Amy’s Cancer Survivor Story
—Amy R., Cervical Cancer Survivor
Age at diagnosis: 41
I have two sons, a beautiful granddaughter, and a wonderful husband. I love music of all kinds, spending time with my family, taking long drives to nowhere, and relaxing on the beach. I work in broadcasting, and am studying for my bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Prior to my cancer diagnosis, my health was always pretty good. I did not have any major issues, and my monthly menstrual cycle was normal. Then, in November 2011, I had significant vaginal bleeding for about a week, followed by no period at all the next month, which was abnormal for me.
While January seemed to be a bit more normal, I decided to set up an appointment with a gynecologist since I hadn’t gone in the past 2 years due to lack of insurance. I had never had an abnormal Pap test in my life. I figured the worst it could be was ovarian cysts, which I had dealt with many years back.
My appointment was scheduled for Valentine’s Day in 2012, and the bleeding was abnormal once again in February. I was trying to shush my inner voice—that was screaming at me quietly—about having to be ready to hear something horrible. It was telling me there was cancer. I had a Pap test and my doctor’s office gave me a date in March to call back for my results.
February 27, 2012 was a normal Monday morning. I was on top of the world in my dream career, rushing into my office, as usual, to be ready for work by 9:00 a.m. That’s when my life changed forever. My cell phone rang. It was my gynecologist saying she had some bad news. She said she had the results from my Pap test. Usually at this point they would usually do additional testing, she said. But not this time … we needed to get me an appointment with an oncologist as soon as possible. She said that I had aggressive form of cervical cancer, an adenocarcinoma, which ultimately turned out to be Stage 1B1 cervical cancer. [Editor’s note: Adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that can form in mucus-secreting glands throughout the body. Stage 1B1 cervical cancer indicates that the tumor appears clinically to be confined to the tissues of the cervix, and is less than 4 cm in diameter.]
After that, everything she said was a big blur. I started shaking and just thought to myself, “Did she just say I had cancer?!“ It got even worse when I had to go home and break the news to my husband, and then to my sons. I couldn’t tell my mother, so I think my husband told her. I just couldn’t break her heart.
Within two weeks I was sitting in a gynecological oncologist’s office discussing a “Cancer Plan.” It included a radical hysterectomy, weekly chemotherapy treatments, and radiation. I wasn’t planning on having more children, but the thought of such a big decision being made for me—and it was so final—was devastating. I think I went into shock and just became numb to it all. I went into survival mode.
During my treatment, my world came to a screeching halt and I was forced into bed rest. It allowed me time to reflect on my life, decisions I made, people I love, and things that mattered the most. I resolved to be the best person I could, to never settle for less than what made me happy and healthy and to love those that I love, more than ever. During this time, I found out that when it really comes down to it, all that really, truly matters is love.
I’ve learned to treat myself better. I listen to my body. When I’m tired, I rest. When I’m sad, I cry. When I’m happy, I laugh. I’m still getting to know my “new” body. Sometimes it works right, sometimes it doesn’t. But I am alive and I am well, and I am surrounded by those I love the most!
After my diagnosis, I knew I needed to use my voice to help raise awareness of cervical cancer. In 2014, I initiated the Hartford, Connecticut, chapter of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, a wonderful organization providing support, information, and education to women and families affected by cervical cancer and HPV (human papillomavirus). I am on a mission to help end this detectable and preventable disease.
Women, please, do not let insurance or money be a factor in not getting checked out if something feels “off.” There are funds within your city, town, and state to help pay for gynecological services. Please, put your health first. Have regular Pap tests, either alone or in combination with HPV tests, and always listen to that inner voice. If you feel like something is not right, get it checked.