By Lauren Schoenemann
Jennifer Dunmoyer lived the first 34 years of her life feeling invincible -- until she was diagnosed with cancer.
"I have always been very healthy," she says. "I never took any medications. I was young, strong and vital and had a deep faith in God."
"Cancer shook everything I ever believed to the very core."
In July 2010, Dunmoyer learned that she had small cell cervical cancer (SCCC), a rare but aggressive form of cervical cancer.
It develops in about 100 women of the more than 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer reported each year. She learned of her condition after an abnormal Pap smear taken in March of that year prompted her to seek further information.
Though she experienced no symptoms, the results of Dunmoyer's test revealed dysplasia. Because the previous year's test had been abnormal, her gynecologist recommended she see a specialist to perform a conization to remove any precancerous cells that may have been in her cervix.
When she had the conization, the doctor told Dummoyer that nothing appeared to be wrong with her cervix. He said it was even difficult to identify an area containing the abnormal cells, which were smaller than the size of a pencil point.
After the procedure, he sent Dunmoyer home and told her he would see her again for a six-month, follow-up exam.
Four days later, she received a phone call from the doctor asking her to come in the following week. She was advised to bring someone with her. "I knew I wasn't going to receive good news," Dunmoyer says, adding that she was shocked to hear that she not only had cervical cancer, but a rare and aggressive form on which little research has been conducted. "At that point, we just went into survival mode, and things started moving at lightning speed."
In August, Dunmoyer underwent a laproscopic hysterectomy, followed by four chemotherapy treatments from September to December. Her doctors originally had suggested she receive six, but the progress she made after the first four rounds allowed her to stop.
"By the grace of God, my lymph nodes were clean, and the cancer had not spread outside my cervix, so I chose not to proceed with further treatment," she says. "Chemotherapy was very hard on my mind and spirit, and after four rounds, I knew I was done."
Dunmoyer returned to her doctor the following January to check the status of her condition and was pronounced clear of SCCC. A follow-up exam in July reproduced this result, and in August, Dunmoyer celebrated her first cancer-free anniversary.
Support from sisters
Dunmoyer says her family -- especially her sister, Jessica McGinnis -- has been instrumental in supporting her through recovery.
When McGinnis learned that Dunmoyer had SCCC, she began researching the condition online and managed to find several other SCCC patients and survivors through Facebook.
She also contacted Michael Frumovitz, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at MD Anderson, who has joined the effort in researching and promoting awareness of the rare cancer.
Since then, the sisters have helped found the SCCC Sisterhood, an online support group and fundraising effort to aid women with SCCC, as well as their family members, friends and caregivers.
Dunmoyer added that the main priority of the group is to assure women diagnosed with SCCC that there is support and hope for them.
"Our goal with the SCCC group is to provide hope to those diagnosed that you are not alone, and that there are doctors out there who have seen and successfully treated this cancer. No one understands the battle like your fellow warriors. This is larger than each individual -- together, we are now a movement."
Though she will never be able to conceive a child, Dunmoyer is now a mother of three. She adopted three brothers from foster care the week before her hysterectomy, although plans to make them a part of her family were made before her diagnosis.
"They are the reason I got out of bed every morning," she says. "They are the reason I stayed upbeat -- if only in their presence -- and they are the reason I pushed forward."
As an involved member of a cancer support group, Dunmoyer said she would advise all cancer patients to stay positive.
"Never give up hope," she says. "Miracles happen every day, no matter the stage, no matter the metastasis. There are survivors. There are educated and experienced doctors, and there is support."
Q&A: Focus on Small Cell Cervical Cancer