Why I braved the big city for cervical cancer treatment
I don’t like change. But sometimes you have to be willing to make one in order to survive.
That’s what I did. I’m a small town girl who’s lived in southern Mississippi my whole life. And except for one trip to a resort in Mexico, I haven’t travelled more than about 500 miles away from my little Gulf Coast town.
Then I came to MD Anderson for cervical cancer treatment in November 2016. Before then, I’d never even been on an airplane by myself. And it was scary, going from my small town to the fourth largest city in the country without my husband. I never thought I could do it. But I did. And today, I am cancer-free.
My cervical cancer diagnosis
I was originally diagnosed with stage I cervical cancer in January 2014, after experiencing heavy vaginal bleeding. Three years earlier, I’d had a procedure called an endometrial ablation, in which the lining of the uterus is destroyed to reduce the severity of a woman’s menstrual flow. It worked at first. My periods were very light for a long time.
Then I started bleeding heavily again, and I thought, “Oh, no. We’re not doing this.” So, I went back to my ob/gyn to schedule a hysterectomy. I wanted this taken care of. But she performed a pelvic exam and noticed some abnormalities in my cervix. A Pap test and a biopsy both came back positive for cervical cancer. So instead of a hysterectomy, I had seven weeks of chemotherapy and 35 radiation treatments at a facility near my home.
Later that year, a PET scan showed a suspicious-looking lymph node in my pelvic area, so I had another round of chemotherapy. The following year, the abnormal lymph node was still there — and getting bigger. I had a third round of chemotherapy.
When my local ob/gyn suggested a fourth round of chemotherapy in 2016 and suggested that perhaps I needed to focus on the quality of my life rather than the quantity, I decided to call MD Anderson.
From a clinical trial to a cure
I spent a week in Houston, and discussed the possibility of a clinical trial with my MD Anderson care team. But my lymph node had to be biopsied before I could participate, and my surgeon, Sanjay Gupta, M.D., decided it was too risky. The node was too close to my aorta in a very veiny area, and the biopsy needle would’ve had to go through my intestines to reach it. Dr. Gupta didn’t want to risk nicking my bowel or a blood vessel. The clinical trial was out.
I worried we’d have to wait for the cancer to spread somewhere else before we could finally biopsy it and move forward. But Ann Klopp, M.D., had another plan in mind. One of the first things that came out of her mouth was “cure,” and that was a word I hadn’t heard in three years. So, I decided to do it.
My cervical cancer treatment plan
Dr. Klopp’s treatment plan called for chemotherapy, external radiation and a type of internal radiation called brachytherapy. I had to stay in Houston for eight weeks to do it, so I packed my bags and got a temporary apartment. I was pretty nervous. On my first day in town, I discovered the key to my new place didn’t work. So, there I was, alone in Houston, with three bags of luggage, groceries on the way, and no idea how to get inside my apartment. I almost left and got on a plane heading home.
Luckily, people in Houston are amazing. The shuttle driver I’d gotten to know during my previous visit offered to stay with me until the complex manager could sort out my key issue. And the other patients I met at MD Anderson were so encouraging. Some of their success stories were so unreal. After a while, I didn’t really see them as patients anymore. I saw them as hope.
My cervical cancer treatment side effects were nothing I couldn’t handle
I finished my treatments in March of last year, and I’ve shown no evidence of disease since June 2017. Today, all I have is a little residual bone pain in my hip. But it’s nothing I can’t handle.
I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to go to MD Anderson. It was overwhelming at first, but a few days of discomfort are worth enduring to be cured.
I’m convinced that if I’d gone straight to Houston after my initial diagnosis, I wouldn’t have had to go through the four rounds of chemotherapy I did. So I tell people, “Even though you’re scared and it’s not home, go to MD Anderson first. It’s worth trying something different.”
Because what is your life worth? The truth is, you can’t put a price tag on that. And if you go to MD Anderson, one day you’ll be able to look back proudly and say, “I did that.” Because I did. And if I can do it, anyone can.