.D. She was very compassionate and put me at ease.
All my nurses were amazing and kept me calm. Dr. Manzar held my hand and talked me through the procedure. Having confidence in my care team made everything so much easier. It was the complete opposite of my experience before coming to MD Anderson.
During the procedure, I had to lie flat on my back for 48 hours while the internal radiation was in place. It would run every hour for 10 minutes. I did not feel anything during those 10-minute intervals. I was kept on a strict diet with soft foods and liquids to prevent constipation since I couldn’t move.
Dr. Manzar plays the ukulele for her patients, and I looked forward to it every day. The day before my last treatment ended, she played “Closing Time” at my bedside as a tribute to finishing treatment. She took the time to FaceTime my son, so he was included. The last day was on a Sunday, and Dr. Manzar walked in at 5 a.m. on her day off to visit me. She wanted to ensure I was comfortable during the removal of my implant and congratulate me on finishing treatment. Anyone who has her as a doctor in the future will be lucky.
“What makes MD Anderson the top cancer hospital in the nation is giving patients the best treatment experience with experts and personal touches involved in our mission-driven care,” Manzar told me. “For me, this extra touch comes in the form of music therapy. It humanizes our relationship and transcends cultural and linguistic barriers.”
Why I recommend MD Anderson
By early August, I was able to return home and resume normal activities. I return to MD Anderson for a follow-up every three months for two years. During my recent appointment, my PET scan showed no evidence of disease.
I was blessed to be treated by doctors and medical staff who are experts in their areas of care. If you do not feel comfortable and confident with your doctor or care team, get a second opinion. Sometimes you must advocate for your own care. It can save your life, just like it saved mine.