A routine Pap test came back abnormal, and my local doctor wanted to do a biopsy. She changed her mind when I came in for the procedure. In just the week since I’d first seen her, my cervix had changed enough in appearance that she suspected I had cancer. She referred me to an oncologist in Tulsa, the nearest big city.
The oncologist examined me on a Wednesday. He said he could tell it was cervical cancer just by looking at it and that I needed to get it taken care of right away. I had a PET scan done on Friday to make sure it hadn’t spread. Then he scheduled me for a radical hysterectomy.
My initial cervical cancer treatment
As a registered nurse, I’m used to being the caregiver in health care settings, so it was hard to process everything. But in my mind, having the cancer “out” was better that “in,” so I drove home, told my husband, then drove three hours north to watch our daughter’s college graduation. Three days later, I had the hysterectomy.
When I awoke from the anesthesia, the doctor said it was squamous cell carcinoma, but that he had gotten all of it, so I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. I also discovered that he’d given me a supra-pubic catheter rather than a regular one. This meant the urine drained through a hole punched surgically in my bladder rather than through a tube inserted in my urethra. The catheter started leaking within two days of leaving the hospital, and I had to have it repaired three times. It was a terrible ordeal.
After the third surgery, things finally started getting better. But during my recovery, all I kept thinking was, “If that guy was wrong about all this, what if he was wrong about everything?” My boss told me to get a second opinion, so I made an appointment at MD Anderson.
My decision to live
Within 90 seconds of meeting Diane Bodurka, M.D., at MD Anderson, I learned my previous oncologist had been mistaken. The pathology slides he’d sent over showed two different types of cervical cancer: moderately differentiated squamous cell carcinoma and poorly differentiated adenosquamous carcinoma. So I needed chemotherapy and radiation after all.
Dr. Bodurka and radiation oncologist Anuja Jhingran, M.D., walked me through their treatment recommendations, but I just kept crying and shaking my head no. Finally, Dr. Bodurka asked me gently why I’d come to MD Anderson. “Because I want to live,” I said.
She replied, “Well, if you stay here and follow this course of treatment, you have an excellent chance of doing so.” I started treatment the following week.
My cervical cancer treatment side effects
My treatment consisted of six weeks of chemotherapy and eight weeks of radiation, simultaneously. And while I didn’t lose my hair, I did lose my appetite and battled nausea every day. I struggled to stay at the 100-pound mark.
I also dealt with diarrhea from the pelvic radiation. I never really knew when it was going to hit. I’d just be standing there, and suddenly it was an emergency. Some days, I napped on the bathroom floor because it was easier.
My doctors did everything they could to help me manage the side effects. No matter what I threw at them, they always had something to help me. Which I found amazing.
Keeping a promise to myself
I stayed with my cousin in Houston during my treatment at MD Anderson. We drove by the Mecom Fountain every day. I always promised myself that I was going to jump in that fountain when I finished. But when I rang the bell to mark the end of my radiation treatments, I didn’t have the energy to even get out of the car again, much less jump anywhere. I was kind of disappointed, so I decided that on my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free, I would jump into a fountain.
I finally made good on that promise on Sept. 30, 2015. I was waiting at a stoplight with my sister and husband after my five-year checkup. Right beside us was the Mays Clinic fountain. And before either of them could talk any sense into me, I had jumped out of the car and gotten into that fountain. Bystanders probably thought I was a lunatic, but once they figured out what I was doing and why, they started clapping.
Not everyone gets a reason to celebrate like that. But that’s one promise I’m glad I got to keep.