Two-time cancer survivor: ‘Without MD Anderson, I wouldn’t be where I am today’
In November 2020, I returned to work after spending years at home with my then 6-year-old daughter. I started noticing irregular vaginal bleeding that I chalked up to stress or possibly needing to change birth control pills. I made an appointment with an OB-GYN near my home in Kansas.
After a few months, my doctor recommended a Pap test. Within two days, a nurse called to let me know that my Pap test results were abnormal and I was scheduled for a biopsy. I’d had an abnormal Pap test a few years earlier, so I wasn’t very concerned.
But I was diagnosed with cervical cancer a few days later – one week before my 38th birthday. My husband has older children, who had recently lost their mother to leukemia. It was hard to share this news with them, but my daughter-in-law said I needed to call MD Anderson.
I completed the online self-referral form on a Friday afternoon. By Monday morning, a scheduler called me. By the end of the conversation, I had appointments set for three days later, as well as instructions for what medical imaging and records to bring and confidence that I’d made the right decision.
Cervical cancer treatment at MD Anderson in Sugar Land
My husband and I made the 10-and-a-half-hour drive to Houston to meet with gynecologic oncologist Nicole Fleming, M.D., at MD Anderson in Sugar Land.After a few days of testing, Dr. Fleming recommended adding radiation oncologist Anuja Jhingran, M.D., to my care team. By the end of the week, I had an official diagnosis – stage IIIC cervical cancer – and a treatment plan.
My husband and I returned home to prepare to live in Houston for a couple of months while I underwent treatment. Because school was out for the summer, I was able to bring my daughter with me. That was important to me. She gave me a sense of normalcy, and I enjoyed taking her around Houston.
From July to September 2021, I received radiation once a day and chemotherapy once a week; I also did two rounds of brachytherapy. My tumor was 5 centimeters with lymph node involvement, so I could not undergo surgery.
Thankfully, my side effects were minimal. For a couple of days after chemotherapy, I would experience fatigue and nausea, but they were manageable with medication prescribed by my doctor and extra rest when I needed it. By December, I had no evidence of disease.
Returning toMD Anderson for thyroid cancer treatment
After completing treatment, my husband and I made the drive to Houston nearly every two months for follow-up appointments. Unfortunately, in August 2022, my PET scan noted an area of concern in my thyroid area. After an ultrasound and biopsy, I met with surgical oncologist Nancy Perrier, M.D., and endocrinologist Priyanka Iyer, M.D., to determine the next steps.
Both doctors recommended surgery. Because the tumor was so large, I had a total thyroidectomy in October. After surgery, I had some vocal cord and nerve damage but had no other side effects. It was only after the pathology came back that I had a definite diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer. Thankfully, I have been cancer-free ever since then.
Going the distance for cancer treatment
Now, I see my cervical cancer care team every four months and my endocrine team every six months. My husband has been taking me to and from Houston. He says he knows it’s the best place for me, so he doesn’t mind. I don’t love the long drive, but I know if I hadn’t been to MD Anderson, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
At MD Anderson, I have always been treated as a person, not as a person with cancer. In the eyes of my care team, I’m a wife, a mom and a daughter. That was a big comfort while I was so far away from home.
I never expected to be diagnosed with two different cancers before I turned 40, but if I can help anyone else going through the same thing, I want to do that. I don’t recommend playing the “what if” game. That’s what your doctors are for. Even though the information given to you can be scary and overwhelming, take it one day, one hour or one minute at a time.